Movie Review: “Kong: Skull Island”

   I’ll be honest – I can’t say I’ve ever been a fan of giant monster movies and it’s a shame because I believe they have a lot in common with movie genres I like a lot. The slasher genre springs to mind, and in a lot of ways, what are Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers, if not monsters? I can understand the appeal of iconic characters wreaking havoc and have an appreciation of the film series’, in a similar respect to how I feel about the Hammer and Universal Monster movies. All of which are things I need to explore further if I ever want the Quest for the Best – Horror to carry any weight. Because of this, I’ve decided to delve down deeper into monster movies. This all begins with Kong: Skull Island.

   I first watched Kong: Skull Island in theaters when it was first released back in 2017. The film acted, not only as a reboot of the King Kong franchise, but the second film in Legendary‘s new MonsterVerse. This was exciting because it meant we were one step closer to seeing King Kong go toe-to-toe with everyone’s favorite giant-lizard, Godzilla. I will admit my expectations were more in-check this time around than they were for the 2014 Godzilla film. That film had my attention as Heisenberg against Godzilla, and amounted to what was mostly a dull, tedious affair; too serious for its own good and too lacking in what made me pay the cost of admission.

   While Godzilla featured Gareth Edwards as director, a name I’d heard of for his solid indie film Monster, Kong: Skull Island is directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, a name I wasn’t familiar with until this film. This isn’t to suggest Kong: Skull Island has a lot of unknowns involved. Although it set in an island that is exactly that. Instead, it actually has a monster cast (no pun intended). Actors we’d seen a lot from lately in the Marvel Cinematic Universe like Tom Hiddleson (Loki), Brie Larson (Captain Marvel), and Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), and familiar faces like John C. Reilly (who does, actually, also have a role in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy) and John Goodman.

   The film received a generally positive reception from critics. If you look at the reviews for Godzilla (2014) and this film, they’re very in line with each other, but I think the reaction is for different reasons. In-fact, I think you could go as far as saying Skull Island is the antithesis to a lot of what Godzilla was.

   Kong: Skull Island did well at the box office, falling just shy of 600 million worldwide and improving on the returns had by Godzilla even if Godzilla had a better showing at the domestic box office. I think these films are on the bubble a lot as far as their reception is concerned. Although they bring in solid numbers, they’re always a little too close for comfort. A film that cost nearly 200 million to produce usually costs 100 million to market. Then, once you’re finishing divvying up the domestic and foreign profits between theaters and the studio, which can shave off upwards of 50% of worldwide totals depending on the market (China’s notably gobbles up 75% of a movie’s returns), I wouldn’t be surprised if Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island only broke even after accounting for home-market and merchandising was factored in.

   As the title suggests, the film focuses on a mysterious uncharted island, aptly named “Skull Island”. Bill Randa, a senior official of the Monarch government organization, is able to procure an expedition to explore the island, believing primeval creatures may reside on the recently discovered island. Along for the ride includes a military force commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard, a determined and committed military man who Samuel L. Jackson described in his own words as having an obsession to Kong similar to Captain Ahab’s obsession with Moby Dick. As well as this, Randa hires a tracker and former British Special Air Service Captain named James Conrad, and they’re accompanied by an antiwar photographer named Mason Weaver. After surviving horrific weather conditions, showing Bill Randa’s obsession with his expected discovery, they begin dropping seismic explosives through the island. Things take a drastic turn when the air unit is attacked by the giant ape and they’re left separated across the island. The film follows them as they try to reunite, with some of them merely for fighting for survival and others looking to slay the beast. Only problem is, Kong is but one of the phenomenons hiding on Skull Island.

   Although this film doesn’t have the high-stakes calamity that’s on display in Godzilla, it rarely skimps on displaying the creatures that roam the island. Whether it’s the Skullcrawlers or the Mother Longlegs, the film does well at delivering the goods advertised. I can still remember the surprise I felt when the large arachnid appeared, offering a scene that felt straight out of Cannibal Holocaust (you know the one). Kong: Skull Island may not have a lot of blood and gore (it’s PG-13, after all), but I would say it delivers as much as the film calls for.

   The film is the exact definition of a breezy, action-blockbuster, and, at the same time, is among the best case scenarios for what I want from a monster movie. The cast involved are talented and they work to sell the movie’s premise to the best of their ability. I may not have been invested in seeing Samuel L. Jackson trying to go one-on-one with King Kong, but I enjoyed the ride and mostly light-heart deliverance on the concept. John C. Reily’s character delivers comedic relief, but, even still, Kong: Skull Island knows better than to stray too far into the drama. After Godzilla (2014), I felt under-served by a film too serious for its own good and too removed from brought the series to the dance. Kong: Skull Island offers fast-paced action and beautiful shots of the monstrous ape, beating his chest and wreaking havoc.

   There are some admitted faults. Like I said, I was never invested in it on a dramatic level. And, one scene in-particular involving a creature conveniently spitting something out needed to advance the plot was among one of the most ridiculous things I’ve seen in recent memory, as far as deus ex machina’s are concerned. It isn’t a film likely to make you care about the characters or root for them in their expedition or survival.

   It’s a film that offers eye-candy in the way of gargantuan and grandiose special-effects that bring the island to life and does so with solid-acting brought together through a fast-paced script, elevating an average story-line and offering a good frame for the destructive action I came to see. It may not be a great film, but Kong: Skull Island is a fun story to check your brain at the door for and enjoy the ride.

Rating: – 3.0 out of 5.0