Kong: Skull Island Film Review
An entertaining throwback to classic monster movies that suffers from studio interference.
Kong: Skull Island’s development is the latest in a modern trend of how today’s franchise movies and blockbuster reboots get made. Its director, Jordan Vogt-Roberts, is a young talent who directed The Kings of Summer, an indie drama which received critical praise and a modest box office draw. Following his feature debut, he’s directing this $180,000,000 film with huge stakes for the production company. The same thing happened with Marc Webb, who went from 500 Days of Summer to rebooting the Spiderman franchise and Colin Trevorrow, whose Aubrey Plaza-starring Safety Not Guaranteed earned him a seat in the director’s chair for Jurassic World, a $150,000,000 reimagining.
Each director’s sophomore effort has made money, but, like Kong: Skull Island, there are the same problems that stop these films from ever being great like the originals that inspired them.
Taking place at the end of the Vietnam war, the film starts with Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) trying to get funding for an expedition to an uncharted island. One tense conversation later and they’ve received the go-ahead, so now it’s time to assemble a military escort. The muscle includes Preston Packard (Samuel L Jackson), a Kurtz-like figure who sees Kong as his ultimate enemy and James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), a smooth talker and talented animal tracker. Photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) is also along for the ride. When they arrive at the island, Kong smashes down most of the helicopters in a breathtaking sequence, leaving the team split up. In their attempts to reunite, the two teams encounter towering spiders, a giant bison and legless-lizard creatures called ‘Skull Crawlers’.
Vogt-Roberts is a good director. Much of the film includes Kong duking it out with other creatures, suggesting a throwback to the 1960s King Kong/Godzilla crossover and these sequences are filmed remarkably well. The visual effects are stunning and Vogt-Roberts makes sure the audience knows exactly what’s going on in each scene. When Kong wrestles a giant squid in a lake, the sequence is filmed in long takes to show us all of the fight we’ve paid to see. As a motion-capture Kong, Tony Kebbel, who plays Koba in the Planet of the Apes reboots, does an admirable job at portraying an aggressive, proud Kong. He lacks the pathos of Andy Serkis’ Kong in Peter Jackson’s version, and this is especially clear when Skull Island tries to land a few dramatic scenes that clash badly with the film’s pulpy tone.
All of the film’s parts add up to a pretty enjoyable monster picture, but the intrusion of the studio heads is all too obvious. Four contributors to one script is never a good sign and the attempts at world-building franchise-hinting detract from the main story. It’s clear that, as with all the other rebooted franchises handed to young gun directors, with each project comes a requirement: maximise the profits by leaving things open for a sequel. As a result, the story feels incomplete—aspects of the island are touched upon and never explored again and even the main villains, the ‘Skull Crawlers’, feel deliberately left unexplored so future franchises can pay attention to them.
These blemishes don’t ruin the film. Kong: Skull Island is still a fun night out at the cinema. It just might make audiences miss the days when blockbusters could successfully stand alone, without being an incomplete part of a larger whole.
Cover image from mashable.com