Kong: Skull Island you would think is somehow attached to the King Kong remake from 2005 helmed by Peter Jackson, but this installment focusing on America’s favorite gigantic ape is actually apparently connected to the Godzilla reboot from 2014. It seems every studio feels the need to copy Marvel’s success with their film universe and start with one of their own – this is the Legendary Entertainment subsidiary of Warner Brother’s attempt at a movie universe featuring giant monsters. While I am getting a bit weary of so many obvious and lame attempts by so many Hollywood companies to start printing their own money like Disney and Marvel are doing together, I have to admit that the idea of a series of films with the likes of Godzilla, Mothra, King Kong, and Gamera all duking it out very much appeals to the little child that still lurks inside of Shaun.
Kong: Skull Island takes place in 1973 with John Goodman playing Bill Randa a World War II veteran and current conspiracy theorist who is trying to get a government grant to visit Skull Island, an island permanently surrounded by a nasty chain of storms such that no one can get near it, nor even see inside. He finally gets his funding when he convinces a senator that it’s important Americans get to the island before the Russians do, because who knows what secrets could be there? What no one else knows, including the group of soldiers and scientists Randa gets to come along on the survey with him, is that Randa knows full well that this is an island filled with giant monsters, monsters that killed his platoon in World War II and now he is here to get Captain Ahab style revenge.
What we are given in Kong: Skull Island is essentially an incredibly high budget B-movie. The plot is paper-thin and really just an excuse to watch big monsters attack each other. Cliche after cliche is the order of the day in both story and dialogue. It seems like screenwriters Dan Gilroy and Max Boorstein found a list of overused lines from war and action films then ordered that list so that they ended making for some sort of patchwork story. There are a handful, barely a handful, of original ideas to be found in the story, enough that you have to wonder if the writers were able to recognize the banality of their work and either didn’t care or crafted it that way on purpose, but for the most part you will be able to predict every line spoken and every action taken by every one-dimensional character on screen.
This lack of a nuanced script does no favor to the actors, who are for the most part portraying an archetype with a quirk or two rather than an actual character. Tom Hiddleston is charming, but little else, the supporting soldiers are pretty much just walking tropes, and Brie Larson as photojournalist Mason Weaver is reduced to pure eye candy. The exceptions to this are the three grizzled vets of the cast: Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, and particularly John C. Reilly who all chew the scenery like few others can and bring life to their crazy old men characters through sheer force of charisma. All three are a joy to watch when they are given center stage, but John C. Reilly goes above and beyond even the other two and gives us a portrayal that at times feels too good to be in this movie.
Who goes to see Kong: Skull Island for nuanced writing and Oscar worthy performances, though? If you’re at all living in this reality, you’re seeing Kong: Skull Island to see a gigantic ape kick butt and terrify some puny mortals, and on this level Kong delivers and keeps on delivering. The creativity lost in the script was apparently saved for the action. As we see Kong himself and the various giant denizens of Skull Island battle for supremacy of their corner of the world we are awed over and over again at the sheer bombasity of scale and ferocity. Without entering spoiler territory, let’s just say that a lot of soldiers and scientists begin the film alive, and not too many make it to the end, and nearly every one of their deaths will make you gasp and giggle and occasionally cringe in true over the top B-movie fashion.
The visuals match the action with really well made CGI effects giving the monsters and the environments a real wow factor, and provide us with a nearly non-stop spectacle so packed with things to look and wonder at that it seems impossible they can all be caught in a single viewing. The only two serious issues I found with the visual element of the film is first that Kong himself seemed to be constantly changing size, in one scene flicking a helicopter the size of one of his fingernails then later a person standing in front of his face is the size of his nose, and second I personally found the villainous lizard monsters of the film to be rather uninspired and never really worthy of any fear or hate other than that I knew I was supposed to because that is what the movie told me to do.
Final recommendation: Kong: Skull Island is big, loud, and dumb, and never pretends to be anything else. If just my saying the words King Kong doesn’t get you at least a little excited then this probably isn’t the movie for you. If, however, as a child you spent a lot of time growling and knocking over you block and LEGO buildings while pretending to eat the little people hiding inside then this is absolutely a film for you. Kong: Skull Island will not make you think, it will not challenge any of your preconceptions, it will not make you want to be a better person, but it will absolutely make the somewhat destructive child inside you utterly and completely gleeful. I’d recommend seeing it at a matinee to avoid too large of a price tag for unleashing your inner giant gorilla, but I definitely recommend seeing it.