Movie Review: Kong: Skull Island
PG-13 | 1h 58min
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
by Jason Koenigsberg
What a disappointment for a war allegory, but what a great special effects extravaganza in the doldrums of March. No matter what the calendar says, this is what audiences expect from a big summer blockbuster. If only the weather outside matched the contents of what was on the screen. Kong: Skull Island is a feast for your eyes, but you may owe your brain an apology afterwards.
Kong: Skull Island opens up getting right into the action as we see World War II era fighter planes crash onto an island and wastes no time giving the audience a glimpse of Kong before the opening credits which takes us from the 1940’s up to 1973 as the Vietnam War is coming to an end. The plot is as simple as it looks from the trailers. A guy wants a military escort to a mysterious island in the South Pacific that is a very dangerous journey. Once they get there they realize they are not alone and then a lot of action follows. Fortunately the CGI monsters and special effects in Kong: Skull Island are some of the best an audience could ask for. There are moments of sheer suspense that will have you on the edge of your seat.
It’s feeble attempt as an anti-war film is lost among the outstanding action which is a shame considering the talent involved on the screen. Kong: Skull Island features some of the best actors working in movies today, all turning in terrific performances despite such a workmanlike script. Brie Larson fresh off her Oscar winning role in Room (2015) probably got the biggest payday of her career and she was great as the wartime photojournalist hungry to point her weapon of choice, a camera, at some footage nobody else in the world has seen. Tom Hiddleston is very good as the Errol Flynn type of hero, adding believable heart and courage to an underwritten archetype. John Goodman who was great in last years unconventional monster movie 10 Cloverfield Lane is once again top notch as the man who wants to lead these marines to the mysterious Skull Island to prove once and for all that monsters exist. The always reliable Samuel L. Jackson plays the war hungry soldier who is determined to win the battle against King Kong and the other creatures on the island that killed his men, and John C. Reilly rounds out the cast as the soldier we see nearly three decades later after the pre-titles sequence as a US Air Force pilot who has survived on Skull Island living among an indigenous tribe. Reilly’s lines that were meant to be funny were the films only attempts at comedy that actually worked, and trust me, there were a lot that failed.
What would have worked better was if the filmmakers stuck to the man vs. nature parable that they touch on in a few scenes. It is obvious that mankind has tried to civilize everyplace on Earth and in Skull Island, they stumble upon the one place that they cannot and should not interfere with. I would have loved to have seen a director like Terrence Malick behind the camera for this picture instead of making another pretentious arthouse movie using the same gimmicks leftover from Tree of Life (2011). Kong: Skull Island tries to be a message about not destroying nature, but does very little with it and instead gives up any significant metaphor for big action sequences, but at least the action scenes were outstanding.
It was also noble that this film for the most part successfully abandoned all of the negative racial undertones all previous King Kong pictures have been plagued by. Here the indigenous tribe is seen as peaceful and are of an Asian/Pacific Islander race, not African. Plus Kong is not a metaphor for African-Americans in the United States, nor does he lust after pretty, blonde, white ladies. This portrayal of Kong is different in a more PC way but his behavior never detracts from the story. Even the casting of some supporting roles was an attempt to rectify any negative racial stereotypes. Two Straight Outta Compton (2015) alums star in Kong: Skull Island. Jason Mitchell who was Eazy-E plays a soldier in this film, and Corey Hawkins who was Dr. Dre, is refreshingly cast against type as a nerdy scientist working for John Goodman’s character.
Kong: Skull Island will get comparisons to the Vietnam masterpiece Apocalypse Now (1979), but I think Scoresese’s Silence was even more similar to Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Other than the Vietnam and jungle imagery in Kong: Skull Island which tries to make it more legitimate by using history, this film is pure popcorn fun. As stated earlier, the real reason that anyone is buying a ticket to see Kong: Skull Island is for the rousing action and adventure. This movie delivers that in spades. All those expecting to see grade-A summer blockbuster entertainment in the middle of March will get exactly what they want. Kong: Skull Island delivers the thrills. It is a feast for your eyes as long as you can shut your brain off for a few hours.