As one of the icons of films, King Kong has gone through a myriad of depictions on-screen. Jordan Vogt Roberts 2017 reboot, Kong: Skull Island is another reimagining of the giant ape and manages to be a worthy addition to the cinematic lore of King Kong.
The film follows a team of scientists, soldiers and adventurers as they journey to explore the mystical Skull Island where they run into a number of monsters including giant spiders, “skull crawlers” and of course, the mighty Kong.
In terms of story, this reboot deviates from the premise of the original (as well as the multiple remakes) which followed a film crew visiting an exotic island for a shoot. Unlike its predecessors, the story of Skull Island is contained within the tropical island and follows a very different cast of characters as compared to the originals. Regardless, the appeal of monster movies like Kong does not lie in the complexity of its plot and this film understands that.
The plot is fairly straightforward with plenty of B movie elements in the film (once again channelling its predecessors in that regard) but the film does not embrace it entirely almost taking itself a bit too seriously at times. The plot is fairly straightforward and is mainly driven by its multiple set pieces spread throughout the film and it is in those set pieces where the primary strengths of the film lie.
Right from the first major encounter of the exploration crew with Kong to the last major sequence in the film, Kong Skull Island delivers the epic action in spades. There is also a fantastic spider pit sequence in the middle which is a nice homage to the lost and cut sequence from the original King Kong. Credit is due to both the director (Vogt Roberts) and cinematographer Larry Fong for succeeding in bringing scale, atmosphere and quality to the big monster fight scenes without relying on editing tricks.
There is plenty of energy to the action without it feeling too claustrophobic. To capture the old-school cinematic vibe of Kong, the film was in the widescreen anamorphic format and uses Panavision lenses for a warmer, filmic look. Roberts and Fong also do well to add eerie feeling about Skull Island which was achieved by shooting remote regions in Hawaii with ravishing natural landscapes. The duo also channel the look and feel of 1970s war films as Wong stated in an interview “We were both interested in capturing this kind of classic ’70s look, rather than just taking all our references from other monster movies”. The film certainly does not shy away from its influences and evokes plenty of Vietnam War imagery.
The Vietnam setting is another notable aspect of the film. While it not only influences its visual style and soundtrack (which features your regular Vietnam era classics) it may also serve as an interesting allegory for the theme of the film. By invading Kong’s habitat they are picking a fight in which they should not be getting into, as John C. Reilly’s character says “Sometimes there’s no enemy until you look for one.” Through these lines, the director and writers of the film may be referring to the United State’s futile invasion of Vietnam.
Where the film primarily falters is in its failure to make its large cast of characters interesting or worth caring about. While the film boasts an incredibly talented list of actors it does not do justice to their abilities.
The biggest victims of this are the two main leads played by Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson. Hiddleston plays an ex-SAS Captain who works as a hunter-tracker and Brie Larson plays an anti-war photographer.
Beyond their job profiles, the two receive very little character development primarily serving as pieces in a monster-laden puzzle. Despite this, it is nice to see Larson not play a damsel in distress, a regular trope of the monster movie genre and especially King Kong.
Samuel L. Jackson and John C. Reilly are the actors who receive most of the development. Jackson plays the primary antagonist of the film, a man with a clear lust for war who holds a strong grudge against Kong. His intentions are clearly laid out throughout the film and his actions remain consistent with them.
Reilly on the other hand plays an eccentric soldier who has been stranded on Skull Island for 28 years. While his character serves mainly to deliver exposition and comic relief which is often hit-or-miss, he plays his role with enough charisma to elevate himself from the rest of the cast.
John Goodman is also in the film playing a scientist who brings the team together but unfortunately his character almost becomes an afterthought as the film goes on. The rest of the soldiers and scientists exist as caricatures more than characters. The lack of character development would perhaps not be such a big problem if it were not for the fact that we spend a lot of time with these characters and often care little for them.
But the one character that the film absolutely gets right is the most important one of all – Kong. Every single moment that we spend with Kong is entirely engaging and he certainly has a grandiose quality to him, befitting the characters iconic stature. The film succeeds in making Kong both menacing and sympathetic which is the character at its best.
In terms of editing, while there is a nice juxtaposition of a few cuts (a man falling into Kong’s mouth cutting to someone eating a sandwich being one example), the film suffers from issues in editing. The film is edited in a visually aggressive style which works for the set pieces but not for the smaller character moments. There is also an extensive use of slow motion which feels overdone and often times unnecessary.
While Kong: Skull Island certainly does have its issues, most notably with its human characters, the film succeeds in being an enjoyable cinematic experience on the strength of its visuals, action and a strong portrayal of King Kong.
Final rating: 3/5
Edited by Peter Spann
Peter Spann is a business coach, writer, presenter and investor.
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