Kong: Skull Island – Review

Whoah, boy. You know, I can’t remember the last time I was this confused about how I felt about a movie. I did have a good time, but like a casual relationship, it’s complicated. Kong: Skull Island was (for me) one of the most exciting releases 2017 had to offer, I had been waiting for this thing since that first trailer had me shivering with antici………pation. Yes, I did just reference Rocky Horror Picture Show in my Kong review. But strangely, it’s awfully fitting; because Kong: Skull Island was (to my horror) one rocky picture show and I…uh….erm….let’s just talk about it.

Kong: Skull Island is the latest in a now announced ‘shared universe’ with the latest (western) iteration of Godzilla, because Warner Bros. needs to topple the Marvel monopoly with any shared world. I mean DC can’t do it yet, so why not giant monsters? Any port in a storm. Kong is directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts (The Kings of Summer) and stars Tom Hiddleston (Thor, Crimson Peak) Brie Larson (Room), Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction), John C Reilly (Boogie Nights) and John Goodman (10 Cloverfield Lane) amongst other disposable ragdolls – I mean soldiers. The film follows a group of scientists, a photographer, a ‘tracker’ and their heavily armed military escorts as they enter the uncharted territory of ‘Skull Island’. Of course, upon getting within palm-tree-throwing-distance (that’s a thing now) of the island, they are promptly caught off guard by the GIGANTIC APE AND OTHER TERRIBLE NIGHTMARE MONSTERS that live there. A helicopter crash and jungle survival ensues. Now, I for one am a *massive* fan of ‘man vs monster’ cinema, and couldn’t care less if that sounds to some like a schlocky niche to enjoy. Screw it, I like watching people run away from big things trying to eat/crush/kill them. I also happen to like war movies, when they are done well. I also like action spectacle movies, when they are done well. Kong: Skull Island however, decided to capitalise too much on people like me, and attempted to be all of those things. And here lies my problem with what is an otherwise perfectly decent movie: ‘jack of all trades, master of none’.

Let me say right now that I was SO excited for this movie. I mean, unbelievably so. I shared every trailer on all the social medias, I did all the things. I proclaimed my love for this movie and had not a shred of doubt that it would be anything short of amazing. I’ll be the first to admit that I completely bought the ad campaign for this film; from that first teaser to the very last trailer I had drunk the Kong Kool-Aid. Skull Island seemed to be just what the doctor ordered; a monster movie with stunning visual imagery and a good cast?! WHAT?!?! Now, while all of this is true, and Kong is indeed a crowd pleasing blockbuster, it is also the next to suffer what I will dub the ‘Suicide Squad effect’. Do you remember the ads for Suicide Squad? Pretty freakin’ sweet, right? Remember the casting? Pretty damn good, huh? Remember the movie? Houston, we have a problem. Suicide Squad did and said all the right things, but when it came to the final product what we got was a tonal mish-mash that had too many characters and not enough substance: a passable, but disappointing hot mess. Kong: Skull Island has the same problem; it rides highs of excellent spectacles and awesome imagery, but then nose dives whenever a character has to open their mouth for longer than “aah!” or “run!”.

“Keep your head down, I think the Warner Bros. execs might still be hungry.”

Characters? What Characters?

Tom Hiddleston is a good actor. We know this. We have seen this in multiple films before he donned his Marlon Brando face and cool dude stance for his role in Kong: Skull Island. Brie Larson is a good actress, she literally just won an Oscar for god sake. Sam Jackson is a goddamn cinema gem and John Goodman is usually great. So when these names all line up in a pretty little row for Kong: Skull Island you would expect fireworks, right? Well sadly, this is more of a fizzle than a bang as all of these well-versed actors are given a script that is *almost* complete arse. Seriously, one of the writers commissioned for this film (Dan Gilroy) wrote Nightcrawler – you know, that really great thriller with Jake Gyllenhaal as the creepy-ass camera man? Well, he must have been either absent, tired or dead when this script was written because some of this writing is worse than a SyFy original movie. It’s just…so…depressing! This movie could have been so great! But instead we are given cookie-cutter characters: Tom Hiddleston plays a man with zero backstory outside of the words ‘tracker’ and ‘British special forces’, Brie Larson is painfully bland as ‘anti-war photographer person’ whose character motivation reads: stare in shock, snap photos, return to staring in shock. Oh wait, she fired a flare once, so that was nice. Sam Jackson is reduced to war-hungry army nutjob, John Goodman is ‘generic science man that never really does any science’ and John C. Reilly tries. Which is admirable, because of all the cast John C Reilly is really the only one I can say was fully effective as a stranded, slightly wacky world war 2 pilot. His jokes (mostly) hit, and his backstory is given some semblance of emotion. Oh, and Toby Kebbell is also decent as both a soldier and as Kong. As good as he is though, we’re introduced to him while writing a letter to his son, which we all know is the death knell for any soldier in a movie. In defence of the cast; these are talented people, but you can see the quiet desperation in their eyes as with every passing scene they try so desperately to pressure a diamond out of the coal lump of a script they were given.
Best line, hands down, goes to John C Reilly: I won’t spoil it, but it has something to do with ants. Watch it and you’ll see.

