Kong: Skull Island (2017) Review

About 12 years ago, Peter Jackson has already done a great job reviving King Kong and turned it into a massively entertaining, if overlong monster-movie blockbuster. Fast-forward to today, the mighty Kong is back with another big-budget revival. But unlike the last three major King Kong movies (including the original 1933 black-and-white classic as well as the 1976 and 2005 remakes), The Kings of Summer director Jordan Vogt-Roberts is wise enough to give Kong: Skull Island a refreshing change of pace.

In Kong: Skull Island, the story follows a team of explorers, scientists and U.S. soldiers (among them are Tom Hiddleston’s tracker James Conrad, Samuel L. Jackson’s U.S. commanding army officer Lt. Colonel Preston Packard, Brie Larson’s antiwar photographer Mason Weaver and John Goodman’s explorer Bill Randa) during the post-1970s Vietnam War era travelling to an uncharted island in the South Pacific. Once there, they find themselves being ambushed by the mighty Kong. Soon, the remaining survivors encounter other monsters while stranded on the island.

This time around, there is no Beauty and the Beast-like storyline. And there is even nary a sight of the mighty Kong scaling the Empire State Building in New York City. Best of all, Vogt-Roberts doesn’t waste time with all the build-ups and goes straight to the point by giving King Kong enough screen presence than ever before. Speaking of King Kong himself, the towering 100-foot tall gorilla is a majestic sight to behold. Brought to life by Industrial Light & Magic alongside Terry Notary and Toby Kebbell’s motion-capture performances, everything from the facial expression to the seamless special effects is visually stunning. The physically-imposing height of Kong alone is certainly worth experiencing in the IMAX 3D cinema. Then, there is the impressively-staged monster showdown between Kong and the Skull Crawler towards the climactic finale.

On the visual fronts, Vogt-Roberts proves he has a knack for paying homage to some of the classic Hollywood movies of yesteryear such as the sights of army helicopters flying across the orange sky and colourful haze in 1979’s Apocalypse Now as well as the memorable death of Willem Dafoe’s Sergeant Elias scene in 1986’s Platoon. Larry Fong’s cinematography and Stefan Dechant’s production design are all beautifully realised. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie doesn’t live up to its massive hype. Despite enlisting screenwriters Dan Gilroy (2011’s Real Steel, 2014’s Nightcrawler), Max Borenstein (2014’s Godzilla) and Derek Connolly (2015’s Jurassic World), the story lacks substantial dramatic weight and human characters we can root for.

A scene from "Kong: Skull Island" (2017)

The ensemble cast is supposed to be an interesting addition to this movie. What’s the point of hiring acclaimed actors like Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson and John Goodman if Vogt-Roberts and his screenwriting team don’t bother to give them a worthwhile character? The aforementioned cast above are mostly wasted here, with Hiddleston’s bland leading role and Larson’s disappointingly stagnant performance fares the worst. Only John C. Reilly emerges quite an impression playing an eccentric WWII survivor role as Hank Marlow. Most of the humour here, whether it was the banter between two U.S. soldiers played by Jason Mitchell and Shea Whigham or the sight of a helicopter pilot falls directly into Kong’s mouth and cut to another scene of a character biting a sandwich, are dull and unfunny.

Earlier in the review, I mentioned how impressive the Kong vs. Skull Crawler showdown. If only, the rest of the action is just as epic or exciting. For instance, the first encounter between Kong and the army helicopters are supposed to be one of the movie’s highlights. But the scene, complete with a brief POV moment viewed from inside the helicopter, is hastily shot and choppily edited without allowing sufficient time for us to immerse in the elaborate action choreography.

Frankly, I had high hope for Kong: Skull Island after all the promising trailers that have been shown so far. Too bad, the movie ends up more like a half-baked monster movie.

By the way, do remember to stay through the end credits. There is a post-credit teaser that will definitely bring a smile to most kaiju fans.

Leave a Reply