Kong: Skull Island (2017): Not Worthy of Being Certified Fresh
After the financial success of 2014’s Godzilla, executives at Warner Bros. decided to move forward with a “MonsterVerse” of sorts, setting up for a future movie with a massive showdown between Godzilla and King Kong. The next step to get to that promising monster movie has been released this weekend, and it showcases the other half of the matchup yet to be seen, King Kong. The following review of Kong: Skull Island will be spoiler free.
Kong: Skull Island is directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts and contains a litany of stars such as Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, and Samuel L. Jackson. We begin with a select few discovering a previously uncharted island called Skull Island. After getting funding to embark on an expedition to the island, Bill Randa (John Goodman) enlists the help of a select team full of military personnel (led by Jackson’s character), a tracker (Hiddleston), a photographer (Larson), and a few others. Upon entry into the island, the team learns that its presence there is not welcomed in the slightest.
Although my expectations were pretty high for Kong: Skull Island, I was even more intrigued for the implications of future movies to come. It may be a little annoying that almost every semi-major property has to build a cinematic universe these days, but in this case, it feels warranted. A movie where Godzilla and King Kong fight sounds pretty great on paper, and that premise alone will absolutely have moviegoers around the world licking their chops.
The one thing that makes me nervous when there’s an announcement for a new movie universe is that the movies at the beginning of the newly created universe end up worrying too much about setting up future movies that the team involved in the current movie forget to create a compelling story filled with rich characters and intriguing story lines. Being that Kong: Skull Island is the first film released since the announcement of the “MonsterVerse,” I entered the theater hoping that my fears would be quickly extinguished.
What I Didn’t Like
Unfortunately, those fears became very apparent as Kong: Skull Island progressed.
The director of the film, Jordan Vogt-Roberts, is the next in line in the trend of giving directors who made a positively reviewed independent film a massive movie within a franchise. Throughout Kong: Skull Island, it appeared that Vogt-Roberts was attempting to show how great of a director he is by giving the film a signature feel and look in order to make a name for himself as a director. However, the directing (along with the editing) becomes largely insufferable.
The opening act of the film is edited to shreds as the film tries so hard to be fun by containing action that is constantly slowed down and sped up while guns are fired in relation to the beat of the score, feeling like a music video as the film desperately attempts to give off a 70’s aura with many Vietnam-era rock songs. Such manipulation of footage onscreen far surpasses anything that we’ve seen from Michael Bay.
As an example, Vogt-Roberts tries to setup for a shot of Kong with a backdrop of a yellow, setting sun in the background that I’m sure you’ve seen in the trailers. However, he splices this shot between two fully lit shots that make the action appear to take place at midday. Sure the shot itself looks neat, but it makes zero sense within the context of the film as it makes it seem like the film is moving in time from noon to dusk and back to noon again. There are moments where Vogt-Roberts displays a talent for colorful visuals, but he too often hampers the movie with over-directing instead of letting the film breath.
What I Didn’t Like…Continued
But the negatives don’t stop there, the writing and dialogue are shockingly bad for a major studio release. The tone of Kong: Skull Island fluctuates mightily, but when our “characters” attempt to spout one-liners or have witty banter, it falls very, very flat. It often felt quite uncomfortable watching it play out on screen.
But let’s be honest, you don’t go to the theater to see a movie like Kong: Skull Island for award-winning performances from the human characters. You want to see a massive ape smash everything in sight. However, to have practically no characterization in such a movie is still a major misstep. One thing that is almost certain for a monster movie is that the humans will find themselves in terror among the massive monster fights.
However, if there no is arc for the characters, it effectively lowers the stakes of the actions scenes, making you less invested in the monster fight because the characters who are in trouble mean absolutely nothing to you. Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson certainly look attractive in the film (the camera tends to linger on both of them), but they aren’t even characters. Kong: Skull Island simply expects you to like them because you’ve liked them in other movies. The only characters with any type of substance in the film are Samuel L. Jackson and John C. Reilly, but they aren’t developed enough to save this film’s lack of characterization.
What I Liked
However, despite my issues with the film, almost every moment that includes King Kong himself is very riveting. When Jordan Vogt-Roberts calms down and lets the action speak for itself, there’s a lot of beauty to behold. Kong has some glorious fight sequences with fight moves that rival that of any other monster movie. The movie also has some great moments from other creatures that live on Skull Island that interact with Kong. Every time Kong is on screen, Kong: Skull Island is pretty electric. These few scenes may make the movie worth the price of admission for a wide range of moviegoers. Although I feel a little lukewarm with Kong: Skull Island as a whole, King Kong himself makes me excited for future “MonsterVerse” films.
As a whole, Kong: Skull Island let me down. I most certainly liked King Kong, but not the movie he was in as it was filled with shallow characters and very distracting editing. I’ll give Kong: Skull Island a C-. Many people will probably end up liking this film for the smashing, calling the film a “popcorn movie.” But for those looking for a little more, the film falters mightily. Be sure to stay for the credits because there’s an after credits scene (if this film wasn’t trying hard enough to a Marvel film already).
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