Coming out of the theatre, the one word circling my mind as I tried to recollect upon the…experience… that was Kong: Skull Island, it would be baffling. Truly, I cannot remember the last time I exited the cinema so immensely confused at the movie I had just witnessed. However, ‘baffling’ is the correct word to assemble the variety of emotions I was undergoing all at once. My dad, with whom I saw the film, stated that it was just “fun” and “daft”, and the latter remark is certainly true, but I still don’t quite understand the former. Fun? Did I really have fun, despite its numerous shortcomings? The answer, much to the disappointment and slight annoyance of my elder, was a resounding no.
Where to begin with this Jordan Vogt-Roberts-directed reimagining of the classic Kong tale? I suppose it would be kind to start on a high before the inevitable concluding barrage I will be unleashing on this trainwreck.
For one, and this has been a point made by almost every reviewer thus far, the camerawork in this movie is astounding. It is clear that a lot of time and effort has been poured into making this a truly gorgeous experience to observe, and the filmmakers succeed immensely. Every shot looks to have been framed very carefully and with a lot of planning, and this makes the utter stupidity of some scenes much more bearable. Kong: Skull Island is filmed like a war movie, which is fantastic not only because it is appropriate to the time period this film is set in (immediately following the Vietnam War), but also gives the film a key uniqueness, which is refreshing alongside an incredibly predictable storyline.
This is accompanied by some truly impressive and beautiful sets. The environments of the island is made to look and feel beautiful and untouched, which is brilliantly juxtaposed with the horrors delivered by the island’s inhabitants. There is never a dull setting and each one evokes a unique reaction. This can range from wading through the swampy rivers packed with bugs and other nasties, to the flammable graveyard, in which you can almost smell the stench of the gas inhabiting it. All of these gorgeous environments are very convincing and hit home the foreignness of the situation for the characters.
However, while the sets are good enough the audience, the creatures cannot boast such an achievement. Never, at any point, did the monsters ever feel like they had a presence in the world. The actors never really react to the creatures’ actions, and whenever the characters confront them face-to-face, they never looked convincing enough to be believable. The CGI isn’t bad, per se, but it isn’t anything to make a song and dance about unlike, for example, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, another, better, monkey movie.
You know what else Dawn Of the Planet of the Apes has going for it that Kong: Skull Island completely lacks? The ability to make any goddamn sense. There are so many moments of total incoherence and downright nonsensical bullshit in this movie that it becomes incredibly difficult to both care and even understand what the heck is going on. Here’s some stupid moments that occurred in this film, just to add context:
- There are multiple people involved in many helicopter crashes at one point in the movie, but why is no-one is harmed at all by the event (apart from an incredibly small cut on Tom Hiddleston’s beautiful, beautiful forehead)?
- Why does no-one sweat ever in this tropical climate?
- Why does Brie Larson somehow inherit the incredible ability to shoot a flare from a massive distance and hit her target in the exact place she was aiming?
- Why did the reptile birds carry one guy off but didn’t bother with the others, and the others don’t even make the assumption that they could also be in danger?
- Why does Kong suddenly not want to attack some of the people that invaded his territory at the beginning of the movie, but not others?
The list really goes on and on. These probably look like nitpicks, and that’s because they are, but when there are so many niggling little inconsistencies, it becomes very distracting and as a result it becomes very hard to take any of it seriously.
There are other issues too, like how there are many ideas introduced in the film, but none of them are ever given enough time or attention to mean anything. Briefly, Tom Hiddleston mentions his dad died as a pilot in the Second World War, and John C Reilly was also a WW2 pilot suspected dead, so my immediate thought was, ‘oh, so they’re father and son’. I was wrong. However, all that did was leave me confused. What was the point of establishing such a similar set of circumstances, for it to go nowhere. It could be that the film was tying a similarity between Reilly’s son and Hiddleston, and that the pair adopt a surrogate father/son outlook on one another, but this is never developed in the slightest and there was no other moment where this became apparent. My only guess is that this is yet another missed opportunity, whose remnants somehow managed to sneak into the final cut of the film. Another underdeveloped idea was Kong’s connection with Brie Larson. Unsurprisingly, this idea comes out of absolutely nowhere and is barely developed at all. As a result of these slip-ups, I was left bored out of my mind and baffled by the sheer incoherence of this movie. How the editors managed to create so many cock-ups is beyond me.
However, the most important downfall of the movie is its total lack of subtlety or build-up. When the film isn’t constantly obnoxiously shoving CGI monsters in your face, it’ll undoubtedly be hammering home an exposition dump explaining the situation instead of allowing the characters to experience the island themselves. The main monster antagonists in the film, which I will call Skull Lizards (they do have a real name, but it was so forgettable that I couldn’t even remember it during the film), are described at one point through cave paintings and horrific descriptions by Reilly. While this would have worked fine, meaning their eventual confrontation with the characters would have been more interesting and engaging, the film instead opts for an immediate cut away observing Kong fighting two of these monsters (side note: the design of these creatures is so unbelievably bland that 6-year-old me could’ve done a more imaginative job). Allowing the audience to already see the monsters means any kind of suspense one could have watching the film is swiftly demolished in the flick of a scene transition. I will relate to Gareth Edward’s Godzilla (2014) as an example of doing this correctly, merely teasing the gigantic beast througout the film, making the final confrontation and battle scene all the more satisfying. Godzilla never outstayed his welcome, which was incredibly refreshing and effective filmmaking. Kong: Skull Island, on the other hand, does the opposite, which is fine if it wants to be that sort of film. Kong’ introduction was rather perfect by taking a ‘you know who King Kong is already so just enjoy watching him fuck shit up for a brief period of time’ attitude and thus setting the tone for the film that you aren’t supposed to take it seriously. However, doing so for each and every creature is, quite simply, bad filmmaking, as it ruins the experience, removes any sort of build-up and makes the fight scenes very boring very quickly.
Apart from its appealing aesthetic, there is incredibly little of quality to salvage from Kong: Skull Island. It totally lacks any kind of special merit, aside from its incredible cinematography, and by the end of it I was on the verge of sleep from how desensitised and disinterested I was in anything that was going on. I can’t even recommend it for the visuals, because there is so few positives here that even those don’t distract from the garbage plot, weak as sin characters and messy dialogue for long enough. Don’t bother with this one guys, it’s definitely not worth your money, nor your time.