Kong: Skull Island is the latest outing for the most famous ape in cinematic history. Its previous outing, engineered by Peter Jackson in 2005, was met with mixed reviews. Ambitious, yes, but arduously long and repetitive in parts. Kong: Skull Island aims to ditch many of the classic Kong tropes – no more Kong wrecking havoc in New York city and no more Kong climbing the Empire State building with Ann Darrow staring lovingly into his eyes. Skull Island also comes hot on the heels of Godzilla (directed by Gareth Edwards) and it is similarly burdened with the responsibility of setting up a shared cinematic universe where the giant ape will be fighting the monster of all monsters. Yes, there is a Kong vs Gozilla film coming, à la Batman V Superman. God help us all.
Set in 1973, Kong: Skull Island starts with the formation of an exploration team whose mission is to explore an uncharted island off the coast of Vietnam. The expedition is headed by Bill Randa (John Goodman), a mysterious government official with hidden agendas of his own. Recruited as the team’s protection squad is a small military unit led by Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson, again, having the time of his life), who is still looking for a war to fight. Rounding up the group are ex-British Special Air Serviceman turned hunter-tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), anti-war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), Asian biologist San Lin (Jing Tian) and the eager young geologist Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins). After their helicopters crash on the island as a result of Kong protecting his territory, the scattered group of survivors must make way their way across the island to their rendezvous point while trying to stay alive in foreign terrain inhabited by mythical and prehistoric creatures. Along the way, our group of heroes encounter friendly natives, the aurora borealis (for some random reason), and a stranded World War Two veteran played by John C. Reilly who is there to offer small doses of comedy and heart to the procedures.
Turns out Kong: Skull Island is exactly what its trailer suggests: an action-slash-monster-movie with mindless fun. The time period and the gorgeous setting (filmed in Vietnam) definitely make the film engaging to a certain extent and Kong does not disappoint when he is unleashed into action. However, what the film is not able to get right is the tone. Most of the time, it is energetic and upbeat, driven by catchy 70s music. Then, suddenly, it becomes incredibly serious, with intense slow-motion sequences and attempts at heartfelt dialogue. The script has all the subtlety of a blunt cleaver and there are lines which are worthy of multiple eye-rolls and face-palms.
Do not expect any nuances from any of our main characters. Some of the soldiers, primarily the two played by the up-and-coming Jason Mitchell and Thomas Mann, are lovable enough, but that is as far as character development goes. Hiddleston is rugged and handsome, but it is important to note that, as the tracker of the group, we never actually see him do any tracking. What we do see, however, is him sword fighting with a samurai blade. Larson is saddled with a similarly generic character and does her best to bring some heart to the film. The lack of a human story is surprising, especially considering what the director Jordan Vogt-Roberts has achieved with his previous film, The Kings of Summer.
All in all, Kong: Skull Island is enough of an enjoyable ride that it wouldn’t make you beg for two hours of your life back. But don’t go into it wishing for a Jurassic Park or even an Indiana Jones: The Last Crusade. Watch it, enjoy it for what it is, and maybe come back in a few years time to watch Kong team up with Godzilla in a fight against some creepy, vicious dinosaurs. Because, let’s face it, no matter how ridiculous that film sounds, we’re all going to watch it, aren’t we?
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