A Zany, Wacky Monster Thrill Ride
Let’s get this out of the way – Kong: Skull Island is not a masterpiece, maybe not even a great film; but it sure is a fun one. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (2013’s The Kings of Summer) and his team took a decidedly different approach to the summer blockbuster than many contemporaries; embracing light, kitschy, gimmicky ridiculousness. Ever since 2008’s Golden Hitchaboo-winning The Dark Knight premiered, studios have been trying (and often failing) to recreate that comic book masterpiece through dark lighting, brooding dialogue, and gritty violence. The DC Film Universe is a particularly egregious participant in this wave of films, but they are hardly alone.
With Kong: Skull Island, Legendary Pictures continues their ‘MonsterVerse’ film franchise, building on 2014’s Godzilla. Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla tried to follow in the footsteps of The Dark Knight; and wound up being everything that is wrong with the modern summer blockbuster. Luckily, Legendary Pictures saw their faults, letting director Vogt-Roberts take a drastically different approach, embracing a lighter fare; reminiscent of early 90s (and 80s) popcorn film extravaganzas.
No one in Kong: Skull Island is taking themselves too seriously; and it shows since the writers aren’t too concerned with making complete (any?) sense. Could it be the plot device that calls for a perpetual storm surrounding the titular ‘Skull Island’, keeping it hidden from the modern world? Or perhaps it is the fact that once on the island, the ever-present storm is absent, allowing for stunningly computer enhanced sunset shots? Writers Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly, and John Gatins are letting the audience know that this film isn’t going to make a lot of sense, and inviting us to still have fun with it all.
The motif that no one is taking themselves too seriously continues with the on-screen talent. While Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson are technically the leads of Kong: Skull Island, this is Sam Jackson’s film. Samuel L. Jackson is channeling a caricature of Samuel L. Jackson, who in turn is playing a wonky version of Moby Dick’s Captain Ahab; and as zany as that sounds, it works. Think about Samuel L. Jackson turning the ‘Sam Jackson meter’ to 11 and reading Moby Dick a few too many times and getting REALLY INVESTED. From the first moment Jackson’s Colonel Packard comes in contact with the massive ape, he lusts for his eventual showdown with the monster.
Building on that absurdity, John C. Reilly plays Hank Marlow, a World War 2 soldier who has been stranded on Skull Island for nearly 30 years. Tom Hanks went a bit batty and started talking to a volleyball in Cast Away, but that is nothing compared to the wackiness of Reilly’s Hank Marlow.
There isn’t much to say about leads Hiddleston and Larson; filling in well enough as the commando straight man and altruistic heroine; respectively. They both look the part, but don’t add much; and could have been played by any of a handful of current Hollywood leading men/ladies.
Looking beyond the cast, writers and even director; audiences paid to see King Kong, and the film’s success is dependent on the giant monkey. Kong is larger than ever, a 100 foot tall behemoth, lording over his island. The new twist to the King Kong mythology is that Kong is accompanied by a host of gigantic creatures that have evolved in his land, untouched by modern humanity. An ingenious plot wrinkle, it gives Kong some adversaries worthy of battle; from the squid with 100 foot tentacles, to the dinosaur-like ‘Skullcrawler’ buried beneath the island’s surface.
The end credits of Kong: Skull Island sets up for the continuation of Legendary Pictures ‘MonsterVerse’, but it remains to be seen how two films as tonally opposite as 2014’s Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island will merge together. What can be surmised is that Kong: Skull Island was a fun, mindless 2 hour escape as audiences got to watch a giant ape wrestle with dinosaurs; and contend with a manic Samuel L. Jackson.
- Acting: 7/10 – The leads may be duds, but Samuel L. Jackson delivers unbridled ridiculousness
- Screenwriting: 5/10 – Nonsensical and absurd, but a fun adventure
- Special Effects: 8/10 – Delivers the good with the eponymous Kong and an assortment of other monsters
6/10 – Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ Kong: Skull Island fully commits to being an illogical, zany thrill ride; and there’s nothing wrong with a couple hours of silly popcorn fun.