The latest film to feature “the eighth wonder of the world”, Kong: Skull Island sees Bill Randa (John Goodman) assembling a team, which includes tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) and soldier Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), to explore the uncharted Skull Island and to find proof of mysterious beings that inhabited Earth long before mankind.
The film actually starts off pretty well; the pre-credits scene is particularly effective and the film pretty much gets straight into the action with no messing around. True, there’s some clunky, expositional writing (“A place where myth and science meet”) coupled with some pretty basic, nonsensical plotting as well as some fairly standard Vietnam War movie music (Jefferson Airplane, anyone?) and the characters riding into a horrific storm with the helicopter doors wide open, but the team is quickly assembled, there’s no waiting around and Samuel L. Jackson’s character gets some pretty interesting character motivation; with few words, we know what he’s about right from the off – a soldier who lives for war.
We are then treated to the best scene in the movie: the team’s first encounter with Kong. I’m sure that we’ve all seen that image of Kong set up against a blazing sun and it is indeed exemplary and the ensuing skirmish ticks all the right boxes; the slow-mo is particularly effective, it is shot brilliantly and seeing Kong’s immense size is pretty darn exciting.
The film then moves on to include John C. Reilly’s character and the scene in which he explains what Kong’s all about is pretty interesting, though obviously expositional and a suspension of disbelief is required as to how he could have actually learned all of this from a tribe of people who don’t even speak. But these scenes are interesting as we learn of Kong being a guardian and protector, a whole new dimension for this classic character and it’s good to see a deviation from the classic Kong tale that we’ve come to know over the years. Through all this, we come to admire Kong and this characterisation (well, he’s given more than everyone else!) gives us someone to root for by the end.
John C. Reilly shines in these scenes, providing pretty much 100% of the film’s humour and his character adds a definite human touch; he is the most likable character by far and is the heart of the film.
But then the film takes a downward turn as Kong pretty much disappears and there is a considerable lull in the film as we follow the remaining humans in their mission to get from point A to point B. We do get some monster fighting scenes, the fight against the skullcrawler is alright, but as time goes on, the absence of Kong is particularly noticeable and it seems as though we are being left with just a subpar war film with a few serviceable monsters. So on that note, Kong: Skull Island has all the war movie tropes without being a great one and certainly not enough Kong for a King Kong film.
But of course, we are eventually treated to a pretty awesome Kong vs. giant monster smackdown which again hits all the right notes and is an entertaining warm-up ahead of his apparent tussle with Godzilla sometime in the future.
And on that note, there is indeed a post-credits scene that sets up the shared universe which may very well include Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan et al. At times like these, I can only imagine this “monsterverse” as well as the DCEU and Universal’s new “classic monsters universe” looking up to the MCU, Danny Butterman style, saying “I wanna do what you do!”. Seriously, Marvel must be laughing all the way to the bank.
Anyway, I agree with others in that the majority of the characters are pretty throwaway, including those of Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson. Though his character essentially serves a purpose (brought on board as a tracker for an uncharted land), his primary goal is simply to look cool, do a constant action man pose and to emerge from the action with nary a hair out of place. Similarly, Larson gives it all she’s got but her character is pretty redundant (I mean, John Goodman had a camera, what did they need her for?) and she pretty much exists to look either shocked or confused.
Though I do hope that we see them both together again as Loki and Captain Marvel (and Nick Fury!)
John Goodman is great, as is Samuel L. Jackson who relishes every opportunity to constantly stare Kong down while everything blows up around him. And as mentioned before, John C. Reilly is the favourite by far while everyone else is pretty dispensable, simply cannon fodder, paper-thin soldiers, scientists and geologists.
So all in all, Kong: Skull Island is a pretty entertaining film. There is a bit of a lull when Kong is reduced to a background character but it delivers on its visuals and monster smackdown spectacle. The story is ultimately pointless and the characters are pretty basic but in a film like this, who cares, right?
Visually appealing with some breathtaking action sequences but with an uninspired story, basic characters and a distinct lack of King Kong.
★ ★ ★