Kong: Skull Island is a character driven, monster smashing thrill ride that’s visually stunning and just a hell of a lot of fun.
The film is set in 1973 just as the Vietnam war is coming to an abrupt end. A team of scientists (John Goodman, Corey Hawkins, and Jing Tian) is heading to an uncharted island to participate in a geological survey. To accomplish this task they bring in a team lead by a former soldier (Tom Hiddleston), a photographer (Brie Larson) and the commander of a chopper unit (Samuel L. Jackson). There seems to be this sense that the mission should be relatively easy and most of the crew begins to let their guard down. It’s at that moment when all hell breaks loose.
The cinematography in Kong: Skull Island was fantastic. Larry Fong (Batman v Superman) superbly blends the natural setting of each shot with dark orange tones that not only heightens the realism but also adds a layer of authenticity to the film. You have moments where logically the image on the screen has to be a special effect, but the tones make it seem all too real.
The way they humanized Kong was highly effective. Kong was not portrayed as some unhinged beast; he was shown as the protector of his home. In fact, as the film progresses, it becomes clear that Kong wouldn’t have even made his presence known had it not been for being provoked by their presence.
John C. Riley is perfectly cast as the World War II pilot who was shot over Skull Island and has been stranded for 25 years. He provided some need comedic relief during the film’s most tense moments and provided background knowledge to Hiddleston and Larson’s character as they navigate the island.
The film was briskly paced and that helped keep the audience engaged in the narrative as well as efficiently transition from the scenes where humans were the center of the story to scenes where it was solely about Kong.
The action sequences are superbly staged and well thought out. Gone are the days of just a group of military men just blindly shooting at this beast. Kong gets the upper hand smashing helicopters, using his environment as weapons against intruders, and straight out ripping the insides of an underground beast (a moment that caused me to jump out of my seat).
Casting John Goodman as the lead scientist for the M.O.N.A.R.C.H. (a tip of the cap to Godzilla) was a great casting decision. Goodman has the range to pull off this character, a person who is driven to seek out the truth no matter what the cost may be.
This version of Kong left me awestruck. The detail they put into his facial features even down to the intricacy of his fur was mind blowing.
What Didn’t Work
Samuel Jackson wasn’t a good choice to play the Helicopter commander who loses touch with reality. He didn’t strike me as a Vietnam veteran who has lost most of his men, but he struck me as someone who is playing a caricature of himself. I half expected to hear him start spouting lines from Snakes On A Plane during the film.
At one point during the second act of the movie, the narrative begins to lose it’s steam slightly when we get caught up in John C Riley’s predicament (him being stranded for so long) and get into the origin of the natives on the island. I felt we already touched on his character’s issue and quite frankly, they could have quickly eliminated the natives altogether from the film.
Some critics are lining up to take shots at this movie. I’ve heard everything from Kong: Skull Island is hollow to it’s lacking substance. What exactly were they expecting? Did they want Kong: Skull Island to have the same depth as Moonlight or La La Land? To judge this by any other measure than it was a monster movie is ridiculous. This film is an exhilarating experience for all moviegoers and will provide an escape from the onslaught of divisive headlines that seem to be a mainstay in the news. Sometimes an escape isn’t a bad thing.