Kong: Skull Island (Review)

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⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Brie Larson, Jing Tian, Toby Kebbell, John Ortiz, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Shea Wingham, Thomas Mann, Terry Notary, John C. Reilly
Certificate: 12A
Run Time: 118 mins

‘Kong: Skull Island’ is the latest iteration of this classic monster character, a staple of cinema since 1933. The character was last seen in Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake which I generally really liked but it was very self-indulgent clocking in at a minute shy of 3 hours when it really didn’t need to be. Over the years, with the introduction of cinematic universes such as Marvel and DC, Warner Bros are having a go at creating what has been dubbed a ‘MonsterVerse’, films centering on classical monsters such as King Kong, Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra and King Ghidorah. ‘Kong: Skull Island’ is the second entry in this franchise after Gareth Edwards’ 2014 film ‘Godzilla’ which I had mixed feelings about – it had a great first half but completely fell apart in its second. ‘Kong: Skull Island’ is directed by up-and-coming director Jordan Vogt-Roberts who made his directorial debut with 2013’s ‘The Kings of Summer’. This is not a new thing in Hollywood hiring younger directors and throwing them straight in the deep end – sometimes this has worked, sometimes it hasn’t. Vogt-Roberts has assembled what is perhaps the best cast for any film this year containing Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Brie Larson and John C. Reilly to name a few. This isn’t just a remake of the typical King Kong narrative again for the sake of setting up a context in the MonsterVerse – Vogt-Roberts has been inspired by the Vietnam War and uses this as a backdrop for the film as a team of scientists and Vietnam War veterans set foot on Skull Island. Initial trailers have looked very promising for this film, particularly the cinematography by one of my favourite DOP’s, Larry Fong, who did such an excellent job on last year’s ‘Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice‘ and with a cast this good, it’s very hard for this behemoth to fail.

‘Kong: Skull Island’ is rather simplistic and very creaky in the script department but it is an entertaining, unashamed film that is visually mesmerising. Vogt-Roberts has proved himself here and really puts his own stamp on the material. There are so many memorable visual shots in this film and it looks as if he has really spent a long time trying to put the film together considering every frame what works and what doesn’t. What is also impressive is that although the film manages to set itself up in a wider universe, it doesn’t drill this message in throughout the entirety of the film and the film works very well as a standlone piece as it does in a franchise. This does mean however that the film is a bit style over substance as it is very simplistic story-wise and the human characters do get sidelined from the fantastical creatures and character development is a problem in this film.

The cast are generally sound and all put in a good effort with the material they have been given, but character development is paper-thin. The cast members who make the biggest impression are Samuel L. Jackson and John C. Reilly who are probably the two characters who get developed the most. Samuel L. Jackson plays himself which is always entertaining and he gets a couple of good lines in the film and John C. Reilly provides comic relief and gets quite a nice character arc. Of the rest of the cast, Tom Hiddleston makes a good lead and he pretty much plays himself which is both a good and bad thing. Brie Larson isn’t given particularly much to do other than wince, grimace and act as a plot device. John Goodman is a great actor but his character is difficult to empathise with and we don’t really get to learn anything about him other than being a plot device.

The story is unfortunately paper-thin and the whole film is very predictable not leaving a lot to imagination. Watching this film was a bit of a strange experience because I would normally start to get annoyed with a film that does this but on the strength of the visuals and the fun factor, I was able to get on board with it and accept it for what it is. The script which is by Dan Gilroy (who directed the exemplary ‘Nightcrawler’), Max Borenstein and Derek Connolly is another kettle of fish and at times is pretty ear-gratingly bad. It’s a bit of a surprise particularly coming from Gilroy but it is in desperate need of a rewrite. Once the action begins to kick in however, it’s not too much of a problem but future screenwriters for these films need to do a better job as it’s just about excusable here.

The score by Henry Jackman is generally sound, memorable at times but a little annoying at others. The cinematography though by Larry Fong is simply outstanding and there are certain images that really stayed with me. Fong has been going from strength to strength and I think this is his best work. A lot of action films resort to quick cuts to obscure the action and this often makes what is happening on-screen quite toothless and redundant but this was most certainly not the case with ‘Kong: Skull Island’. Fong knows when to hang onto a shot and also typical camera angles that you would expect to be implemented do not happen. There is a scene early on in the film when Kong attacks a helicopter and the way that it has been shot is absolutely mesmerising as Fong chooses to shoot the action from some very creative angles and locations. It is pure eye candy and Fong continues the good work throughout the film and all of the action sequences are shot with clarity and creativity.

Overall, ‘Kong: Skull Island’ is not quite the slam-dunk that I wanted it to be but once you look past the flaws and get on board with the film, it’s great fun and is never boring. The visual effects are simply outstanding and there are many moments of pure spectacle. It’s a shame that the human characters are generally paper-thin and the script is creaky but its sheer entertainment manage to make this a worthwhile watch and I’m very impressed to see Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ fingerprints all over it and how cine-literate it was. It’s a much more well-rounded film than ‘Godzilla’ which was a film of two halves and the quality of the cast alone despite the quality of the script manage to pull this film up. Compared to Peter Jackson’s vision, it’s a tricky one as that film had a lot more substance and better character development but Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ vision is a lot more efficient and visually pleasing. It’s overall a good film but some basic problems hold it back from being excellent. I’m interested to see the direction that this ‘MonsterVerse’ will go in and on the strength of Vogt-Roberts’ direction, I’d be very happy for him to get the gig for another film in this franchise or another big-budget blockbuster.

⭐⭐⭐ (Good)

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