Actual photo of Sam Jackson during script readings for Kong: Skull Island.

Apes and spiders and beasts, oh my!

I bet by now you think “holy crap, this guy is a complete douche about this movie. Didn’t you say you liked it?” Well, yes I did, and here’s why. Kong: Skull Island is, for all its faults, a really exciting movie….when there’s monsters on screen. Hate the Peter Jackson Kong movie all you want, but you can’t deny that the monsters (including Kong) were pretty damn entrancing. To this day I still remember the insect crevasse scene with the man eating centipede-worms. Skull Island revives this in a great way, capitalising on ‘what worked once, shall work again’. Every creature in this movie is exciting; from stick insects that are literal giant sticks (a log is a big stick, let’s face it) to treetop towering spiders that look like they escaped from Stephen King’s The Mist. Outside of these -dare I say smaller- foes, we also get the sinister ‘skull crawlers’; the large bipedal snake-lizards we’ve seen charging through bone yards in the trailers. These are our new nightmare creatures – complete with terrifying local backstory – and boy do they deliver. Whenever a beast is centre stage in Kong: Skull Island you will be glued to the screen, and you won’t have to wait long between encounters as they’re fast & furious here. But the grand Mac Daddy of all the beasties is where the real thrills are at. Yes, they did indeed get the star of the show right here, because Kong is ABSOLUTELY INCREDIBLE. The team responsible for Kong should be given a resounding pat on the back here as they just put the entire blockbuster effects industry on notice. Kong is awesome to behold; he’s tough, he’s scary and more than anything he’s HUUUUUUUUUGE. I could almost forget any wrong the screenwriters did in this movie whenever Kong was on screen, and that is really the tipping point here. You’ve seen a good taster of the crowd pleasing Kong moments in the trailers, but wasn’t that just what you wanted to see? Yes, yes it was. And there’s more. Kong is the best part of this movie, and considering it’s his movie he damn well should be. 10/10 on the giant ape/spider/assorted nightmares front, I only wish that palm tree Kong threw was aimed at the screenwriters and not those poor pilots.

Pilot 1: “Wow das one big monkey,”. Pilot 2: “He must work out”. Pilot 1: “Wot?”. Pilot 2:”Wot?”

Sweet tunes, man.

You know what everyone loved about Suicide Squad? Neither do I. Dat soundtrack tho.
Well clearly Warner Brothers just said ‘GET ALL THE THINGS!’ to their music department for Kong because they’ve seemingly bought out the entire music library titled ‘’Nam war tunes’. Yes all the old faves are here; from CCR to Black Sabbath’s ‘Paranoid’ (which also made an appearance in Suicide Squad…hmm), the only thing missing was Buffalo Springfield’s ‘For What it’s Worth’. Now don’t get me wrong, I love these songs and might have every one of them playing in my car most of the time…but there is such a thing as ‘too much of a good thing’.
Warner Bros seem to be content to bash their bleeding, box office bombing brains into the same brick wall that has ‘this is a good idea’ spray painted onto it, because in the words of Mr. Potato Head – “He’s done it agaaaaaainnn!!!”.
As if pleading ignorant to the overwhelming response to the music overload in Suicide Squad, Warner Bros have released yet another movie with waaaaay too many popular songs crammed into not enough movie. If you broke Kong: Skull Island down, I swear you would have at least 1/3 to half of this film scored with actual songs. They might as well have not bothered with a score at all, as apparently every ‘Nam chopper has been outfitted with a sweet P.A system and the most rockin’ 70’s mixtape of all time. Seriously guys, I love this music, and I love that you used it, but I friggin’ hate that you did nothing BUT use it. Kong: Skull Island has a great soundtrack for sure, but it once again Suicide Squad’d itself by overusing it’s soundtrack and underusing its score.

 

“Play CCR again. I dare you, I double dare you mother funkster”

Damn, Kong. You look good gurl.

