Kong Skull Island is the greatest movie ever made. That’s what my 8 year old self would have said. I mean, what kid cares about social commentary, character development, or the creation of an intricate world when you have massive, bad ass monsters fighting each other for 2 hours? But that’s one of the differences between a great movie and a merely entertaining one. I can watch Raiders of the Lost Ark today and fall in love all over again with the characters. Even though I’ve seen it probably thirty times, I can still find new things to enjoy about how Joss Whedon constructed The Avengers‘ narrative beats. Even the underlying themes of corporate negligence, morality vs scientific discovery, and Alan Grant maturing into a new form of adulthood make Jurassic Park feel relevant today. I know for a fact that one viewing of Kong Skull Island is enough.
That’s not intended to be a knock on the film. There is no doubt that Kong Skull Island is well made. Whenever there are monsters on screen, I was having an absolute blast. The special effects and the fight choreography are amazing. It’s just that whenever it has to slow down and focus on those two things that a story eventually has to fall back on – characters and conflict – you will find yourself anxiously counting down the minutes until the next monster fight. Fortunately, there are quite a few of them.
Kong Skull Island is not a remake of the 1933 King Kong, a film that has already been remade twice. The sole purpose of Kong Skull Island is to set up a new cinematic universe. If Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla was this Monster Verse’s Man of Steel, then Kong Skull Island is Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. In that comparison, I am also suggesting that Kong Skull Island is populated with way too many characters. Instead of focusing on telling a good story that feels complete by the end, the film is all about setting up other movies and introducing monsters that will probably end up being the focus of later projects. In other words, this is a corporate product with a checklist of things it has to hit.
The film’s plot focuses on Bill Randa (John Goodman), who leads an expedition of soldiers, scientists, a photographer, and a navigator to the mysterious Skull Island. They do this with funding from Monarch, a science based company you may remember from Godzilla. The team consists of characters played by Brie Larson, Tom Hiddleston, Toby Kebbell, John C. Reilly, and Samuel L. Jackson. Of course the characters are never developed as people. Their motivations for wanting to go on this island are never explored. As quickly as they’re introduced, they’re thrust onto Skull Island, and as soon as they land, Kong and other monsters begin attacking them. This is why there are so many characters in the film. They’re faceless objects to be thrown, squished, ripped apart, and eaten by the various monsters that they come across. There is no story and no character development other than the team has to get from point A to point B, and every character has one definable trait that is occasionally referred back to (Brie Larson is always holding a camera, for example).
Very quickly the storytelling problems with Kong Skull Island become apparent. This would have been a far worse film if the action wasn’t so damn exhilarating. I have to give the film credit for its imagination. The monsters in this movie are awesome. There is something to be said about a gigantic ant with bamboo legs, flying vultures, and extra extra large sea creatures that just makes my inner child giddy beyond belief. Kong looks as realistic as ever. The scale of the creatures in relation to their environment is consistent and never once feels like it was manufactured in a computer effects lab. In short, the monster fighting in Kong Skull Island is reason enough to watch the movie; if you like that sort of thing.
The unfortunate thing about Kong Skull Island is that it never feels like a complete movie. I left the theatre talking about how excited I am to watch the next Godzilla, or a possible Mothra movie, the next Kong movie, as well as the upcoming Godzilla vs. Kong (2020). And that is thanks to what I saw in this one. But I felt no need to talk about Kong Skull Island as a fulfilling movie going experience. It’s even difficult to recommend to anyone, since if you don’t geek out like I do over computer generated creature fights, there’s really nothing else of substance here.
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