It's an action movie with kaiju. It's going to be PG-13 for cool, gross stuff. A giant monkey is going to fight a bunch of other monsters and it is going to get gross. That's the attitude you should go in with. Also, swearing. The monkey doesn't swear. At least, I don't think he does. I don't speak gorilla.
DIRECTOR: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
When I was a kid, my dad and I watched the 1933 Fay Wray King Kong on repeat. I never really got into Godzilla, but King Kong used to be the coolest. In the basement, we had a poster of the Linda Hamilton King Kong where he's strattling the World Trade Center. (It's 9/12 today. Complete coincidence.) My father passed away before the Peter Jackson film, but I liked that one too, despite the fact that I might be the only one. I can't say I'm a King Kong fanboy, but I do weirdly enjoy these movies. When I heard that Kong: Skull Island was amazing, I got really jazzed. But then I remembered the new American Godzilla movie and how it was going to blow my mind. That one didn't really do much for me and the marketing campaign kind of seems very similar. So what is the deal with Kong: Skull Island?
The movie has one main thing going for it: it isn't the same story as the other movies. I love that story. It's really fun. But I can't watch it again. They are learning that the story of "Kong: The Eighth Wonder of the World" is only so interesting. Yeah, we all love to see this giant ape leaping between skyscrapers and pancaking 1930s taxis. We like watching him bat biplanes out of the sky, but the other movies have already done it. Jackson's Kong isn't even that old of a movie. It does the job just fine. Telling a new story is definitely the way to go. It's not throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Many of the same beats that were in the other films are still there. There is a hint at "'Twas the beauty that tamed the beast" moments, but it isn't as intense as it was in the other renditions. I do like that Skull Island is almost a magical world and acts as a land that time forgot. One of the best parts of the original film is that dinosaurs did exist on this island. This one doesn't full on transport dinosaurs here, but the creatures on this world make it something special from the other films. Honestly, that water buffalo was one of the coolest creature effects I've seen in some time and I don't get why it is blowing my mind. It just felt different enough from other fantasy creatures that I've seen that I can appreciate it. Outside of the skulleaters (I think that's what John C. Reilly called them), the creature designs are on point. Seeing Kong wrestle the giant squid was super cool. (The dude just eats it after he kills it. That's right, Kong. You earned it.) Vogt-Roberts focuses on world building sooner than allowing tradition to dictate what he had to include and I really respect that.
But outside of that cool world-building, the movie really has some problems. This movie felt ultra forgettable. It seems like another attempt in a long line of attempts to get this franchise off the ground. In this case, it is the need to create a cinematic universe. Admittedly, Kong is no stranger to being in-universe with other kaiju, but it has never felt so blatant with their inclusion of the concept of Monarch. I swear, one day Tom Hiddleson will be able to do a movie that is self-contained and doesn't force him to do an after-credits sequence. I have the vibe that this is Sony again. It just feels very corporate. Maybe I'm finally starting to see what others are saying about the Marvel movies. I don't really care about Godzilla or Mothra. Having to take time aside to establish that there are other monsters out there is slightly distracting to me. I get the vibe its because we are now all very hyperaware of corporate structure and synergy and that means that every choice onscreen reflects a memo from a higher up. That takes a little bit of the fun out of it.
On top of that, this movie just hits every Vietnam trope I've ever seen. Let me say first that I applaud them pulling the movie out of the '30s and setting it in a different era. It's odd that they chose Vietnam because the movie definitely is pushing an anti-war theme. I don't know if Kong is the best vehicle for that message. It kind of works towards the end, but even while writing this, I don't really remember how it all ties together. I remember having to meet the movie halfway with some of their antiwar stuff. The odd thing is that the movie vocally antiwar, even having Bree Larson's character describing herself as an "Antiwar photographer." I don't mind there being a message, especially in big budget films. But it also really has to hit the nail on the head and not be preachy. The movie was very preachy about being antiwar (even bordering on anti-military), but it doesn't really fit with the rest of the narrative going on. Building off of that, that is where I think Samuel L. Jackson's villain is pretty lazy. There were some moments where I was rooting for Jackson's character, despite the fact that the movie clearly didn't want me to. He was going back for one of his soldiers. He was respecting every life, spitting in the face of the protagonists who were worried about their own skins. But then they had to make him full on evil and I've seen that character before. In fact, I've seen that character out of Samuel L. Jackson before. It was typecasting. He's a better actor than that. (Sorry, Lauren.) A two-dimensional villain always dominates these disaster action monster movies. I wanted him to have more depth. His soliders, actually, were far more compelling.
Outside of the evil military guy trope, we had too many Vietnam movie tropes. Look at the color palate of that still I put on top. C'mon, we can do better. Slow motion hueys? The Vietnam film soundtrack? The soundtrack is great. But we've all seen Apocalypse Now! and Forrest Gump. We know what that sounds like. The movie went out of its way to make it feel not like a unique look at the Vietnam War era, but what other Vietnam War movies had done. There was just too much that screamed unoriginal. I will give points that they applied these aesthetic choices to a King Kong film, but I want to see an original production, not a "Best Of" mixtape of other Vietnam War movies.
The cast is kind of wasted in this movie. I love Bree Larson. I just wrote a review of Short Term 12 and talked about how she is always amazing. She does a fine job here and really nails the part. Too bad there really isn't much of a part that is worth exploring. Similarly, John Goodman seems super cool in this movie. I've grown to really appreciate John Goodman, but he is the info-dump of this movie. Hiddleson doesn't have much to chew on. (Is Conrad a reference to Joseph Conrad? Mmkay.) These are all characters who are just filling in archetypes. The only actor who really had a playground was John C. Reilly, who sells the movie. He's really good at being the fool in an action movie and he builds his fool archetype into a lovable fool. Reilly has yet to let me down and I'm glad to see that he had something to do with this movie. I guess the final performance comes down to Kong himself and I did dig that. They made him huge. Like, he would dwarf other Kongs. He is almost a superhero in this movie, which I like and dislike simultaneously. It's fun seeing him defend the island from the many uglies that want to take him out, but he doesn't have the depth. Again, this is a fine line to walk because we've seen that too many times as well. But the action in this movie is great, but I suppose that was traded in for a fun film.
Kong: Skull Island is great in the sense it isn't memorable. It tried something different, but was wildly safe while doing it. Would I watch other Kong movies? Probably, but I want something special and Skull Island didn't deliver it.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.