“Kong: Skull Island achieved what it set out to do, but it could have done it better.”
Just a heads up: This review will most likely contain spoilers for Kong: Skull Island. If you haven’t yet seen Kong: Skull Island, and are wondering if you should, I would definitely recommend it.
Kong: Skull Island is a film that is meant to essentially revitalize the character of King Kong. Set in the 70’s (specifically during the Vietnam war), Kong: Skull Island follows a group of people who set out to explore Skull Island which is currently just an undiscovered piece of land. The team is led by Bill Randa (John Goodman), a “scientist” who believes that Skull Island could be the home to “many amazing resources”; in reality this character knows about King Kong, and wants proof of his existence. To accompany him on his journey, there is a full cast of other characters along for the ride. These include: photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), ex-military wildlife tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), a few other scientists, and a whole bunch of good old fashioned army boys led by Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson). The premise of the film is essentially that this enormous group gets split up into smaller groups, and they then have to find their respective ways off of the island.
Right off the bat I want to say that I really liked Kong: Skull Island. I’m not a huge fan of King Kong, but it is exactly what I want my action movies to be. Kong: Skull Island doesn’t take itself seriously, instead allowing many jokes and prods at various movies/franchises. This is of course done in good fun, and it really shows. You can tell that everyone had fun making this movie, and in turn it is really fun to watch. It’s also a relief coming off the back of the Godzilla remake that came out a while ago. Not that it was a bad movie, but Godzilla was really serious and tried to make you connect to the situation (despite the “situation” being a massive dinosaur-like creature attacking a city); Kong: Skull Island goes the complete opposite way with this because it knows that you are in the theatre to have fun. The movie doesn’t really have high stakes (the plot is just about people getting off an island), and this allows for many action set pieces to take control. Kong: Skull Island gives us scenes that seem like they were created by a five year-old playing with action figures in his room, and it fits the film perfectly. Couple this with the fact that Kong: Skull Island takes place during Vietnam which in my opinion is the most fun war to watch (you know, once you remove all of the horrors that these soldiers had to witness). The ‘Nam setting gives us characters who are very laid-back, despite them being trained to kill. This allows for the scenes to once again have quite a bit of levity. This Vietnam setting also gives us one of the best soundtracks I have heard in a while. I admit that the concept of using hit song after hit song in a movie gets tired after a while, but Kong: Skull Island managed to pull it off. I was honestly surprised when the credits revealed that only a handful of songs were used, because the movie’s use of them really made it seem like a lot more. On top of all of this we get a surprisingly star-studded cast, each one of them doing a great job in their respective roles. Tom Hiddleston was a great leading man, Brie Larson was a great action hero (without being the damsel in distress), Samuel L. Jackson was great as the tough-as-nails face of the military, and John C. Reilly was great not only as the comic relief but he also brought a lot of emotion to his character. Of course those are only the actors I can name off the top of my head, but rest assured that there wasn’t one performance in Kong: Skull Island that I disliked. Kong: Skull Island also did a really good job with its effects. Of course a character like King Kong is completely CGI, but Kong: Skull Island really made it work; and the same goes for all of the other creatures as well.
After all of that gushing you would assume that I loved the movie. I don’t blame you, I left the movie with the same thought in my mind; unfortunately there is something holding me back from saying that I loved Kong: Skull Island. The Movie wasn’t bad, as I just pointed out, but it wasn’t amazing either. To put it simply: Kong: Skull Island achieved what it set out to do, but it could have done it better. Starting from the top, I felt that the beginning of Kong: Skull Island was kind of a mess. The opening of the film has John Goodman’s character essentially assembling his team for this expedition. This is fine, as many action movies share this same sequence, but the problem I have with this portion of the move is the fact that everything seems so spread out. We are not only introduced to the countless characters that we are going to get familiar with throughout the course of the movie, but Kong: Skull Island seems to take a few moments for each character to tell you all about them. This would be fine if there were like four characters, but as I mentioned earlier the amount of characters in Kong: Skull Island is staggering. On top of this fact, all of these characters are spread out in various different locations which means the movie is constantly shifting its setting which gets fairly disorienting. If I could have changed this portion of the movie I would have replaced it with a quick recruitment montage, then have all of the characters sitting around a table and talking to one another which would then reveal their backstory. This wouldn’t have helped too much, but it would have consolidated this portion of the film and at the very least been less confusing for the audience. Moving on, I felt the creatures in Kong: Skull Island were a little disappointing if I’m being honest. It’s not fair to compare Kong: Skull Island to 2005’s King Kong, but I’m going to anyway because it is the frame of reference that makes the most sense. In 2005’s King Kong, the world of Skull Island feels so alive with the abundance of creatures that we meet. Hell, a lot of these creatures don’t even get an introduction instead just appearing on screen for a few seconds. This added a sense of mystery to the film because we can assume that there are more creatures like them out there. The creature design in Kong: Skull Island wasn’t bad, it was just rather sparse. If my count is correct there were only about six unique creatures in the movie (seven if you count the mention of a creature), and that makes me kind of sad. The world, while well designed, didn’t feel as alive as it could have. And also, a lot of those creatures that we see are never seen again. I can only assume that there are more than just the one giant stick-bug walking around, but because I didn’t see it I don’t know if I believe it. Now of course Kong: Skull Island had less time than the 2005 King Kong to flesh out this world, but either way I was a little disappointed in the apparent lack of creature variety that the movie offered. And finally it was a little disappointing that Kong: Skull Island remained really superficial. This point may sound like I’m contradicting myself, but let me explain: Kong: Skull Island is a movie that his no stakes. We are introduced to these characters, they go to an island, some of them die, some of them escape, but the problem is I really didn’t care. The only character that I had an attachment to was John C. Reilly’s character, and if that wasn’t in the movie then there would have been nothing. I like dumb action movies as much as the next guy, but the problem with Kong: Skull Island is there was no lasting impact. Just this morning I had to sit down and really think about which characters died, because their deaths meant absolutely nothing to me. I understand the appeal of bringing thirty people to Skull Island so the body count can be bigger, but the problem is that even after everyone has been killed, there are still too many characters. I never connected with any one character (besides the Reilly’s character) because I didn’t have time to. The movie was spread out evenly over so many characters which meant they were more like acquaintances to me. Honestly if Kong: Skull Island had fixed these (in my opinion) small problems, it would have been the perfect action movie.
As it currently stands Kong: Skull Island is not a bad movie, but it does have its flaws. The effects are great, the acting is wonderful, and the story is fun, but there isn’t any connection between the audience and the characters. There are no stakes to worry about, and therefore there is no impact left on the audience. Unfortunately, despite it being really fun to watch, Kong: Skull Island is not a movie that stays with you for very long.
I give Kong: Skull Island a B