Kong: Skull Island Review

*Mild Spoiler Warning but nothing not in trailers

I feel I should say before writing this review that I am not a movie snob. I can enjoy a stupid monster movie just as much as the next girl. In fact, I recently defended The Great Wall as just that kind of film. However, the thing about The Great Wall is it was visually inventive and consistent, which kept me entertained throughout. I went into Kong Skull Island expecting a similar experience and left feeling disappointed. Kong Skull Island has positives but in the end I don’t think it is successful.

This version of Kong is set in the 1970s which was pretty creative, but like everything these days it is meant to fit into a cinematic universe with Godzilla and other famous monsters.

The conceit is the Vietnam War is ending and John Goodman’s character named Bill gathers a group of soldiers, trackers, scientists and a photographer to explore Skull Island. Once they arrive they face the giant ape King Kong and a variety of other creatures as well as meet a man marooned there in 1944 played by John C Reily.

The special effects with Kong are first-rate and very entertaining. The problem is these special effects are not consistent throughout the movie. The 1933 film, hokey as it may now seem, had a consistent look to all the creature designs. In this film there are these lizard creatures that Kong fights which I thought looked really bad. They seemed like something out of a movie from the early 2000s not 2017. This was a real problem because there are multiple scenes with just the lizards including one with some of the most ridiculous slow motion I’ve seen in a long time.

The writing was also pretty inconsistent. Again, I don’t expect great writing in a film like this but it needs to be consistent. Many of the characters felt like they were in different movies, seeing different realities. Tom Hiddleston is bland as the tracker who one moment leaves a boat and yet needs his super duper tracking skills to find the river? Brie Larson is there as a photographer but her relationship with Kong feels so tagged on and underdeveloped. In the 1933 version Ann Darrow and Kong have a relationship that develops over time leading to Kong being encaged and put on display. It makes sense he would feel for her. Not here. The real victim to underwritten characters is Samuel L Jackson’s Lieutenant Packard. He basically acts like an insane man from another movie. His actions make no sense for an army man (or sane human for that matter) and all of the sudden the movie becomes a revenge piece that doesn’t work at all. They even repeat his iconic line from Jurassic Park, which I thought was a very odd choice. A character I did like was John C. Reily’s marooned 1944’s soldier. He was consistently written throughout the film. His choices made sense and he was entertaining in the way you want a B movie performance to be. Along with Kong, he was my favorite thing in the movie.

Even Kong is underwritten in this film. In the 1933 film you see him grow as a character. He has emotion and heart as he is hunted and then chained to show off to the crowd. Here they try to get some of that emotion but it doesn’t work and his choices towards the end don’t make any sense. It became a bunch of lizard battles when what I wanted was a Kong movie.

The soundtrack was really good! Full of 70s hits, so there’s that but I was disappointed by Kong Skull Island. There are moments of fun but it just wasn’t consistent enough for me to endorse.

Overall Grade- C-

20 thoughts on “Kong: Skull Island Review

  1. I just came back from seeing it, and while I agree with a lot of the points you raised I was still entertained by it. It’s essentially a glorified B-movie (like you said The Great Wall was) and never takes itself seriously like the previous Kong iterations. Which may be it’s downfall or the thing that makes it unique, depending on who you ask. Still, for me the second best Kong film is still the Peter Jackson film. That film is at least an hour too long and suffers from a weak romantic angle, but the stuff he got right (as far as the Kong mythology goes) he got really right, and it was a clear passion project for him.

    1. Yeah I agree with what you are saying about Jackson. I think if I had liked the lizards more but they felt so off with the level of Kong that it bothered me

  2. I won’t bother to defend the film because it’s just silly popcorn entertainment. With that said, I enjoyed it. It didn’t disappoint me, although I suppose I wasn’t expecting great art so perhaps my requirements weren’t very high.

    One thing I will offer however is that this is supposed to be an “original” (read different) story. Comparing the character of Ann Darrow with Brie Larsen’s Mason Weaver isn’t equivalent because they’re different people. They’re both women, but that’s where the similarities end. There was essentially no relationship between the two of them at all.

