Bigger, bolder, better. The contemporary film game is all about building skyward, on the foundation that has been laid before. Kong: Skull Island is definitely all about grand scale filmmaking, and reinvigorates the blockbuster monster movie with flare, but the spectacle comes at a price. That price is character development, as Skull Island’s wildlife is far more complex and developed than the human element, making every scene that doesn’t focus on Kong, a bit of a snooze fest.
It’s all about developing a universe in which authenticity reigns supreme.This being only the latest in a historical slew of giant ape iterations, none have been capable enough to truly capture the magic and majesty of the original 1933 black and white King Kong. Perhaps it’s viewer cynicism, but even looking back on it now, there is just something special about that original King Kong film. One of the many problems with this adaptation, is the incessant need to provide connective tissue to a larger cinematic universe. Gareth Edward’s Godzilla, released just two years ago, and while this is not a direct sequel, it’s playing in the same sandbox, which can be a bit of a distraction.
Skull Island opens to two downed pilots, one Japanese, the other American. They crash land on an island in the South Pacific, and while battling each other, they realize they are not enemies here. Flash forward to 1973, two members of an ominous and imploding governmental agency titled Monarch, Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins), plead to a senator to allow them to tag along on a geological mapping mission. Once the approval is granted, the duo seek a military escort headed by Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and they also enlist the aid of tracker and former military officer, James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston). The last member to tag along is famed anti-war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), who is inexplicably allowed passage, while the necessity of her presence is never verbalized, or even hinted at in any capacity. The group brave a mighty hurricane, only to emerge on the island before being met with a massive creature, the size of a standard skyscraper. Kong doesn’t take kindly to the outsiders dropping bombs on his kingdom, and after taking down every last chopper, the crew is left to fend against the inhabitants of the island, which are the stuff nightmares are made of.
Essentially split into two factions, one being led by Packard, the other, Conrad. The two groups set out on vastly different missions. Packard, on a warpath, Conrad and company just looking to get off the island. Along the way, Conrad’s outfit comes across a native tribe and the fallen pilot from the prologue, Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly). Here they learn more about the massive creature, as well as other, more malevolent monsters that dwell beneath the surface of the island. Now the only goal is to get across the island within three days, so they don’t miss their ride out of hell.
Kong is absolutely gorgeous. This film, cinematically speaking, bares striking similarities to old school Vietnam inspired cinema like Apocalypse Now, and Full Metal Jacket, only bolstered by the brilliant soundtrack that keeps the feel of the 70’s in the forefront. The ape itself is stunning, but beyond surface level visual conception, also harbors real emotional depth, which is no small task for a building sized monster who doesn’t speak. Kong is easily the most fleshed out character amongst the crop, and it shows. Some of the tertiary players are little more than shoehorned plot devices, perfectly packaged to keep the story moving forward. Jackson’s onenote Packard, is all about keeping war alive under any circumstances, but his demonstrably maniacal behavior, supposedly driven by vengeance, feels false given that he seemingly has no problem sacrificing more and more of his men, on his misguided warpath.
Goodman is equally superficial, providing some interesting moments, but is ultimately present only for expository purposes. The rest of the cast are similarly one dimensional, and are either completely wasted (Toby Kebbell) or perplexingly placed for no reason (Tian Jing). While under normal circumstances, the complete lack of humanity, from actual humans, would pose serious narrative issues, Kong: Skull Island barely skips a beat, because Kong is just so brilliantly developed.
Those who criticized Edward’s Godzilla for it’s lack of palpable action and human drama, will have absolutely no reason to cry foul here.There is tons of action, from start to finish, and tons of screen time for Kong. The fight scenes between these massive beasts become a beautifully choreographed dance of sophisticated CGI violence, that is borderline hypnotic. The brisk pacing, which glosses over the silly subplots, maintains complete engagement and investment. There are few lulls from which to plan out bathroom breaks, as the miniature bouts of dialogue are quickly broken up with sincerely funny comic relief and bold adrenaline filled bursts of fantastical action. What Kong: Skull Island lacks in nuanced characterizations, it more than makes up for in striking visual spectacle, making this the absolute perfect popcorn blockbuster, fitting for the character of King Kong.