The second – and for me biggest- point that Kong crushes is visual imagery. This movie is at times almost too good to be true; switching from intense action set piece to a soaring shot of helicopters that look like they’re right out of a war film. Yes, methinks Mr. Indie director man might’ve had a bit of a crush on Apocalypse Now because this film is dripping with ‘Nam war film throwbacks, and a couple of almost direct copies. Influences aside, Kong: Skull Island has some terrific moments that are just begging to be future classic cinema stills. We’ve all seen that shot in the trailer of Kong rising out of the fire to death stare Sam Jackson, what we didn’t see was the gorgeous precursor shot of Kong wading through the river toward Jackson, flames behind and ahead. Just…wow. The gem of the bunch (for me) however was a tie between a slowed down overhead shot of helicopters (love them chopchops), and a stunning shot of Kong approaching our heroes through a fog on a mountainside – complete with glowing eyes dimly shining through the foggy dark. Kong truly impresses here, and I can definitely see where some creative flair was coming from in the imagery of this movie. Outside of the imagery, Kong also serves up some very clever moments – the best of which is a terrific suspense scene that utilises an old school camera flash in a way I’m sure you will never forget.

A Marvel exec watches the latest DC film launch

What am I?!?!?! – Kong‘s internal conflict

As much as I enjoyed large parts of this movie, and while critical I am, I have to admit that I can switch off and not give a flying palm tree about shoddy writing if I’m watching a B-Grade monster movie. That said, I’m not quite sure Kong: Skull Island was convinced that it was a B-Grade monster movie. Like a university student constantly changing degrees, Kong’s tone shifts at light speed between survival thriller to action blockbuster, to war film and then back to whatever it wants again. This movie is all. Over. The. Place. One moment Kong is determined to be a love letter to war films, and does it well, but then suddenly shifts tone and becomes some jarred survival movie for about 10 minutes before something action-y happens again. Then it becomes a blockbuster again. All the while it tries to give some ‘character moments’, but this concept confuses and frightens Kong: Skull Island so it quickly abandons this for explosions or fighting or something. I’m pretty sure this must have come about from a group of Warner execs having a spitball contest over Jordan Vogt-Roberts artistic dreams. There are also some wildly out-of-left-field scenes in this movie that serve no purpose. At one point Action Jackson (Hiddleston’s character is so forgettable I don’t even remember his name) is thrown a sword and proceeds to slice n’ dice beastie birds in a 300 style fast/slo-mo sequence. It was at this point that I began to question what had gone wrong in my life. And what had gone wrong in Tom Hiddleston’s life. At what point did Action Jackson become a precision swordsman? I mean he could’ve been all along for all we know, given how little we actually know him at an HOUR OR SO into the movie. There is clear direction here in portions (usually the war movie bits) but this quickly evaporates in the face of bizarre crowd-pleasing that screams Warner Bros to me. Like a stage 5 clinger on Vince Vaughn, they are determined to make you love them, even if they need to hurt themselves to do it.

*Kong: Skull Island* Ahem.

*Apocalypse Now* AHEMMMM.

To see, or not to see?

Let me *attempt* to be clear now, because this movie confused my head and heart.
Kong: Skull Island is a good time at the movies. Get some popcorn and a drink, sit back and zone out and go see this film, because you will have a good Friday night out.
This is where I think people find reviews confusing, because overall I’m kinda confused by this movie myself. On the one hand I did find myself enjoying Kong: Skull Island as a big, crazy action spectacle that I could switch off to and just enjoy watching. The trouble is, Kong is a confused movie, that while enjoyable, can never quite make up its mind what it wants to be. I enjoyed Kong: Skull Island, but when I walked out of the Logan premiere this time last week I was buzzing. I had just seen a fantastic movie. When I walked out of Kong: Skull Island I turned to my friend we both shrugged and said ‘yeah, it was good’. Do you see what I mean? Kong: Skull Island was so high on my list for 2017, I wanted this movie to be great but (much like Suicide Squad) I left feeling disappointed that I had seen a passable, but jumbled movie that could have been amazing.
As a film to watch, Kong: Skull Island will hit the spot for anyone looking for an exciting adventure film with some standout scenes.
As a film that was made, Kong: Skull Island does fall short of expectations with a confused tone, bizarre pacing, relatively bland characters and pretty shoddy writing.
So if you’re in the mood for some easy entertainment then go see Kong: Skull Island and you will have a good time, but don’t dig too deep below the surface. You’ll only find critical nitpicks and Peter Jackson crying.

Kong: Skull Island gets a 75% from me, and believe me I wanted to give it a billion. That’s a B- Kong, I know you have potential. Here’s to the inevitable Kong/Godzilla smackdown.


Byotiful.

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