    P.S. It’s certainly reasonable that you enjoyed the relationship between “the woman” and Kong more in earlier versions, though. That’s fair. πŸ™‚

    1. Fair enough. The Brie Larson/Kong thing just felt a little tagged on and underdeveloped but I see what you are saying. I can see having fun with this like I did with The Great Wall

  3. It’s funny; we both saw the same movie and both have the same criticisms, and yet I liked the movie more than you did. πŸ™‚ (You know I give star ratings, but, were I to give Kong a letter grade, it would be B+.) Story-wise, Skull Island reminded me more of a ’40s pulp-magazine story than any kind of movie. I grew up reading those stories, so maybe there’s a subconscious nostalgia factor working for me. Oh, well. It is what it is πŸ™‚

    Visually, however, there are lots of movies that this is referencing, from (of course) Apocalypse Now to late-’60s action thrillers to even ’70s political thrillers (the few scenes at the White House). But… yeah.

    Anyway, I literally have almost the exact same issues that you have. (Except for Samuel L. Jackson’s Jurassic Park call-back; I thought it was more funny than weird.) Yet, I can’t bring myself to be too hard on the film. Oh, well! Different strokes for different folks πŸ™‚

    1. Actually, story-wise, John C. Reilly’s character did remind me of a movie trope πŸ™‚ He has a parallel in just about every horror movie: the experienced survivor who knows everything there is to know about the dangerous situation. I love that character!

      Actually, all the characters are adventure/action movie archetypes. Since this is such a pulpy adventure story, though, that actually seemed to fit. It didn’t bother me as much as it ordinarily would πŸ™‚

      1. And like I said I dont mind archetypes or B movies. I liked The Great Wall. This just felt inconsistent to me

    2. That’s awesome. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I guess the Jurassic Park line seemed nuts to me because why remind your audience of a better film the actor was in? It’s like reinforcing your own mediocrity

      1. That makes sense. Actually, I felt like Skull Island made two references to Jurassic Park; one major character’s death felt remarkably similar to the way Gennaro dies in Jurassic. I’m assuming the director is a fan…

      2. Yeah that was more of an homage where I felt repeating a famous line was a strange choice. But that’s a small flaw. It was more consistency. I felt the creatures weren’t consistently rendered and the human characters all felt like they were in different movies.

