Kong: Skull Island, directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, delivers an unexpectedly brilliant experience. I was forever amazed at just how enjoyable and fulfilling this films was; always delivering on what it set up and then building further upon it. This is a film that knows what it needed to do, and then went on to offer up, and achieve exactly what was needed. There are of course a few issues that pop up in the film – and they will be touched upon in this review – but for the most part, you have a monster movie that is more than what it could have simply been. And so, let’s jump on into the detailed review itself and see what it is that makes, Kong: Skull Island such a rewarding watch.
The story in the film sees, Bill Randa and Houston Brooks – played by John Goodman and Corey Hawkins – plead for the American Government to give them the people and the resources to go and explore an undocumented island. They enlist the help of an eclectic group of people; from Vietnam helicopter pilots, led by Captain Preston Packard – played by Samuel L. Jackson – too former SAS soldier, James Conrad – played by Tom Hiddleston – and also Mason Weaver – played by Brie Larson – a well-known anti-war photographer, whose talents will help tell the story of what happens on their expedition. What they end up discovering on what is known as ‘Skull Island’ will forever change their lives and their understanding of the world. For it is there that they will encounter, Kong – King of said island.
So for me it was the undeniable style of Kong: Skull Island that immediately stood out to me. This film is just so rewarding to look at. What it did was take a film that could have easily been very basic in its execution; it’s look, and made it something that was so much more. There was countless time where the particular composition of a shot, or the eye-catching colour palette would just elevate the experience of the moment, and simply make me watch in awe at just how different and beautiful it all was. Director, Jordan Vogt-Roberts and cinematographer, Larry Fong really had a visual voice in this film; it was clear to see and it was very much its own thing. Instead of just a bland, by the numbers looking film, they made something that truly was a step above the blockbuster competition.
But what they also did was utilise the time period and its very particular aesthetic, the 70’s, to influence the overall style. I mean this film is at times a mix of ‘Apocalypse Now’ and classic monster movies of said time period. It’s just so different, which in turn makes is something wholly memorable. Also the film has some great choice in music, which it uses to great effect in much of the first act.
And thankfully, the film is more than just gorgeous visuals, as it also does a good job of establishing and then further exploring many of the aspects that it introduces. Let’s start with the characters: It has a large, eclectic selection of individuals to work with; from crack-pot scientists (or so they’re believed to be) hardened Vietnam soldiers (just back from deployment) a former SAS soldier (who now delights in the more shady of activities) and also an anti-war photographer (who helps to bring balance to a situation that is volatile).
Now overall, the cast of characters are not given massive amounts of time to become fully fleshed out individuals – the film just simply doesn’t have the time to do that – but what it does do well is establish the particular characteristics that make them who they are, and then takes those opposing points, and plays them off the other characters; making for some interesting moments.
One of the clearest examples is Captain Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) a man who is still reeling from the loss in the Vietnam War, and now that many of his men have been killed during the mission to ‘Skull Island’, he is out for some good old-fashioned revenge on a creature the size of a building. But not everyone shares that desire, and so this creates tension, which in turn offers up some tantalising character conflicts. That example is just one of the many that crop up during the film, and what these all do is help to further the characters and also the story. Sure they don’t go much deeper than the surface level most of the time, but they offer just enough to keep you engaged and watching. Which in the overall experience of Kong: Skull Island, ends up being enough.
And when I look back over the time I spent with the characters and the journey that I went on with them, I was happy with what I got. Of course I would have liked much more, but I have to be reasonable. I mean it’s not like the film doesn’t accomplish anything in its 2 hour runtime, because it does. What it also accomplishes is a balanced tone. John C. Reilly’s character, Hank Marlow was the one I was most wary of going into the film; thinking that his comedic character might not match up with the rest of the film. Happily that wasn’t the case, and not only did I enjoy his involvement in the film, but I felt they found the perfect tone for both him to exist, while also tackling some of the more downbeat, scarier moments. That levity was needed, otherwise the film itself would have been too depressing of a tone, and that wouldn’t have been right.
In terms of the overall story, Kong: Skull Island is pretty basic. You’re never going to struggle with what the characters motivations are, or where it is they’re going – it’s just not an issue. What I would have liked is if the film took more time to explore some of the finer details – for context purposes. A lot of the details that could have used a bit of time, patience and exploration are unfortunately just thrown at you and then moved on from. While characters are trudging through the jungle, they’ll take that moment to spout out some explanation, but never properly expand on it. As someone who was interested in that stuff, I could have done with more, but the film just doesn’t have the time to do so, sadly. There are also a few developments in the plot that just felt to convenient and a slight eye-roll had to happen. It’s certainly not perfect in its execution, but its simplicity is what I feel helps it to not become a burden – one that tiers you out as you try to watch it. It’s simple and fun.
Which then brings me onto the biggest element in the film: Kong himself – and I liked what was done with him. They set up the lore of him well, they offered up a story for how and why he exists that (if you can get past the silly dialogue) is fun. You need to remind yourself that you’re watching a large monster movie, so giving the film a little leeway to have fun with the ridiculous concept is a must. But the thing that was going to be the largest hurdle for it to overcome was the CGI; if it wasn’t convincing and you didn’t believe in this sky scraper size ape, then the film was just never going to work. Well, for me, it did work and I fully got on-board with the presentation and attempted humanisation of Kong. I actually would have liked more, but I suppose in a film where you have something like Kong, less is more. That way when he did show up, it was more of an event, one to sit up and get excited for.
But of course one of the main reasons you go to see a film like this is for when the massive monsters start beating the crap out of each other or terrorising our main characters. And I’m happy to say that the film does a great job at both; again helped by the convincing CGI effects (which I believe were done by ILM – Industrial Light and Magic). You really get a sense of the scale of Kong in some of these action moments; the first time our main characters encounter him being a perfect example. And then you also get a sense of the power of Kong when he takes on a monster that rivals his size. But what I liked that the film also did was give further opportunities for the main characters to encounter some truly disturbing monsters; there’s a scene with a large spider creature that immediately comes to mind. And then when it comes time for Kong to face off against a monster that poses a true challenge, we get some all-out monster brawling fun that can delight you, no matter your age.
What I then feel helped bring a lot of this together was the environment that was constructed in Kong: Skull Island. A blend of real world locations and visual effects really did a lot to help bring the island to life. You get a sense of the hot, creepy, uncomfortable areas in which the characters must traverse, and you also feel the fear and terror when some large, unimaginably disturbing monster appears from seemingly nowhere. Add to that the sound design, and you’ve got a place that feels real, alive and ever so creepy.
I never thought I would enjoy Kong: Skull Island as much as I did. After seeing the trailers (which I thought looked great) I knew there was no way that the film could live up to the enticement that now laid within me. But somehow it did. It lived up to my expectations and actually surpassed them. I still can’t actually believe that this film was as enjoyable as I found it to be. But it is. Visually addictive, with some compelling characters, and a story that is simple enough to get behind (escape the island). There’s not much too it, but what there is, is brilliantly handled.
So I will be recommending Kong: Skull Island. If you love a good monster movie, then this is the film for you. And if you simply just love a competent, fun blockbuster film, then make the effort to see this one. Either way, I’m confident that this is a film that’ll have many people leaving the cinema satisfied.
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