A team of explorers and soldiers travel to an uncharted island in the Pacific, unaware that they are crossing into the domain of monsters, including the mythic Kong.
‘Kong: Skull Island’ is a mostly entertaining, well made monster movie that makes up for what it lacks in plot with good direction and a fun, game cast. The film is focused on a group of scientists and military men, who shortly after the Vietnam War, set off for a mythical island in the Pacific, supposedly for geological reasons. Given the title of the film and all the marketing material leading up to its release, it’s no surprise that ‘Skull Island’ is home to a lot more than an unchartered territory alone, and the film wastes little time in getting into the crux of its story.
The best monster movies tend to keep the creature off the screen for as long as feasibly possible, and ‘Kong: Skull Island’ goes against that, not entirely to its detriment, introducing Kong within the opening sequence. That introduces panic into the assembled cast from the outset, and from the first major (well crafted) encounter with Kong, the film does a good job of defining what makes these characters tick, even if it’s in archetypal terms. There’s hints that Vogt-Roberts wants to explore the film and its themes as a Vietnam War allegory, both in terms of its time period and the soldier characters focusing on the ‘wrong’ enemy, but the film is stronger when it leans into the lighter and more surreal elements of the narrative. That’s mainly driven by the introduction of John C. Reilly’s character, a soldier who found himself stranded on the island many years earlier, and who now lives out as some kind of crazy outsider (think Brando in ‘Apocalypse Now’, but more kooky than evil). He’s the best thing in the film and I really dug the wavelength his character and performance was operating on.
In terms of the rest of the cast, there are fun performances from the likes of Samuel L. Jackson and Shea Whigham, but I found the leading duo fairly poor. Brie Larson, coming off an Oscar win in ‘Room’ is fairly non-descript (more down to writing than performance) and I found Tom Hiddleston to be incredibly bland and not charismatic enough to be a leading man. The film’s star (Reilly aside) is Kong and his presence is well used for the most part, both in terms of design and use as plot device. The effects are very strong and Kong looks really imposing, with some really striking imagery used to bring the impressively chosen location to life. Vogt-Roberts doubles down on the time period and Vietnam War film influences with the soundtrack, which features many key cultural touchpoints from the era, but like last year’s disappointing ‘Suicide Squad’, the sheer amount is overwhelming and it feels too much like someone flicking through a jukebox than an organic use to enhance the action on screen.
‘Kong: Skull Island’ is a fun movie, well made and featuring a good showing for its iconic movie monster, but at times it doesn’t quite balance its tone and I’d have enjoyed it a lot more if it leaned into the craziness a little more!
Directed By: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, John C. Reilly, Jing Tian, Toby Kebbell, John Ortiz, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Shea Whigham, Thomas Mann and Terry Notary