Universal has decided to take the stealth approach to setting up their own Marvel rip-off universe. Dubbed the ‘monsterverse’, Kong: Skull Island‘s secret ulterior motive is that this film only exists to establish the great ape for the climactic duel with Godzilla in 2020. So if that makes 2014 Godzilla their Iron Man, this makes Skull Island their Incredible Hulk? Sounds about right.
Kong: Skull Island (2017) is an action/adventure film directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts (Kings of Summer). It stars an ensemble cast including Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John C. Reilly, John Goodman, Toby Kebbell and Corey Hawkins as a group of military and scientific individuals who undertake a world-first exploration of the mysterious skull island, only to be attacked by the massive gorilla Kong (motion-captured by Kebbell) and stranded amongst the islands many deadly inhabitants.
As you can guess from the cast list, Skull Island has talent to spare amongst its leading group. A staggering amount of big names have jumped onto this project… which makes it a shame for it to absolutely go to waste. It seems ridiculous given the cast, but by far the biggest issue with Skull Island is the characters (or lack of characters). Talented, award winning individuals like Brie Larson and John Goodman are given thankless roles completely devoid of depth or interest. A few examples include Larson’s Mason Weaver, a photo journalist who doesn’t like war… and that’s about it. Another one is Tom Hiddleston, a former SAS solider who’s a badass… and that’s about it. The only couple of actors given something to work with is Samuel L. Jackson’s military commander Preston Packard and John C. Reilly’s Hank Marlow. Both at the very least have an arch and some pathos beyond a few basic characteristics, a much needed couple of bright spots amongst a sea of ‘bleh’.
The best character in the entire film is also the one plastered across the posters. Kong, the ol’ ape king himself is brought to life with some absolutely stellar CGI and a great performance by Toby Kebbell. After this film and his incredible turn as villain Koba in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, I’m starting to think we may have the next great motion-capture performer after Andy Serkis. On top of that, Kong is also the one character that’s actually written well. The writer’s actually understands him, which provides a level of interest that the actual human characters could only dream of – a big boon considering he’s the crux of the movie. Around the impressive CGI ape is the even more imaginative Skull Island itself. Teeming with lush sunsets, rich colours and fantastic creature designs, the island almost feels like a character unto itself and ends up being far more interesting than the people trampling through it. At the very least, they nailed what the title was offering.
The story overall is extremely bare bones. It almost feels like a series of video-game objective markers – go to the island, make it through this swamp, go to the village and so on until bored. Throw in a couple of stupid character decisions, unnecessary scenes and some iffy pacing and that basic plot is weighed down by even more stupid than it was originally.
Which makes it all the more easier to just switch off your brain and enjoy the eye candy plastered all over the screen. The story may suffer, but the action does not, with plenty of solid set-pieces and sweeping visuals to keep your pupils entertained. Despite the script problems, Jordan Vogt-Roberts has directed an extremely good looking movie. It pays homage to the colour palettes of Vietnam films with lush jungle and deep oranges, as well as a good use of scale and scope with plenty of long-shots and slow motion that let the eye get its sugar fix for the day. And considering the film is about a giant ape trouncing around in the jungle fighting other giant things, this works heavily for the movie’s benefit.
I would hesitate to call Kong: Skull Island a good film, but I would definitely call it an entertaining film. A bad plot and flat characters is more than enough to sink this island movie but solid visual direction from director Vogt-Roberts and plenty of switch-your-brain off monster action is enough to at least get Skull Island above sea level. If only barely.
General Audiences: Meh
Film Buffs: Not recommended