Star Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
As part of the east coast deals with one final attack of wintery mix, the summer blockbuster season is revving up. Logan acted as a transitional film between the character driven Oscar dramas that fill the end of the year and the action blockbusters that plague us for the next several months. Kong: Skull Island is almost the exact opposite from Logan; focusing more on the massive monster filled action scenes, and less on the story and character development.
After an island is discovered in Pacific by Bill Randa’s (John Goodman) organization, Monarch, he gathers a team of military personnel and scientists to explore the island and what mysteries it holds. After flying military helicopters through a hurricane to get to the island, the group is confronted by Kong, who picks the helicopters out of the air. What was supposed to be a routine mapping and exploration mission now becomes a mission to survive on the island until help can come take the remaining survivors home.
Kong: Skull Island is a weird amalgamation of films. The film takes place during the days following Nixon’s declaration that the war in Vietnam had ended. Many of the soldiers in the film are excited to be going home before they’re are volunteered for the mission to Skull Island by Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson). After establishing the Vietnam era setting, the film starts to stray from its war-themed, voice. As the film progresses, there are still elements of that war-theme, but they are only carried on by the inclusion of the military men. The setup for the film by John Goodman in the opening scene appears fairly straight forward, its when the team is brought together and all of the characters are headed to the island that things start to get messy. While on the boat James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), a tracker, and Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), a photographer, start to suspect that someone isn’t being entirely truthful about the mission. It’s a weird scene to include since the audience already suspects that the mission isn’t as straightforward as it seems. When John C. Reilly’s character, Hank Marlow, shows up, the film suddenly changes from a more serious-toned, Vietnam war, monster film, to a typical summer blockbuster filled with lazy exposition, jokes, and dazzling action.
My biggest complaint with the film is the inclusion of John C. Reilly. Reilly is a very funny actor, and I love his comedic work, but his comedic leanings don’t work in a film like this that starts with such a serious tone. This film really lacks a central character to follow, and it seems like the script tries to shoehorn Reilly’s character into that position. Reilly plays a man who had crashed on the island during WWII, which means he needs to over explain everything to the characters on the screen and by extension, the audience. The film already had the stereotypical, funny, quipping, black guy. I have no clue as to why the writers and directors thought they needed another source of comedic relief. The film would have been way more interesting if the characters were forced to make discoveries about the island without any sort of weird, crazy, hermit guide.
Eliminating Reilly’s character, and forcing the characters to learn about the island on their own would sold the biggest issue with the film, which is its lack of character development. This film is filled with so many great actors, but none of them are able to reach their full potential with their character. The film tries to force you to care about all of the main characters involved, but does nothing to convince you that you should care about these characters. It wasn’t until Tom Hiddleston yells out Brie Larson’s character’s name toward the end of the film that I remember what her name was. Up until that point I had just called her, “Camera Girl,” in my head because thats the aspect of her character the film wants you to focus on. By forcing the characters to explore the island on their own, it would give time for characters, and by extension, the audience, to learn about the characters in an organic way and give you a reason to care whether they get off the island or not. The only character that appears to be fulling fleshed out is the two-dimensional character Samuel L. Jackson plays. He’s a solider that has been at war so long he doesn’t think he knows how to go back to civilian life. After Kong knocks several of his men out of the sky, he follows in the footsteps of Captain Ahab in an obsessive hunt to kill the monster. There’s nothing interesting about an unsurprising, archetypical antagonist like this.
While the film lacks any sort of real character development, the visuals and the story of the film are excellent. The story could have probably used with some polishing in the setup, but once the characters are on the island, its becomes a fairly typical story about hunting monsters and surviving on a dangerous island. Visually, this film is incredible. Everything on the island is interesting to look at. The film changes locations and scenery as the story progresses that keeps you engaged with the different scenes. The monsters are interesting to look at (although there is still some Cloverfield influence with the Skull Crawlers, like the MUTOs in Godzilla), and Kong is brilliantly rendered. The scene when the characters first arrive on the island and get attacked by Kong is my favorite action sequence in a film so far this year. The scene was filled with a visceral finality that made me wonder how the film would continue for another hour and a half.
Kong: Skull Island is not a great film, but it is an enjoyable film. The lack of character development is enough to earn this film a lower star rating, but the visuals and action sequences are enough to give it a high rewatchability. There were several shots that bothered me that were sprinkled throughout the film, but not enough to completely take you out of the sequences. So far, Warner Bros. is doing an excellent job of building up their shared monster universe with Godzilla and now Kong: skull Island. They’ve managed to make two films that stand on their own and aren’t slaves to setting up sequels. It seem’s that Warner Bros. learned a few lessons from Godzilla and they are taking their time to give a larger emphasis to the story of these films. The end credits scene is a fantastic tease of what is to come. I can only hope these films continue to get better and better.