"An uncharted island. Let me list all the ways you're gonna die; rain, heat, disease carrying flies. Plus we haven't even started on all the things that want to eat you alive."
I don’t know what studio head watched the micro-budget indie coming of age movie ‘The Kings of Summer’ and thought that it was the perfect jumping point for a movie about a giant monkey smashing things. At least when Gareth Edwards went from ‘Monsters’ to 2014’s ‘Godzilla’ it made an ounce of sense (it was just more monsters, on a bigger scale) but a movie like ‘Kong: Skull Island’ seems like too big a logical leap here.
In the closing days of the Vietnam War, the U.S Government sends an elite military task force to a newly discovered Pacific Island. What they discover there are hordes of giant creatures and threats beyond their wildest imaginations, so when the group becomes stranded they must fight to survive against the monsters.
A movie like ‘Kong: Skull Island’ can lead to an interesting discussion over what you should expect from a movie. Should one accept that certain movies will never fulfil certain aspects of what you want? Well in my not so humble opinion, no. But more on that later. As a mindless piece of entertainment ‘Kong: Skull Island’ is enjoyable enough and as the obvious franchise builder that it is, simple establishing a new King Kong that can go head to head with Godzilla in the inevitable crossover, it is fairly decent at that as well.
To go back to my initial thoughts regarding its director, ‘Kong: Skull Island’ is well assembled on a technical level and as far as its direction goes it is surprisingly decent. Despite some green screen shots that are woefully composited the action scenes as a whole have a good look to them. Jordan Vogt-Roberts makes you feel the scale of each creature in the movie and he stages his action sequences well enough so that the situation always possesses clarity and a good amount of excitement. Not only are the action scenes nicely directed but there is also a great variety to them, it doesn’t just resort to one style of action and instead places its characters within several kinds of environments to wean differing styles of action out of them.
The downside to this is that after a while the action sequences feel more contrived within the actual story. More than a few feels as if they were inserted into the movie in order to look cool during the trailer, because not all of them feel naturally integrated with the movie itself. That being said they are all still entertaining and stunningly shot by cinematographer Larry Fong, whose ‘Apocalypse Now’ inspired visual cues could be the best part of the entire film save for the gigantic monkey.
Kong’s role in this universe is altered slightly in order to portray him as more of an anti-hero than the threat turned victim portrayal he has commonly been associated with. It is a move that makes sense given that the filmmakers intend to use him in future instalments as well as the fact that they want the audience to empathise with the monster more so than they have in previous versions. But it does open the movie up to the inevitable joke that the most well rounded and relatable character in the movie is the giant ape, and the sad thing is that it’s true.
It a shame that the human characters in ‘Kong: Skull Island’ are so bland, flat and uninteresting. A truly magnificent cast was assembled for the film but a majority of them go to waste with characters that are little more than archetypes and often feel like caricatures. Tom Hiddlestone, Brie Larson and John Goodman all fill their most basic and broad role in the movie nicely but their characters never allow them to do any more, and Samuel L Jackson’s character does have an arc of some description it still feels underutilised. John C Riley would be the only standout in terms of a character who actually elevates the film but that has more to do with Riley’s own charisma and comic timing than the character being anything other than comic relief. In fact while the humour in question is good at times not all of it feels at home in this movie and often leads to a scene being very tonally muddled.
I’ve seen some people saying that it is too much to expect a movie of this kind to deliver interesting characters. After all I doubt anyone will see a movie called ‘Kong: Skull Island’ for the characters. But to me that sounds like another way of saying “Why ask for a movie to be great when you can settle for it being good?” As well as that, to anyone propelling the idea that a simple monster movie cannot have complex, empathetic and developed characters I ask if you have ever seen a little movie called ‘Jaws’. Through taking the time to craft characters that the audience can become invested in Steven Spielberg created a film that transcended its genre to become a defining masterpiece. Action scenes work better when you relate to the people involved in them. Speaking of Spielberg, situations like this always remind me of a statement he made concerning ‘Jurassic Park’ (another film that understands characters excellently), he said ‘Jurassic Park is not a film about dinosaurs, it is a film about people and it just happens to involve dinosaurs”.
As your basic blockbuster entertainment ‘Kong: Skull Island’ is perfectly fine, but never on any occasion does it try to be anything more.