Title: Kong: Skull Island
Release Date: March 10, 2017
Studio: Legendary Pictures
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Release Format: Theatrical
The original King Kong (1933) remains a classic to this very day and for good reason. It featured some of the best effects work of the time, a great cast, memorable characters and unforgettable monster. The effects and dialogue of the original may be hokey by today’s standards. However, I must concede that if I was alive in 1933, watching the original King Kong on the big screen, I’d of lost my mind. It’s kind of like the original 1978 version of Superman. Yeah, the flying effects look bad today but for 1978 they were impressive and even groundbreaking. So an update of King Kong every few decades isn’t necessarily a bad thing as long as it doesn’t dump on what made the original so great,
The 1976 remake starring Charles Grodin, Jessica Lange, and Jeff Bridges was a decent effort to remake the classic. It tried different things and even updated the effects work for Kong for the 70’s standard. It in no way matched the quality of the original but it certainly wasn’t horrible. Then came the Peter Jackson film in 20o5, which was a much more faithful adaptation. It not only expanded on the lore of Kong but, in my opinion, perfected it. King Kong (2005) remains one of the few remakes I honestly find better than the original. It updated the characters, recreated 1930’s New York flawlessly, did more with the concept of Skull Island and featured the best looking Kong to date. It is a masterpiece
However, I’m not here to talk about those remakes. I’m merely trying to show you that whatever your feelings may be towards the other remakes, the directors and writers took them seriously. Peter Jackson especially had a love for the original film and treated a remake of the classic as not just an honor, but a right of passage. He took the story seriously and set out to make the best version he could. The newest film in the King Kong mythos, Kong: Skull Island, is the antithesis of this. It doesn’t feel important, it is in no way treated as a serious film and it ultimately comes across as a hollow shell of the original tale. Kong: Skull Island is every generic monster/action movie you’ve seen in the past two decades rolled into one exclusive package of mediocrity. All hail to The King Of Lame.
Kong: Skull Island marks the second film in what will be a shared Monster Movie Universe. It began in 2014 with Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla remake and, in many respects, Kong: Skull Island has a lot in common with Godzilla. Both films don’t show much of the monster and both feature bland, boring and entirely forgettable characters. I apologize to the fans of Godzilla (2014) but… you know what, no, I don’t apologize. That movie is terrible. With that said, I will defend Kong: Skull Island a touch (against all better judgment) because it is better than Godzilla. The characters are still boring but the story of Kong: Skull Island isn’t about the characters. Much of the story does revolve around the lore of Kong, as it technically should.
But the problem is that it isn’t done in an interesting way. It is almost entirely exposition. John C. Reilly shows up as a character who has been stranded on the island for years. He finds our main characters and brings them to this cave where he spends what feels like an eternity going through his backstory and the backstory of Skull Island. The sad thing is that his backstory on the island felt like a much more interesting story to watch. The beginning shows him and a Japanese pilot arriving on Skull Island during WWII. Show me that story! It’s gotta be more interesting than the bland nothings we’re stuck with in this one.
I will also give Kong: Skull Island credit that when Kong shows up, it doesn’t cut to something else. One thing that enraged me about Godzilla (2014) was that when Godzilla would finally show up, it would immediately cut to boring human characters doing boring human things as opposed to Godzilla doing battle. We got Godzilla fighting at the VERY END but by then it was too little too late. However, when Kong showed up in Kong: Skull Island, we were treated to some decent fight scenes with other monsters. The major issue is that, much like Godzilla, these moments were too few and far between. We spend most of the time following these characters around the island. Again, let me point out that this wouldn’t bother me so much if the characters were interesting. They aren’t… at all.
The characters in Kong: Skull Island are some of the most basic and stock cutouts I’ve ever seen. There isn’t even an attempt by this horrendous screenplay to make them interesting. Actors like Tom Hiddleston, John Goodman, Brie Larson and Toby Kebbel are completely wasted in this film. If you removed any one of them, especially Kebbel, the movie would be no different. I will give credit that these actors are trying but they have nothing to work with. Anyone could play these roles because these roles require no effort to play. Brie Larson is a photographer and that’s her entire character. Tom Hiddleston is a hired mercenary (I think, it’s not explained very well) and that’s his entire character. Samuel L. Jackson is every generic army colonial you’ve seen in every movie ever and… yeah, do you see where I’m going with this?
However, the real kicker is that when a character dies, there’s no moment to really care. No one seemed to care when a giant bird lifted a scientist away. Nobody cared or lamented the death of the scientist that brought them all there. Nobody cared when a commando was impaled by a spider-leg. Were these characters supposed to be important? Are you kidding? If the characters don’t care when one of their own dies, then why should I? When the writers clearly don’t care about what they’re giving us, then why should we even bother? The screenwriters (one of them being the writer of the 2014 Godzilla) didn’t even try. They did less than the bare minimum required of them. There’s no emotional weight to this story. It’s a story of survival and the characters are so hollow, it’s hard to care whether they survive or not.
