By Grayden Wilson-Crumb
Kong is still king. It’s been 12 years since the world was given another King Kong film. Peter Jackson’s take on the 1933 classic King Kong was a loving recreation of the original film, while still taking artistic liberties with the character of Kong. Jackson presented the King as more animal than monster in his film; but in Kong’s latest outing, Kong: Skull Island, Kong is back to being the giant bipedal monstrous monkey we all know and love, albeit a whole lot bigger. Moving the setting from the usual Kong playground of New York City to the country of Vietnam in the early 1970s at the end of the Vietnam war, Skull Island sees a task force comprised of soldiers, scientists, and other oddities exploring one of the last uncharted locations on earth: Skull Island. However, unbeknownst to them, the island is inhabited by a variety of savage skullcrawlers and other monsters who threaten the expedition and their lives, including the legendary King Kong.
Led by an all-star cast comprised of Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction, The Avengers), John Goodman (10 Cloverfield Lane, The Big Lebowski), Tom Hiddleston (The Avengers, Crimson Peak), Brie Larson (Scott Pilgrim VS. The World, Room), the show-stealing John C. Reilly (Wreck-It Ralph, Step Brothers), and others, the story is less of an emotional spectacle akin to the original film and more of a guns-blazing, guitar-squealing action flick. The action sequences in the movie are arguably some of the best, and most creative, that you will see this year. A particular moment towards the beginning of the movie shows Kong about to take a bite out of a soldier when there is a sudden cut to another character taking a bite out of a sandwich. It’s moments like this that makes the action unique and fun while also defining the tone of the movie: fun, entertaining, and nothing less. Characters are cracking jokes consistently in between being attacked by monsters. The humor is a bit hit-or-miss, but most of the jokes hit their mark. John C. Reilly’s character of Marlowe, a WWII pilot that has been stranded on Skull Island after a crash landing back in the 1940s, is particularly humorous while also being the character with the most depth in the entire film.
The humor and character depth of this character brings to light a major issue the movie carries with it: the script. With the exception of Reilly’s Marlowe, all of the other actors play very one-dimensional, stock roles. Samuel L. Jackson’s character of rugged army colonel Preston Packard was seemingly written for Samuel L. Jackson to play the stereotypical Samuel L. Jackson character, while Tom Hiddleston’s character as the tracker James Conrad is only there to fill the role of male action hero. The other characters follow suit to this pattern, with most of them coming across as rather one-note. The actors themselves do as good as a job as they can with what little substance they are given. However, the character we all come to the movie to see doesn’t disappoint.
Kong himself is a visually impressive creature of special effects, and the filmmakers aren’t afraid to show him off. This suggests that Legendary Pictures, the studio behind Skull Island, learned from criticism regarding their 2014 film Godzilla and it’s constant refusal to show it’s namesake character. As soon as Kong appears, it is very clear that this is his movie. He brawls with monsters and military alike, and these scenes are by far the highlights of the movie. The cinematography was well done and is particularly beautiful when Kong is on screen. One shot that left an impression on me was during his first appearance, where he was silhouetted against the setting sun as a group of military helicopters fly towards him. The scene very expertly captured the size and scale of Kong. The cinematography combined with the exceptional set designs, special effects, and sound design create a stellar visual and auditory experience that really captures the viewer and makes them believe this island could exist.
Script and character issues aside, this movie is a total blast and is well worth the price of admission. Skull Island and its monstrous inhabitants look and feel real, and the action sequences are creative and exhilarating. Bringing an entertaining and welcome new take on the King Kong story,
Kong: Skull Island is a non-traditional King Kong movie, and is all the better for it.
Score: 3.5 out of 5 Bananas