  4. I’m late to the Kong party, but since I left a comment at Rachel’s recent review of Godzilla 2, here goes:
    I have a weak spot for monster movies, and specifically King Kong is one of my favorite monsters since he is a primate and therefore very relatable. I would essentially write exactly the same review as Rachel. Although the technical effects were top notch and there are many parts which I really liked, the movie has so many puzzling inconsistencies that I initially didn’t enjoy it very much. I have to confess that my bench mark for a great Kong movie is Peter Jackson’s King Kong remake from 2005. While the movie has it’s flaws (mostly because it’s too long and padded with unnecessarily dragged out and over-the-top action scenes), I consider it an underappreciated masterpiece. Peter Jackson managed to create a moving and heart breaking story which ends in a totally unnecessary tragedy because of human greed. And Peter Jackson had always great casting skills. He assembled top notch actors. And with the help of Andy Serkis’s Oscar-worthy motion capture performance, he brought the most wonderful and most believable Kong ever onto the silver screen. Andy Serkis even visited the Virunga range in Africa in order to observe gorillas in the wild. Peter Jackson’s Kong isn’t a B-movie at all but a hommage to the fascination and obsession of film making itself. And while Kong: Skull Island has it’s moments of sheer entertainment, it’s story feels flat in comparison with Peter Jackson’s movie. And like Rachel I also hated the lizards. The strange thing is, that “Kong: Skull Island” had all the necessary ingredients for being a much better movie than it eventually turned out to be. It has a talented and original young director, great actors, a good premise, humor, a very touching story element which has been handled well throughout the movie, and of course a great sound track. It would’ve been so easy to fix it’s flaws. It would’ve been enough to edit down the number of characters and let Samuel L. Jackson’s character act a little more rationally. It would also have helped to reduce the overall body count in order to increase the impact of each individual death. Especially one character aims at a heroic self sacrifice (“Go, live your lives!”) which is adequately built up – and then it turns out to be completely inconsequential! All these things could’ve been fixed fairly easily and without additional costs with a clever script doctor, and the end result would’ve been a great monster movie.
    All that said, “Kong: Skull Island” grew on me. When I revisited it, I always smiled and was entertained despite it’s flaws. And I was actually looking forward to Godzilla 2, which is set within the same monster universe. Well, this movie turned out to be a total train wreck, and “Kong: Skull Island” started to look like a masterpiece in comparison. As others have pointed out, Godzilla 2 had no element of human interest at all, but also the monster fights weren’t handled well. While the fights in “Kong: Skull Island” are filmed with great clarity in bright daylight in a gorgeous landscape, the monsters in Godzilla 2 are always shrouded by bad weather in murky darkness and exchangeable settings, the camera angles are flawed, and it’s hard to tell apart one body part from another. And while Kong definitely has a soul, the monsters in Godzilla 2 don’t have an inkling of personality. Unlike “Kong:Skull Island”, which has been treated kindly by many reviewers and also was a good money maker, Godzilla 2 has been trashed by critics and also wasn’t a huge financial success. The jury is still out if it will be an outright flop.
    This has actually repercussions for Kong’s immediate future: he is supposed to return next year in “Godzilla vs. Kong”. But after the less than well received Godzilla 2 there are speculations now to postpone “Godzilla vs Kong”. I don’t know anyway if I’m looking forward to that particular installment. IMO “Kong:Skull Island” has one huge flaw hardly anybody talked about: he is too big! He’s the biggest Kong ever – and that means that communication with humans is hardly possible, since in relation to Kong we have the size of dwarf hamsters πŸ˜ƒ It’s surprising that he even noticed Brie Larson! But since Kong is a primate, his relationship to humans is, what makes a Kong movie so interesting! The huge problem for the upcoming movie is that Kong, who was a juvenile in the previous movie, needs to grow even bigger in order to be able to be a serious contender against Godzilla and other assorted kaijus. This probably means that communication with humans will be almost out of the question. The whole idea of Kong fighting kaijus is pretty much inane because of this size issue. Yes, there is already a Japanese movie by Ishiro Honda, the creator of the original “Gojira”, which features Godzilla vs Kong. But that movie is a comedy and an entertaining media satire, where the fight between Godzilla and Kong has been arranged by greedy tv moguls in order to make a big buck by televising the monster clash. That approach actually works because the movie doesn’t take itself very seriously. I highly doubt that the upcoming (and maybe by now postponed) movie takes a similarly light hearted approach. Unfortunately Jordan Vogt-Roberts, the young director of “Kong:Skull Island” who did a very decent job with the material he was given, hasn’t returned as the director of the upcoming “Kong vs Godzilla”. And the reasons for this have all the hallmarks of a great story which could be the source for a very interesting movie:
    After a well received indie movie and a successful blockbuster, the Hollywood career of the young director Jordan Vogt-Roberts could’ve really taken off. He was however bored by the trappings of Hollywood life and the resulting stress and he returned to Vietnam, since he had fallen in love with this beautiful and fascinating country and it’s people ever since he had made “Kong: Skull Island” there. He wanted to regenerate there and took an official position in order to promote Vietnam as a wonderful location for movies. He became fast one of the most popular Americans in Vietnam – and was also highly reckognizeable because of his enormous black beard. But then tragedy struck: while visiting a popular night club in Saigon, he and the other visitors were violently attacked by a mob of Vietnamese gangsters and drug kingpins. The whole nauseating scene was caught on security cameras. Jordan Vogt-Roberts was pummeled by several attackers for almost 10 minutes and was hit over the head with a bottle. He survived but was seriously injured and there was the lurking danger of permanent brain damage. He went back to the US in order to heal. But he was severely traumatized and the life in Vietnam he had mapped out for himself was in shambles. He also became obsessed to track down the attackers. Therefore he started to analyze the video footage, and together with a journalist and the Vietnamese police they managed to track down and identify the attackers, who turned out to be drug dealing Canadians with Vietnamese origins. One leader was eventually arrested in India while the other leader is still on the run. This success gave Jordan Vogt-Roberts some measure of closure. He has been involved in several productions since then and he has plans for another monster movie (not set in the Legendary monster-verse, though) which will be set in his hometown Detroit. Sounds like this quite unique young film maker is doing fine again, and the best of luck to him!

    1. Wow! What an incredible comment. I had no idea about all of that happening with Vogt-Roberts! They could make a movie just on that. Thank you for sharing that crazy story. I do agree this film looks better when compared with Godzilla 2. It’s why I think this Monsterverse just isnt for me

      1. Rachel, thanks! I’m glad that you enjoyed my comment – as I enjoy your thoughtful but always tolerant reviews😊
        I only learned very recently about Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ incredible story. I googled him because I saw an interview with him where he came across as an interesting and unique character full of humor who could joke and laugh about his own movie. You will find the whole story in a GQ article which is linked at the bottom of his Wikipedia article.
        I also have the feeling that this monster-verse isn’t for me, since I need a good story and some interesting characters to root for. Just one CGI monster fight after another isn’t enough for me. Strangely “Kong:Skull Island” had all the ingredients for being a great B-movie. I have no idea why they didn’t fix the narrative issues.
        I’m looking forward to read more of your reviews.

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