Cinematic Releases: Kong: Skull Island (2017) - Reviewed

Shocking, as it may seem, Kong: Skull Island has a lot riding on it. It has been almost 11 years since we've seen King Kong on the big screen. There are a lot of expectations for this film considering that it's following both Peter Jackson's solid but WAY too long take on the legendary cinematic monster and Gareth Edwards middling and divisive take on rival legendary cinematic monster Godzilla.  It serves not only as a reintroduction to Kong but to a broader monster based cinematic universe. If Kong doesn’t work, the whole thing crumbles down like a building in Kong’s way. Warner Brothers and Legendary Pictures hope that this movie revives Kong in a way that resonates with audiences and critics alike. I'm happy to report that for the most part, it does.

Written and directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, Kong: Skull Island is what would happen if King Kong and Apocalypse Now had a baby that ended up in a multiplex. Set during the tail end of the Vietnam War, a team of explorers and soldiers travel to the titular mythic uncharted island in the Pacific in search for answers to what exactly is happening there. Being that this is a monster movie, our heroes soon discover that they are crossing into the domain of monsters, including the mythic King Kong, who are not too happy to have people rolling up into their turf.

Unlike recent monster blockbusters like Jurassic World and Godzilla, Kong has a distinct sense of style and purpose. From it’s rocking Vietnam era rock and roll soundtrack to its breathtaking monster effects, you can tell that this is a film that came from a place of love. For the most part, it doesn’t feel like the corporate mandated and focus tested safe blockbusters that have been dominating the multiplex for the last decade. It has a soul and a real sense of purpose.

All these humans keep messing with my island.
I just wanted a nap.....but no.

Vogt-Roberts and cinematographer Larry Fong frame the sequences in a way that is not only appropriate to the story but visually interesting as well. The colors are vivid and breathtaking, especially in the scenes when Kong takes on monsters.  The cinematography and editing work together to make action packed scenarios that will thrill and delight audiences.

The film’s biggest weakness, much like the aforementioned Godzilla, is that the characters are not as strong or interesting as they could be. While it's not as bad as that movie, I just wish that the film had human characters that were as engaging as the action or Kong himself. In a film filled with talented actors like Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Tom Hiddleston, and Brie Larson, the only characters that have an interesting story arc with real pay offs are Kong and John C Reilly’s stranded fighter pilot character. Reilly manages to steal the show with a performance that provides the film with both humor and heart. 

I'm just here to
steal the show.
These characters aren’t as terrible or boring as the ones in Godzilla but they lack in the 'likeability' or interest factor that makes them as memorable or likable as the characters in something like Jurassic Park. I wish that the rest of the film’s characters got the same treatment and respect as the action sequences and cinematography did. I don’t want high art or deep characterization in my awesome monster movie but a little more sprinkled in would have made Kong that much more affecting.  The film feels like it's on fast forward in this regard, perhaps a deliberate choice given the reaction to the slower paced Godzilla. It’s a shame as with a little bit more characterization, this film could be truly great as opposed to the good it is now.

As it is, Kong: Skull Island is a solid and engaging blockbuster that is filled to the brim with jaw dropping action and gorgeous cinematography and special effects. It is not high art but it is a fun monster movie that offers a good time to be had at the movies. Sometimes that’s all you can ask for. 


-Liam S. O'Connor