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.
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.