Kong: Skull Island review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Kong: Skull Island is not ignorant of its audience. It’s a movie that knows we didn’t come to watch Tom Hiddleston as a gun-toting adventurer, Brie Larson as a damsel photographer or Samuel L. Jackson as a vengeful colonel. We want King Kong! And there’s plenty of him to go around in this giant monster picture that doesn’t shy away in the least from its star attraction. It’s normally a bad idea to show too much of a movie monster, but Kong looks so good that this unspoken rule may have to be revised.
This is a movie very much aware of its silly B-movie adventure premise that it plays as a nostalgic throwback to the goofier giant monster movies of yore, for better and worse. The first twenty minutes sets up all the disposable and forgettable human characters for the 1973 expedition to Skull Island. There’s the scientists that want to prove a Hollow Earth theory, the military men used as fodder, the additional scientists used as more fodder, a photojournalist to snap some pictures and seasoned mercenary to lead them all through the jungle with rifle in hand. There’s no point in stating their names as there is too many to keep track off and not enough personality to any of them. There is no real arc for any character, save for Samuel L. Jackson as the frustrated colonel that wants a war so badly after Vietnam. Things pick up slightly with their journey when they run across John C. Reilly as a man who has been stranded on the island for decades, but he, too, can do little more than spout a few funny lines.
But enough about them; let’s get to Kong! Right from the first scene, we get to see the titular ape in all his gigantic glory. There’s no hiding in the shadows for this beast as he bursts onto the scene the moment the invading military start dropping bombs on the island. We get to see Kong from nearly every angle as he swats at the invading helicopters, roaring and beating his chest to establish his dominance. And since the humans are not as intimidating once Kong scatters them, there are lots of monsters on the island for Kong to pulverize. His main enemy for the picture: a dinosaur-like creature with an exposed skull that previously murdered Kong’s parents. It’s up to Kong to prevent the complete extinction of his race and get revenge for his parents.
Meanwhile, the human characters push through the jungle to reach the boats that will meet them at the other end of the island. They run into several monsters that want to eat them along the way, but there’s a strange passivity to their adventure as if they realize they’re all trapped in a giant monster B-movie. A scientist is shredded by giant birds and everyone just sort of moves on, only one of the travelers remarking how messed up it is that nobody is going to talk about this. The military men realize one of their men is stranded on the far end of the island and have to after him, not realizing that they’ll just run into more monsters that will eat them. Even the gobbled up humans are given just enough seconds before their demise to deliver a beat-punctuating curse or sigh. There are a few moments where the characters get in some exciting thrills as when Jackson creates a lake of napalm and Reilly slices up giant birds with a samurai sword.
While there’s a certain self-awareness to the silly nature of this adventure, I wished it were a little more mindful to not make the same mistakes as those classic monster movies. I know the human characters are not important, but it doesn’t help that this movie doesn’t bother attempting to make them anything more than lame jokes. I will give the cast credit in that the likes of Tom Hiddleston, John Goodman, Samuel L. Jackson and John C. Reilly put their best foot forward in a movie that doesn’t have time for them. The casual nature of the adventure does keep the movie relatively light and amusing, but it’s perhaps too casual at times the way characters brush off death so easily. And for being set in the 1970s, the movie relies on an awful lot of familiar 70s rock associated with the Vietnam war, practically exhausting every possible song. Even worse, the movie feels the need to make these songs present on radios and reels that the military apparently take with them on their journey through Skull Island. I half-expected one of the soldiers to lug a giant reel-to-reel audio player on their shoulder like a boombox.
I found myself smiling an awful lot at this picture, but my grin was at its peak anytime Kong was on screen. I adored the way he brutally savages a giant squid for dinner and later pulls the guts out of an attacking dinosaur. These are fantastic scenes that are sure to stand out for any kid that found themselves enraptured with the battling dinos at the end of Jurassic World. The filmmakers must’ve realized the kids would care more about Kong’s hunt for revenge rather than a romance between Hiddleston and Larson that never culminates. Kong: Skull Island does exactly what’s expected of it and while it doesn’t redefine the genre, it at least proves that giant monster movies haven’t grown too cynical in the 21st century.