The best Kong: Skull Island has to offer is a couple cool-looking fight scenes with Kong and a few lines from John C. Reilly. Despite how entertaining a few of these sequences are, does the film deserve praise for that alone? Because there’s no effort put into the actual screenplay, there’s no sense of tension of even high stakes for these fight scenes. They happen, they look nice and we forget about them the second they’re over. If Peter Jackson’s King Kong was Filet Mignon, Kong: Skull Island is the $1.50 strip of beef jerky you buy at the counter of your local car wash. Praising a movie like Kong: Skull Island for having a couple cool-looking action scenes (that incidentally have no dramatic weight to them) is like rewarding a full grown adult for dressing himself. I can’t do it.
There’s a moment in Kong: Skull Island, where Brie Larson and Kong have a “connection” sort of speak. This is obviously trying to homage the original as well as the subsequent remakes, having a beauty that charms the beast. The problem is, while that was the very heart of those films, it comes out of left field in this one. It feels like the director shoved it in there at the last minute, as if to say, “Okay boys, we’ve dumped on this poor monster’s reputation enough. Let’s throw at least “something” that resembles the old story.” And please, don’t sit there with an angry look on your face and tell me that I just can’t accept something new with the character; that’s a bunch of bull.
The ’78 remake did new things with the material and I liked that film. Instead of a film crew, it was an oil company looking to make a profit. It didn’t have a struggling actress, but instead a shipwrecked castaway. Instead of a gruff first mate being the hero, we had a paleontologist. Whereas the original’s ending took place atop the empire state building, the remake took its climax to the top of the World Trade Center. It did new things with the characters, the story and with Skull Island. The difference between that film and this one is that it stayed true to the heart of the story, made its characters likable and interesting and never once did it feel like it was just going through the motions. It was about a beauty who charms a beast told in a different way and from a different standpoint.
Kong: Skull Island takes the approach that cool looking effects mixed with minimal effort will make a great film and I’m not buying it. Neither should you. You shouldn’t have to settle for generic nonsense over and over. I want you all to do me a favor. You don’t have to watch the movie (although I would highly recommend it) but seek out the fight scene in the Peter Jackson remake of King Kong & The T-Rex. There is not one scene in this movie that holds its own with that one. That ONE SCENE is better than the entirety of this movie. This wouldn’t bother me if the film wasn’t one giant excuse to create a half-hearted cinematic universe for a quick buck. Sadly, that’s exactly what Kong: Skull Island is. It’s not a work of art; it’s a standard, generic, Hollywood cash-grab.
A friend of mine, who actually liked this movie, was confused when he discovered I hated it. He asked me “It’s a movie about a giant monkey. Were you expecting Citizen Kane.” Well, first let me point out that I’m glad he found enjoyment in this film. It certainly has a ton of action to entertain. However, when it comes to King Kong, I have high standards. Why? Well, maybe because the original King Kong is a masterwork. It was a game-changer back in the day. It is STILL considered to be one of the greatest films of all time and a timeless monster film to boot. It’s 2017; 81 years after that film’s release. Yet, it’s a film that still captures hearts and is still being discussed, much like Citizen Kane. The ’78 film as well as the ’05 film understood this wholeheartedly.
So, to answer his question; “No. Based on the trailers, I wasn’t ‘expecting’ a Citizen Kane. King Kong ‘deserved’ a Citizen Kane.” King Kong isn’t some radioactive dinosaur. He isn’t Mothra or King Ghidorah or Rodan. He’s KING KONG! The eighth wonder of the world! He deserves time and respect and a film that treats him with the dignity he deserves. Kong: Skull Island isn’t interested in that. It instead just puts the character in a lifeless, low standards action film with no heart. That’s this film’s biggest sin. It has no heart and sucks at representing the king himself. It puts him in an emotionless tale and says “Hey, we don’t care. You’ll pay to see it as long as ‘Kong’ is in the title. Now give us your money!” This is what the King has been reduced to and it breaks my heart.
Overall, Kong: Skull Island has a few relatively entertaining action scenes with Kong and John C. Reilly had a couple good lines. That is everything worth praising about this film. It’s paced terribly, its characters are boring and lifeless and the storytelling is as generic as generic gets. You literally could have told this same story with ANY OTHER MONSTER and the movie would be no different. The funny moments weren’t funny, the dramatic moments were laughable at best and a slew of wonderful actors was wasted in a cheap attempt by Legendary Pictures to try and create a Monster Movie Universe. I, for one, am not taking the bait. Sorry folks, this movie was awful.
Side Note: Samuel L. Jackson says early on in the film, “Hold on to your butts,” referencing Jurassic Park. Thank you, Samuel, for reminding me of a better movie I’d rather be watching.
- A Couple Nice Action Set Pieces
- After Credits Scene
- Lazy Storytelling
- Characters Who Are Barely Defined
- Not Enough Kong
- Too Much Exposition
- No Sense Of Gravitas Or Wonder
- A Cheap Attempt To Create A Monster Movie Universe With Godzilla
A graduate of Full Sail University with a Bachelors Degree in Creative Writing, Adam is a Writer and Film Critic, looking to make his mark on the world. When he isn’t at the movies, writing for The Nerd Stash, playing Duck Hunt (respect the classics) or delivering pizzas to his neighbors, he is back at school earning his Masters Degree in Film Production.