Anti-war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) utters the words, “We don’t belong here,” upon understanding the sheer scale of what they’re about to get into on Skull Island. Luckily for moviegoers, Kong: Skull Island belongs in audiences’ hearts as a fun, light-hearted, comical take on King Kong himself.
The film opens in the South Pacific during 1944. A U.S. military pilot is seen crash landing onto an island, while a Japanese solider is seen parachuting out of the sky and making a hard landing not even 20 feet away. The world is at war, and the film’s ode to old-school filmography gave the opening sequence a vintage feel. The two enemies fight, with the Japanese man bringing out a sword after both soldiers’ guns run out of ammo. The scrapping continues until they run out of real estate and peer over the large canyon. Then, rumbles are heard getting closer and closer until King Kong is shown on-screen.
Welcome to Skull Island.
The sheer size of Kong is the biggest he’s felt on the Silver Screen (along with his creepy gang of monsters), and, boy, did director Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ film begin on a strong note. The quick cuts in the action weren’t distracting and the film immediately emitted a playful tone with its quirky camera angles and, of course, large monster.
Skull Island fast-forwards to 1973, where anti-war riots are amuck and, as Monarch scientist Bill Randa (John Goodman) said, “Washington has never looked worse.” Both Randa and his right-hand scientist, Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins), trot into senator Willis’ office (Richard Jenkins) with the intention to convince the U.S. government to back a trip to Skull Island. The senator OKs the trip, and we’re quickly introduced to Monarch’s escort team, led by Lt. Col. Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and ex-British Special Forces agent James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston).
The main cast doesn’t particularly take your breath away, and they are introduced quite quickly. Vogt-Roberts spends no time getting to Skull Island, so the introduction of characters like anti-war photographer Weaver and Packard’s military squad can be missed if you blink twice.
This leads into one of Skull Islands‘ biggest problems: John Gatins’ story and Dan Gilroy’s screenplay does no favors to its supporting cast. There’s no love created between the viewer and lesser characters, like Cole (Shea Whigham), who bogs down every scene he’s in by failing to sell his role of hardened war badass.
Then there are the middling characters, like Weaver and the innocent, fearful Slivko (Thomas Mann), who sometimes succeed in their moments of funny dialogue. Even the comic relief and token crazy, stranded war vet Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly) helps bring life to the film’s final act. I think Reilly was all right in his role, but there weren’t any incredibly memorable moments.
On the other hand, I can understand the film falling short in these areas due to its shorter-than-expected runtime of 115 minutes, which, with sacrifice to some character development, really helps nose-dive into the action sequences. The film’s strengths come in Goodman’s ability to bring the film down to earth, allowing for a natural feel to each scene he steals. And, yes, he steals every scene he’s in and gives the crowd a relatable character thanks to our favorite scientist’s curiosity in discovering Skull Island.
Surprisingly, the cinematography was, for the most part, well-done. The first half of the film was comprised of cinematographer Larry Fong’s finest moments. The set piece in Saigon was beautiful, for instance, and each conversation framed wonderfully, allowing the blue and red colors of nearby neon signs to radiated off the actors.
If there’s a bone to pick, it’s with Samuel L. Jackson. Normally, I’m all for Jackson’s performances, but his portrayal of Lt. Col. Packard did absolutely nothing for me. He failed to sell the character during the first two acts, and only at the end of the film did his character finally begin to gain life. There’s a certain monologue during their arrival to the island, which showcases the rare moments of poor CGI work, that falls flat on its face from the moment the first few lines were uttered.
However, Skull Island doesn’t take itself seriously for the majority of the film and works so well when it isn’t trying to be a generic popcorn film, which only happens during a couple of scenes. I loved how much fun the film felt, and a huge plus is the wonderful display of brute force by Kong. I think this is a ride not meant to be taken seriously, and it eventually settles nicely minutes after you finish sitting through the entire film.
Yes, the ENTIRE film. Remain seated throughout the final credits. You’ll be happy you did.
I am grateful to Warner Bros. for allowing me an early screening in 2D. The film is rated PG-13 and releases in North America on March 10, 2017.