Kong: Skull Island (Movie Review)

Kong: Skull Island is an American Monster film directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts (The Kings of Summer, Nick Offerman: American Ham). Starring Tom Hiddleston; Brie Larson, Samuel L Jackson,  John Goodman and John C. Reilly, it's the installment that introduces King Kong into Legendary Picture's own shared "Monster-Verse", that started with 2014's Godzilla (Aup, Marvel). Set in 1973, a squad of soldiers and scientists head off to an uncharted island in the Pacific, ending up encountering and running away from it's native creatures, Kong included. General Monster film featuring angry Sam L Jackson lines ensue.

Not being the biggest fan of Godzilla (the biggest monster-reveal tease ever), I was really hesitant guessing if I was going to enjoy the next in line of Legendary's Monster bonanza. Incorrectly assuming what the overall tone and feel would be, I actually had a good time with Kong: Skull Island but it was for all the wrong reasons.

Ruined Monkey Business

Right, starting on a positive note (because good vibes n' stuff), anything with action featuring Kong is great. His look, roar and the way he punches mortifying-looking skull lizard creatures in the face feels like the only things that justify the $185 million budget. Kong and select action sequences are beauties to look at and really creates hype for the inevitable face off with Godzilla in a future film.. That's the only thing I loved about Kong: Skull Island that actually seemed intentional.

Pretty action scenes aside, it's filled with unrealistic empty characters. Performances from the cast are as ok as you'd expect them to be, with it being filled with so many huge names and everything but they have to work with a script that made me cry with laughter. Not because it's funny but because it's dialogue in a huge, blockbuster film that sounds like it was copied and pasted from either a porn script or a spin-off for Sharknado. A particular scene with Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson really stands out. About 30 minutes in, after unexpectedly running into Kong,  a 128ft gorilla that no one would have ever imagined to have existed, Hiddleston and Larson's characters and some soldiers are getting their bearings. With nothing more than a couple of cheesy banter lines between Larson and Hiddleston, a solider reacts in the manner of "can we talk about what just happened?! A giant gorilla just appeared out of nowhere! why are you two so calm?!". All of the big contenders are as good as you'd expect them to be except maybe for Brie Larson just standing there and staring half the time. You can tell Tom Hiddleston's trying to bring out the British wit and flair we all love. Sadly, they have to work with a script that hurls the idea of believable, human characters out of the window. I couldn't help but laugh at the increased absurdity of the characters I was seeing, especially after going through what felt like a long-winded set up in actually getting to the island.

It can definitely be said you won't be bored through the entirety of Kong Skull Island. However, that's mainly because you're either smirking at the awkward dialogue, admiring the scenery and effects or you're trying to comprehend who's doing what and why. The large group heading to the island is split up into initially three groups upon arrival, thus taking you back and forth to these groups as to try to meet up again to return home. The group including, Hiddleston, Larson and John C. Reilly is the one I'd have preferred to follow on it's own because even though all of the film's characters and their motivations seem paper thin, these seem the least absurd. Samuel L Jackson and John Goodman's characters appear to have thrown common sense away and a side story with Tobey Kebbel (Fantastic Four, A Monster Calls, Black Mirror) doesn't really go anywhere, not being worth the time put in with a very boring pay off.

What had and still has me reluctantly chuckle is the clear struggle of identity. There's nothing wrong with a film's structure and dialogue being entertainingly cheesy and absurd as long as the tone is set up that way, not trying to be anymore than it actually is. Not trying to be The Godfather 2 when you're merely Fast & Furious. Skull Island oversteps it's bounds and you know it in moments like when you see John C. Reilly in what's meant to be an epic monster adventure film. What appears to be a matured rehash of his man-child role from Step Brothers, Reilly's contribution is just to serve some exposition, drowned in unfunny jokes and put you into another side story no one asked for. It's one of many elements that make Skull Island feel more like a parody than the real thing. Besides the monster fights. there are one or two action scenes with the humans that are really fun to watch but the logic behind what took the characters to that position in the first place seemed like the definition of lazy writing, literally using the story as a fragile tool to showcase flashy violence.

Final Thoughts

Even before the credits started rolling, I could see myself watching Kong: Skull Island again. I've already envisioned inviting a couple of friends round, popping open some beers and us all sharing in a mutual laugh in what a bad film really is, right before comparing it's quality to the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy. Having such a huge budget is part of it's saving grace but it feels like all that money was injected into it by an accounting error due to the massive mess it is.

Once you accept that's what Skull Island is; a badly written showcase for some good effects, a few action scenes, cardboard characters and wasted acting power, you can easily have fun time with it. I could loop Samuel L Jackson's awkwardly hilarious and intense stare-offs with King Kong through fire for hours. Nevertheless, having to say that is what is really disappointing about this film. It had the potential; set-up, iconic character and gritty tone set by Godzilla make Skull Island's action scenes shine even brighter in a grounded yet gripping serious story. Instead, we get that drunk friend, who's always off his face, standing up to make a serious point about life before falling flat on his arse and spilling his drink on his crotch. That's sort of fun to watch too I suppose, if you're drunk as well.

Rating: 4/10

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