-The newest Kong installment is big, dumb, and surprisingly disappointing.
After 2014’s Godzilla was such a smash hit, Legendary Pictures decided to create the ‘MonsterVerse’ a revisiting of some of the old kaiju properties that seemingly every male adult used to watch as a kid. I can say very forthright that there are a few Godzilla films that are some of my most nostalgic loves, and I liked the 2014 edition enough to be excited about this development: a universe of monster mashing!
In the hope of eventually crossing over to do a Godzilla v. King-Kong, we get this movie: not necessarily an origin story, but rather a reboot of the Kong franchise. In 2014, Godzilla was sleeping, ready to be awoken and feast on the nuclear-driven creatures that he kills in the film’s finale. The movie understood that we all knew ‘Godzilla’ and he represented more of a protector of mother nature than his traditional allegory, and the screenwriters decided not to waste time on his origin. This Kong is very similar. Our characters arrive at Skull Island, and we just accept that Kong will be there waiting. In a way, this is refreshing, not going through the traditional story told three times now, but that doesn’t mean that this movie isn’t problematic. The lack of character development and constant emphasis on the action scenes take away from what makes Kong so great, and it seems that the studio really missed the mark on this reboot.
Our main actors aren’t really characters, but rather one-dimensional pieces with a personality trait or occupation to separate them from the other cast members. The premise is fairly straightforward: an organization run by John Goodman and Corey Hawkins believes that an uncharted island (Skull Island) in the South Pacific could be the home of species that they aren’t familiar with. It boils down to what they describe as the ‘Hollow Earth’ theory, that there are pockets of underground land where undiscovered creatures could live, and that passages up to island territories could be possible. He is able to convince a senator (cameo from Richard Jenkins) to fund an exploratory mission out to Skull Island. Goodman brings a tracker (Tom Hiddleston) and a photographer (Brie Larson) along with him, but sensing potential danger, brings an army commander (Samuel L. Jackson), and some of his men (including Toby Kebbell, Thomas Mann, and Jason Mitchell). When they get there, Kong instantly strikes, dividing the group, and leaving them to fend for themselves in the nasty elements of Skull Island.
The first thing to note is that there are parts of this movie that look really nice, and have good CGI. For the most part, the rendering of Kong is fine, and there are exciting sequences. However, there are plenty of scenes with obvious green-screen divides and a much-too-yellow color scheme that takes gorgeous nature and makes it seem so compartmentalized. Obviously, the entire draw to this movie is the big, explosive action, but there’s a sense that it feels so unearned. So for every great scene where the action entertains us, there’s another scene where it really does just look like a bunch of images on a blank canvas that mean nothing to us. The best scenes, one involving a giant bug, and one involving Kong and an octopus, are great, but the lack of excitement in even the monster smashing is what makes the lack of character structure that much more egregious. There aren’t enough big moments that land to cover up for the movie’s faults.
One of the reasons the big moments don’t manage to land is that the movie completely nerfs what we’ve seen from Skull Island. There are no dinosaurs, there’s one insect, and instead, we get these lizard creatures that really don’t wet the whistle of a great monster villain. They are pretty much just animated fodder for Kong to defeat, and mean totally nothing. Despite Kong being plenty satisfying on screen, he doesn’t particularly do anything that exciting because of the lack of presence around him. Then, we get introduced to him too soon, and any mystery that the movie could’ve presented about what meeting Kong would entail is removed from the movie’s intrigue.
As I stated before, the characters are nothing. Tom Hiddleston is very dry, John Goodman is nothing, and Samuel L. Jackson’s performance omits logic in favor of playing into the Samuel L. Jackson character trope. None of the players really give us anything, except for one scene where Jackson clearly gets validation by getting another mission as the Vietnam War is winding down. The film occasionally tries an ‘Apocalypse Now’ like tone, which fails because of how silly it is, and then, the only person we really root for is John C. Reilly, a military man stranded on the island for twenty years before we meet him. He’s just kooky enough to save a few scenes. Finally, Brie Larson is coming off of a Best Actress win for Room, and the fact that she decided to choose this empty role after months of wanting gender equality in movies is a little stupid, to say the least.
Overall, Kong: Skull Island is a big disappointment. It has the occasional scene that is impressive just for the scale of it all, but the lack of characters and thorough plot lines hinders the amount of fun that you can have with it. I’m in the minority, as most people seem to be at least decently receptive to this movie, but I just didn’t have enough fun to recommend it. I’m still excited for Godzilla 2, but this is a step back in developing a good MonsterVerse.
Kong: Skull Island (2017)
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts (The Kings of Summer, Episodes of: ‘You’re the Worst’)
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John C. Reilly, and John Goodman
with: Toby Kebbell, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, John Ortiz, and Jing Tian
RT Score: 79%