Written by: Dale Raulerson
Directed by: Jordon Vogt-Roberts
Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John Goodman, John C. Reilly
There has been a trend lately of putting big budget, blockbuster films into the hands of smaller, independent directors; especially surrounding horror films. Jon Watts is moving from Clown to Spiderman: Homecoming and Scott Derrickson navigated from Sinister up to Dr. Strange. This time, it is comedy series director Jordan Vogt-Roberts who is stepping up from indie gems like The Kings of Summer to the massive and expensive world of Kong: Skull Island.
Vogt-Roberts’ comedic background is no doubt evident here, as practically every character and scene is tinged with humor, particularly in light of the ludicrous scenario that they find themselves in upon entering the island. The film juggles the laughs with raw, frenetic destruction and brief bits of drama, creating a package that is exactly what you might expect a movie like this to be. A popcorn action flick of little to no consequence. In that regard though, the movie drips with style and bombast, keeping the audience engaged and entertained throughout with little thought.
The cast is bewilderingly jam packed with stars and talent, featuring Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John Goodman, and John C. Reilly. Unfortunately, aside from creating a level of comfort in familiarity, the cast is largely squandered. Tom Hiddleston is quite probably miscast here as the rugged freelance tracker who does very little tracking at all, and Brie Larson’s role as the anti-war photographer doesn’t get a lot of depth (and her weird, unspoken bond with Kong is terribly trope-ish and predictable). John Goodman comes on strong early in the movie and starts to develop what I thought would be a good story arc, mirroring Kong himself, but then disappears for almost half the movie and never does anything of merit again. Samuel L. Jackson makes his role enjoyable on the merit of his own charisma, having a fun and fiery rivalry with Kong, but even his real motivations are only hinted at and not terribly fulfilling. Really, the savior of this movie is John C. Reilly as the downed pilot who has been living on the island for decades among the natives. He not only has the most fleshed out backstory by far, but he is the funniest and much touching of all the characters as well, with an endearingly discussed relationship with the Japanese pilot who crashed on the island with him, and a heartwarming (if generic) goal or returning home to his long lost family. I loved everything about him in the role and the movie would have been completely forgettable without him.
The visual effects are obviously very explosive here, with the creatures getting tons of clear screen time and there being plenty of action sequences, explosions and firefights. Kong looks fantastic and it’s nice to see him moving around out in the open daylight, crushing giant monsters and just doing what Kong does. The major helicopter sequence that brings the characters together with the titular monster is savage and unrelenting, costing the lives of countless unnamed extras, and definitely helps set the pace and tone of danger. Despite a lot of great special effects and awesomely framed shots though, there are a few sequences with awkward and choppy editing, such as Hiddleston’s introduction, and a number of scenes have some excessive color grading that makes it look fake and unimpressive. Given the absolutely beautiful locations they shot on, I think they could have toned that down to take advantage of it and the film could have been a bit more consistent.
The soundtrack features a massive amount of licensed music of the era, which is pretty common for movies set at that time anyway. Even so, they don’t abuse the more common go-to songs and offer up a wide variety of music to keep things interesting, and the use of the music deigetically through speakers on the helicopters, etc. adds flavor to the characters and makes the scenes more fun. I didn’t find anything memorable or impressive about the original score, but it gets buried under classic hits in most scenes anyway.
If you turn you want a movie that you can turn your brain off for and just have a good time, I think Kong: Skull Island will easily scratch that itch. Things explode, people die and you’ll get a few deep laughs, and what more can you really ask for from a movie like this, essentially a summer blockbuster in all ways save its release date. You won’t have much to talk about when it is over (besides the heavily emphasized sequel) but there are far worse ways to spend 2 hours.