Kong Skull Island (2017) Review: The Bigger The Better
The eighth wonder of the world is back in theatres this week. I can’t count the number of times King Kong has graced the silver screen, but ‘Kong Skull Island’ is his latest, but not the greatest. This modern take on the classic film is set in a post-Vietnam war 1973. The perfect time period to find military presence in the south pacific. The very same region of Skull Island. Scientist and opportunist Bill Randa, played by John Goodman, decides to make use of that presence, and charter a “research expedition” on Skull Island itself. Once they get there, they must survive the land of monsters, and chief of all, Kong himself.
Much like Godzilla in the 2014 film of the same name, Kong is more or less a force of nature in this film. His savagery is what comes across in this iteration. There are still hints of humanity to the giant ape, especially since Kong spends most of his time on two legs instead of four. However, even that is used to juxtapose Kong’s brutal nature against the very humans who fear him. There’s a running theme of “who are the real monsters?” running through the film. For those seeking a deep dissertation, search elsewhere. The film doesn’t want to be anything more than a fun popcorn movie.
There are other ideas at play, even using the adventure as an allegory for the United States mentality after losing the Vietnam War. Samuel Jackson’s character ‘Preston Packard’ is the avatar for this idea, but it’s never developed organically. Instead, characters in ‘Kong Skull Island’ react to things like no human genuinely would. There’s no sense of genuine shock and awe when they’re made aware of giant monstrous creatures, and if there is it’s short lived. I was taken out of the movie several times by the characters, whose behaviour in the situation felt less probable than the 100-foot ape fighting lizard monsters.
Thankfully said fights are indeed epic and save the film from its less than compelling characters. I wouldn’t say the entire cast is wasted, but the ones who we deal with for the majority of the film are the most grating. Tom Hiddleston plays a badass as boring as he is brutal, and Samuel L Jackson is a caricature. Every time I wanted to be done with them, the monsters would fight again. And all was well. A lesson is learned from 2014’s ‘Godzilla’ as the monster v monster action is treated as the main course, rather than a side dish.
Kong Skull Island grapples between just the right amount of cheese, to enough to make you wish you were lactose intolerant. It reminded me of Jurassic World. A sci-fi monster B movie, with a AAA budget. Which, if you ask me is a winning combination. Especially with a movie as artful as this one. Allegory aside, the film makes great use of scale and is content to let the camera do what it’s supposed to. There aren’t a lot of cuts to the action scenes, just sweeping shots and pans that give the film’s most captivating moments a sense of fluidity.
Credit should also go to the film’s cinematographer and sound team. The visuals are striking, with colour grading that makes the film pop, and uses the dense jungle and 70s aesthetic perfectly. The sound was also used creatively, with physical objects in the film synchronised with musical cues. At certain points, it was like an OK GO music video, which sounds like it would be out of place, but ‘Kong Skull Island’ makes it work.
Last night, within the first 20 minutes of the film, I saw a giant ape throw helicopters into each other, to a 1970s classic rock soundtrack. I also saw characters that made me laugh, both with them and at them. It is a monster movie with light scares, moments that thrill, and at its worst, it’s the type of bad that’s easy to have fun with. I can’t imagine a better way to watch this film, than at half price, with a huge crowd, cheering on as giant monsters fight each other.