Kong: Skull Island Review
Thanks to the absurd achievement of Marvel Studios in the past decade, the “cinematic universe” has become a goal for just about every major studio. Studios like Warner Bros., Universal, and Sony have all rushed to create new shared universes for their major franchises, and so far their attempts at the Marvel formula have failed to connect with audiences. The creation of a cinematic universe involves meticulous planning and great understanding of both character and world. In 2014, Legendary Pictures and co-producer Warner Bros. decided to take on the aforementioned difficult filmmaking burden with their release of Godzilla. With this passable take on the classic character, Legendary had begun their shared movie-monster universe, and the groundwork for a franchise had begun. Now, with the release of Kong: Skull Island, Legendary is hoping to connect the most popular movie-monsters, King Kong and Godzilla, in an eventual Batman v Superman sized clash. Seeing how Warner Bros. has handled their other movie-universes, the anticipation for their new monster-movie has been weaning. Kong: Skull Island pushes a star studded cast, an exciting new world, and an updated Kong -- but is that enough to ensure the security of another movie universe?
The film is set in 1973 and follows a group of soldiers, scientists, and various specialists on a mission to find the uncharted Skull Island. The group is hastily assembled by Bill Randa (John Goodman) to map out the lost island, with the guarded expectation that they will there discover the mythical beasts that once ruled the world. With the obligatory tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), the hardened photo-journalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), and the blood-lusting Lieutenant-Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), the foolhardy crew is seemingly ready for whatever the island has in store. Unsurprisingly, after dropping seismic bombs around the island, they are attacked by a 100-foot-tall bipedal gorilla. Disoriented, separated, and desperate, the characters must regroup and escape the titular island and monster, or be lost forever.
While other Kong films are overweighed by characters and set-up, Kong: Skull Island wastes no time getting to the intense, monster-filled action. While this may be a godsend for some, the lack of careful character construction makes for a hollow film, which only occasionally offers enjoyable moments. Each character is given their one line of backstory in the beginning, as the three screenwriters (Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, and Derek Conolly) race to get to Kong smashing things in slow-motion. Larson’s Mason Weaver and Hiddleston’s James Conrad are the worst of the bunch, with their professions becoming the only discernable character traits they have. Larson points her camera at the awe-inducing monsters, snaps an all too occasional photo, and smiles with her hair perfectly waving in the wind. Hiddleston broods, as heroic macho-men do, and he surveys the jungle from innumerous vantage points, while apparently serving as the group leader. Both characters lack anything interesting to do, and they aren’t given enough development to justify their screen time. The success of each character dependently hinges on the likability of their respective actors, something that the filmmakers rely on with just about everything else in the film.
Despite the massive character flaws, there is still some fun to be had with Kong: Skull Island. The world that has been built on this uncharted island is truly exciting, and at times the design of certain monsters is thrilling and utterly original. From giant, bamboo-legged spiders to the lizard-like “Skull Crawlers”, the film amply delivers on bizarre creatures that many past Kong films have failed at. The island’s jungle feels dense and terrifying, and the scenes involving these monsters are some of the most entertaining in the film. While the uncanny beasts that fill the island are amusing, they are ultimately overshadowed by the sheer magnitude of Kong. The famed gorilla is the best part of the film, and much like Godzilla in 2014’s Godzilla, he injects life into every scene.
Likewise, the visuals of the film are gorgeous, and cinematographer Larry Fong takes advantage of the tropical setting to create evocative imagery. These impressive visuals combined with the fast-paced and sometimes funny editing by Richard Pearson makes for a stimulating and mildly entertaining film. Sadly, the best parts of Kong: Skull Island still don’t make up for its shortcomings in character and story.
Kong: Skull Island is yet another big budget example of style over substance. Much like Michael Bay’s Transformers films, Kong is nothing more than an explosion-filled run through the jungle. For some, this is all the film really needs to be, but for those looking for a fresh take on man’s need to conquer the natural world through a tragic violence, they’ll have to look somewhere else. Kong: Skull Island is nothing more than another hasty attempt to create a billion-dollar universe at any means necessary.