I'm sure you are asking yourself at least similar questions to those that I asked myself when I found out about Kong: Skull Island. Why would they re-make King Kong again? Why is Kong so big? What the fuck are those creatures? Skull Island will answer these questions and more, but the answers may not be as satisfying as watching Kong take on a fleet of helicopters with ease. There is so much going on in this movie that I don't even think the actors knew what kind of movie they were making, not to mention that most of the characters spend such little meaningful time on screen. Add to that the absence of substance and you get quite an unfulfilling experience. Yes there are Apocalypse Now comparisons to be made but we all know Heart of Darkness was better than Apocalypse Now, so maybe the documentary about the making of Kong: Skull Island will actually be good.
Skull Island is not your grandpappy's Kong, we have a bit of a new time period and a completely different plot from any Kong movie you have seen before. As I said before this movie is all over the place so I'm going to try to skim past the plot as efficiently as possible. It is 1973 and Nixon has literally just announced that we are removing troops from Vietnam. Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) work for a company called Monarch, and they have convinced a Senator to fund their expedition to the formerly undiscovered "Skull Island". They bring along James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), a former British Special Air Service member and current tracker, Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) a war time photographer chasing the last unknowns in the world and they even bring along a military escort led by the one and only Samuel L. Jackson playing Army Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard. Unbeknownst to everyone other than Randa and Brooks, there is more than meets the eye with this island. After braving a terrible thunderstorm that constantly surrounds the island (The reason for its undiscoveredness) they have a run in with Kong who is not too happy about their arrival. Prior to meeting the 100 foot ape god, they drop explosives that are supposed to determine the Geology of the island and by doing this they wake something much more dangerous than Kong.
I mentioned a few of the actors featured in Kong: Skull Island in the previous paragraph but that was only the start of the long list of well known actors featured in this movie. The problem is that there are just so many actors and characters that it makes it hard to keep up with any of them, save for the few I mentioned before, and even they don't get enough screen time. Tom Hiddleston is our male lead here, but again he has almost no backstory. Small pieces are added into monologues later on in the movie, but his presence other than he is a "good tracker" does not quite fit. Brie Larson would normally be the "beauty" in the popular Kong phrase "Twas beauty that killed the beast" but she gets more to do here than look pretty and show off her tremendous smile. While again the problem is lack of screen time and backstory, Larson's character brings a strong female presence into a movie that desperately needs it. Since the movie prefers quantity of stars over quality of character development I will not just list the remaining people featured in the movie. Toby Kebbell (Black Mirror, Warcraft), John Ortiz (Fast and Furious, Silver Linings Playbook), Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton, Keanu), Shea Whigham (True Detective, Take Shelter) Tian Jing (The Great Wall) and Thomas Mann (Project X, Me Earl and the Dying Girl). You never really get to know much about these characters, other than from ADR dialogue lines or if they have some sort of quirk related to the plot. I left John C. Reilly off the previous list because I want to give him a few sentences just for himself. This dude is a national treasure and one of the most talented actors I have ever seen. This role is in his crazy wheelhouse but he nails it and boosts the movie every time he is on screen. More John C. Reilly and less nonsense next time please!
From a script standpoint, Kong: Skull Island must have looked like a whole lot of fun. Sure it's no Casablanca but there are some fun set pieces here and some interesting places to explore, but there are just too many times when lines of dialogue don't make sense or the plot holes become overwhelming. Characters will say things that make little to no sense, and there are even cases where they will refer to things that they, plot wise, should know nothing about. These problems feel less like an issue with the actors or even the director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, and more with studio involvement. The reason I say this is because there are some scenes that provide absolutely nothing to the plot of the movie and serve as less than exciting set pieces (this means you bamboo spider thingy) and then other scenes feel rushed, or seemingly omitted altogether. I can appreciate that the movie comes in just under 2 hours, but I feel that too much character development and plot were sacrificed in the process. Speaking of the director, Jordan Vogt-Roberts, does a great job at making the movie look good. It almost looks as good as the pacing and character work is bad. He has gone for more of an action movie feel and that fits in with the tone of the rest of whats going on.
I have not talked much about the title character, and greatest movie monster of all time in my opinion, Kong himself. He is the best part of this movie by far, and probably of any movie he appears in. He is much more massive this time around than he normally is, but this just makes the scale of this movie that much larger. Kong controls this island, and he walks around with that knowledge in his gait. The filmmakers said they wanted his size to elicit the feeling that he is a god, and while the characters reactions to him almost never reflect that, we cant blame the 100 story tall ape for the shortcomings of mere humans. Full grown trees become souvenir bat day sized in Kong's massive hands and the wake of him walking in rivers is that of a battleship. Unfortunately like many of the actors in the movie, poor Kong does not get a ton a screen time which is a real bummer, but when he is on screen we are treated to some of the best massive monster fights ever put to screen. It really makes you think about what this King Kong could do against some of the other mega monster Hollywood has to offer. Boy would that be something.
I went through a few different identity crisis's regarding Kong: Skull Island prior to it's release. At first I was excited for it, being that I am such a huge(no pun intended) Kong fan, but when I saw the trailers I was turned off by the mythical monsters and Kong's size. I eventually gave into the fact that this is not a remake but a re imagining and I was on board again, but the movie confirmed most of my early worries. While I can respect the attempt to make something that at least is somewhat original, the experiment is ultimately confusing and stressful. If you don't know by now, there is an attempt by the studio to make spin offs of these monster movies, featuring the famous movie monsters King Kong and Godzilla. Looking at Kong: Skull Island through that lens is pretty disappointing, but if this movie is a cash grab to prepare people for a cross over movie like Superman Vs. Batman or Suicide Squad was, then this Kong could have been a whole lot worse. I would recommend most people stay away from this one unless you have a real affinity for movie monsters or a future fight between Godzilla and King Kong. Even then you could probably just wait for it to hit HBO.