Movie Review: ‘KONG: SKULL ISLAND’ (2017)
‘Kong: Skull Island’ attempts to be the second instalment of what reportedly may be a monsters’ shared universe with another classic movie monster, Godzilla. With a star studded cast, and promise of a different kind of Kong movie, the new adaptation sought to kick off this shared universe, but left us with more questions by the end.
‘Kong: Skull Island’ is a fun and entertaining film that focuses more on monsters than people, but not in a detrimental way.
Legendary Entertainment plans on setting up a shared classic monster movie universe by tying in the legendary King Kong to their Godzilla franchise. With that in mind, in 2014 they rebooted ‘Godzilla’ to mixed responses. The major criticism was that the story focused more on its subpar and uninteresting human characters, than actually provide audiences with any screen time of the titular monster. And given that there were all of maybe 3 scenes where Godzilla can be clearly seen, a major chunk of the movie with a non-Avengers Aaron Taylor-Johnson running around looking somber, and the biggest marquis names in the movie (Bryan Cranston & Juliette Binoche) getting killed off within 10 and 30 minutes into the film, respectively… the criticism was more than justified.
So expectations were high with the next instalment in this supposed shared universe franchise. However, my complaints with ‘Kong: Skull Island’ are exactly the opposite of the criticisms from ‘Godzilla.’
The film itself begins very similar to ‘Godzilla‘, with news reel footage showcasing various real world historical events juxtaposed with fictional events in the movie, involving secret nuclear weapons tests and war. The passionate head of a scientific branch of the government (John Goodman) asks for funding and a Military escort to visit a mysterious Island, hidden from civilization thus far, to uncover its even more mysterious secrets. Then we go through a team building montage that introduces all the actors and their characters. It’s fairly straight forward.
This includes a feminist anti-war photographer, (Brie Larson) a mysteriously badass former special forces guy, (Tom Hiddleston) both of whom join the Military commander leading them (Samuel L. Jackson), who finds himself as a warrior without a clear enemy to fight with the end of Vietnam war. Notice how I don’t use any of their character names, as none of these characters matter at all to the over all story, as is also evident by the complete and utter lack of any backstory for any of them, beyond 2 lines of exposition. Each!
But the best thing that ‘Kong: Skull Island’ does, it pivots the focus of the story and the majority of the action scenes on it’s titular character, and the rightful lead of the film. This movie is chock full of some of the best monster action scenes seen in recent time. The panoramic and sweeping long shots as two (or more!) building-sized monsters duke it out to the death is extremely satisfying and entertaining to watch. The human characters are nothing more than set dressing at this point. Except for one scene that sees the very British Hiddleston, slice his way through a bevy of creatures with a Katana, amidst a poisonous gas cloud, in order to save a fellow teammate.
Kong is succinctly humanized and made accessible to the audience, without dragging out non-dialogue scenes, as the Peter Jackson’s ‘King Kong’ did in 2005. Most of the back story, that looks like it will somewhat connect and be relevant in a shared universe, comes from what everyone would think is the comic relief, but can basically be seen as the human protagonist of the story. For some weird reason.
Majority of roles played by John C. Reilly in dramatic films are as the funny guy who breaks up the tension. But weirdly in ‘Kong: Skull Island’, his character is the only one with a through line of backstory, emotion, heart and resolution in the whole movie. Looking back, it’s odd that his character received more importance, screen time and significance in the story than any of the other, usually leading men and women from other films, cast in this movie. Oh yea and Toby Kebbel is in this too for a few minutes, for another unknown reason.
‘Kong: Skull Island’ is an engaging and entertaining monster action movie with brilliant camera work and concise story telling that really cuts through the fat to tell the right story for the kind of movie it is. It doesn’t try to be more than what it is, and delivers on its promise of being a movie with monsters fighting monsters, without tying itself down with other subplots, of which there are none. While I would definitely liked to have seen more development of John Goodman’s character’s back story, the movie isn’t made any worse without it. The majority of the issues with this movie are more head scratchers than any overt missteps.