This reboot of King Kong’s mythology is a springboard for the monster-verse and… it is competent but nothing to write home about.
An expedition in the early 1970s to the fabled Skull Island, spotted by satellite technology, goes awry when the expedition is headed by a man looking for revenge on a colossal monster living there. Kong. What starts out as a scientific exploration becomes an all out war.
Tom Hiddleston (Avengers Assemble) Samuel L. Jackson (Kingsman) and Brie Larson (Room) spearhead this Warner Brothers production (no longer with Universal) and directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts whose only other directorial credit is comedy/drama The Kings of Summer.
The film wholly deviates from the King Kong movies of old; you should consider this a new franchise without any existing story. After all, a sequel to the old movies is naturally impossible. This is the start of a wider universe, a “MonsterVerse” to match Marvel’s accelerating Expanded Universe and harking back to the monster clash movies of the 1960s onwards, specifically 1962’s King Kong Vs Godzilla.
It is hilarious then, to remember crew of Kong: Skull Island initially denying anything about Kong’s new colossal size being anything to do with the 2014’s overweight Godzilla design…
Kong is a big fella. No longer is he 25ft tall, he is a mountainous kaiju now, easily 60ft tall. The effects are impressive, although there’s little in the way of ambition here; you can clearly see how shots are composed. This deviation from the original movies isn’t restricted to the character’s physical nature either; the film has no intention of any emotional bond with Kong… He isn’t pining after pretty ladies here. You will need to have working knowledge of the earlier films if you want to feel particular sympathy for him. No Andy Serkis performance here!
Which is odd, because the film tries to have its cake and eat it too. Samuel L. Jackson’s veteran Colonel Packard really wants to kill Kong for the initial battle that kills most of his men. In fact, Jackson presents the most interesting character of the film, totally unhinged with a perpetual murderous stare. Him and John C. Reilly, as a World War Two pilot who had been marooned on Skull Island for nearly thirty years. His comedic presence and desire to escape the island was a breathe of fresh air amongst the pointless characters, flat humour and steely stares that surround him. Hiddleston spends most of his time frowning into the middle distance.
Boy, are there no real performances here. Despite having the most racial diverse team of explorers in the 70s, no one really has anything interesting to say. Jackson quotes himself: “Hold onto your butts”, while China’s Tian Jing (The Great Wall) does literally nothing. Hiddleston’s character is hired as a “tracker”, I don’t recall him tracking anything. John Goodman’s character has heaps of untapped potential; his character arc just… stops. People die, and you instantly forget who they were.
The editing is woeful. It just is. Characters jump from location to location liberally, especially during a point of contention between Hiddleston and Jackson; the team travel some distance with an edit before Hiddleston brings up a crucial plot element, just discovered, that could change Jackson’s mind…
For a vehicle towards bigger and (hopefully) better monster battle movies, Kong: Skull Island is a pass. It has cool CGI battles between Kong and various beasties (it doesn’t cut away from them either, unlike certain movies) some nice shot composition, and a good original score (but a lot of cliche pop music choices.) But there’s nothing of substance with the characters outside of Jackson’s colonel, and zero tension throughout the experience.