Review: KONG: SKULL ISLAND, A Lifeless Creature Feature

Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson lead the cast in a bloodless theme park ride, directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts.

Contributing Writer; Melbourne, Australia (@Kwenton)
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Review: KONG: SKULL ISLAND, A Lifeless Creature Feature

Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts does not believe in subtlety, does not relish the glorious curious reveal of a brand new creature; an iconic symbol of the movies that hundreds of man-hours were spent to animate and bring to life.

This is probably why in the opening three minutes of Kong: Skull Island, before even the credits, we are given a detailed look at the beast, sapping interest in what the lacklustre research crew will find on the island. As if to revert expectations, the direction instead drains all the interest, intrigue and humanity, resulting in a bloodless theme park ride.

It is the seventies, and the war is over, something the film painfully tries to convey through its literally one-note, war-torn characters and soundtrack. The distinction of time ends there, however, as everything is filmed in digital, resulting in a clean, colourful and artificial representation of what should be a grungy, chaotic post-war location. This awkward tone of post-war hysteria is carried into the island; jungles, helicopter squadrons, napalm in the evening and Credence Clearwater Revival promote the times, but not the tone the film consistently fails to convey.

The war is over but peace has not come, and Preston (Samuel L. Jackson), an active commander, blithely implies failure and resentment at its outcome. He is unusually grateful to be hired by the leader of a research expedition to monitor the soil on an uncharted isle. The other characters that accompany this ill-fated journey attest to the woeful script.

James Conrad is a blank-faced tracker played by the ever-charming Tom Hiddleston, who phones it in here. Brie Larson’s Mason Weaver is a character who feels like a token to feminism, but is ultimately a completely uninteresting character in general. Her iconic attraction to Kong is skirted over and poorly conveyed, and like most of the film glazed over.

Tian Jing as San is the worst offender; part of the research team, her presence could be mistaken for a cardboard cut-out with ten lines maximum and zero acting ability; truly an inessential yet required aspect of this co-production. John C. Reilly genuinely does the most he can with his interesting concept of a humorous character, but the cliché and lifeless script zaps all the competent actors of their craft.

The bad direction ensures the film remains surface-level shallow, with genuine ideas and moments thrown at the screen, and almost discarded in the way the sloppy editing and character reactions seem to demonstrate. The exposition and commentary feels stilted and confused, and is conveyed equally so. In a few examples characters literally question the very script, asking out-loud why they are responding so blasé to the madness around them.

Kong: Skull Island is ultimately unsure what it wants to be. It is a creature feature and yet Kong feels like a background player, it is a war film, complete with the madness of that time, and yet the war is over. There are jump scares, more than a handful, and yet the horror is so bloodless but so cynical.

The sublime, uncanny nature of this island is treated mundanely and disposed of quickly. Unlike the wondrous majesty Jurassic Park conveyed when a new creature would present itself, Kong: Skull Island breezes past impossible encounters like it has an attention disorder; cutting from a man’s life in peril, to that same man using binoculars as if the time that has passed matters little despite the critical deadline the film exaggerates.

Kong: Skull Island is redeemed somewhat by its amazing CGI moments, two of which should not be spoiled as they evoke a truly stunned response. This is the wonderful benefit of co-production, but even some CGI elements feel repetitive and long-winded, like the rest of the film.

The film's title evokes feelings of exploration, mystery, an epic journey into the unknown. These elements, the potential of its setting, the philosophy of man and beast, the psychological toll of war and the intriguing science behind it are all lost in a boring script that is unworthy to the King’s iconic legacy.

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More about Kong: Skull Island

  • Edgardo Espinoza

    It certainly has some flaws, but this film as a whole is just really great, not at all repetitive or boring. I like the path they decided to take.

  • David Smith

    Really crass to throw away the reveal in the opening then do the same with the skull crawlers. Has he not seen the original? Best monster build up ever

  • Ard Vijn

    I had a blast with the film and definitely have to disagree with you there, Kwenton!

  • I can't disagree about the characters; they're one-note and obvious (though I thought fairly charismatic (Shea Whigham and John Ortiz yes!). They're at best, caricatures. But that's hardly the point. This is a B-level creature feature with A+ film making. Every shot in here exudes coolness and awesomeness (in the true sense of the word). It's the closest we'll ever get to a Tony Scott, monster movie.

    Also, it's not a war movie. It's very clearly an anti-war movie though I agree it's hammered home pretty hard and in the most obvious and juvenile way. But none of this matters. From the helicopter porn to the final showdown and all the comedy and mayhem in between, this is the thrill ride that Jurassic World should have been.

    Poor direction and repetitive? We clearly saw different movies. It was always in a new and interesting location, always looked badass and there were a few great surprises that made me giggle with delight.

    "Bitch please."

  • ManateeAdvocate

    What. A. Shocker.

    The first trailer garnered my interest. The second trailer led me to believe that it looked like a shit show. I'll be honest, I hate being right in this regard. I'll pass on this like, unquestionably, as I did on BvS. Shame really. I actually liked Godzilla 2014 despite everyone's abhorrence for it. Watched it again two nights ago matter of fact.

    So 140' Kong vs. 357' Godzilla. I might be off on the measurements, but there is a huge gap between them. Not sure if they can be clever enough to pull this off in 2020. Time will tell.

  • Rage72

    Kong is still an adolescent in this movie..so by my measurements, in the forty plus years, when he meets Godzilla, he'll be well over 300 plus ft.

  • ManateeAdvocate

    Interesting. Thanks for the info.

  • Ard Vijn

    Liked the first trailer, hated the second... but I really had a blast with the film itself.

  • ManateeAdvocate

    I've decided to check it out once it hits my streaming service for "free". Same goes for Jurassic World.

  • Zetobelt

    The most important question... appears Godzilla?

  • ManateeAdvocate

    I think they make mention of him in the post credits scene is what I've read. Monarch debriefs the two leads of this film and the final moment you hear Godzilla's iconic roar. I could be wrong of course. I'd be surprised if Godzilla shows up in this film.

  • Ard Vijn

    What you say is true and there is more: in that sequence I saw teases for Rodan, Mothra and King Ghidorah as well...

  • Elytron Frass

    ouch! doubtful this will hold a candle to Pacific Rim (best modern kaiju film imo), but I'm still optimistic I'll enjoy this with some prerequisite booze -despite middling-to-harsh reviews.

  • Gopal Natarajan

    Talk about damning with faint praise. "Pacific Rim" was laughably bad.

  • Kurt

    I pretty much concur with this. I wanted both PR and Crimson Peak to be better than they actually were. GdT is a super smart guy, but lately his films have been too bombastic.

  • Zetobelt

    > best modern kaiju film
    That would be "Shin Godzilla".

  • Rage72

    Shin Godzilla was overrated IMO...way too talkative for my taste, and wanna talk about a lifeless monster! Godzilla deserved better!

  • ManateeAdvocate

    I wish Funimation would hurry up and release it to NA already.

  • Kurt

    Shin Godzilla played in Canada for a very brief run.

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