First Word: Kong: Skull Island is a decent monster movie. At times characters can be incredibly cheesy, but you come to Kong: Skull Island to see Kong and the film delivers. He is massive and fierce and formidable, but those moist eyes of his—yeah, the ones Vogt-Roberts loves reflecting things in so much—reveal his true sensitivity. He doesn’t fall in love with Brie Larson or anything icky like that, thank goodness, but he does protect her. And we’re very invested in his wellbeing. Of course, you’ll have to watch the movie to find out if Kong—or anyone else—makes it out of Skull Island alive.
Synopsis: I watched Kong: Skull Island—which is either someone putting a Vietnam War film in a monster movie or a monster movie in a Vietnam War film. While the film doesn’t quite achieve peanut butter cup-levels of nirvana, it is undeniably entertaining. The film is set in the 70s, right in the final days of the Vietnam War. Gung-ho captain Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) is feeling a little bereft. He craves victory and closure. Then, as if on cue, he’s given an assignment: to assemble a team of soldiers to accompany a group of explorers to the uncharted Skull Island. The expedition is the brainchild of scientists Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins). While they’ve pitched their interest as strictly ecological, in fact, they secretly believe that there are giant, prehistoric monsters living there. Also along for the ride are studly tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and comely war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson). Almost immediately upon arrival—after first withstanding a treacherous weather pocket—the team is rudely greeted by the colossal Kong, who uses trees as projectiles to take down the copters. In one nifty scene, we observe an attempted rescue mission for a grounded copter from afar when suddenly—whap!—a giant Kong paw wipes out the injured men and rescuers alike. Soon we discover that Kong is not the scariest of the creatures on the island—in fact, he is the island’s moral compass, the protector of the ancient silent tribe that has lived there for an eternity. (The only reason he went after the copters was because they had detonated explosives, ostensibly to stir up ecological matter, but in fact to draw out the island’s creatures of the night.) 7/10
Characterization: Characterization? This is a monster movie. The human characters are thinly sketched or clichéd or both: Goodman’s Randa is a (very low-key) mad scientist of sorts, willing to sacrifice others for his grand discovery; Jackson’s Packard becomes predictably blood-thirsty with military fervor. Hiddleston’s Conrad is given a personality for a grand total of one scene: When we first meet him, he’s a scruffy, world-weary gun-for-hire getting into bar fights in Bangkok. Then he shaves his beard and becomes blandly heroic. As for poor Brie Larson, her earnest photographer is saddled with the film’s most risible line. While surveying a pit of skulls, she says, “I’ve been in Vietnam long enough to recognize a mass grave when I see one.” (What was your first clue, Brie: All the skeletons or the giant pit that contained them?) All of that changes, mercifully, with the arrival of John C. Reilly as WWII vet Hank Marlow. We actually met in him the first scene as a young man, crash landing on Skull Island along with a Japanese fighter pilot. Marlow is now living peacefully along with the silent tribe. He’s the one who explains to Conrad and his team that Kong is friend, not foe. It’s those oozy, snaggled-toothed sea lizards you’ve really gotta look out for. Anyway, Reilly is great in this part. Reilly’s goofy exuberance powers the entire second half of the film. 6.5/10
Cinematography: Kong looks amazing! It’s that simple however it is clear that most of the money was spent on that singular part of this project. Other scenes are quite sad. In several scenes with John C. Reilly it is so incredibly clear he is standing in front of a green screen it was laughable. However this film only had to get one character right and they were successful in that. The action scenes with Kong are incredible, fun and entertaining. 6.75/10
Conclusion: If you thought this film would have deep well thought out characters, you must not watch many monster movies, and you probably won’t like this film. However if you were expecting an ape to smash everything, while you stuffed your face with popcorn this is the flick for you. Kong: Skull Island is a pretty good monster film.
Final Score: 6.75/10