No film throughout history has been as influential as King Kong. It sounds impossible, to hear that a film about a giant gorilla who fights dinosaurs, falls in love with a human woman and then gets shot down while on top of the world’s tallest building could ever be a classic. But that is exactly what King Kong is, and it has actually aged remarkably well. Yes, the dialogue and acting is fairly cheesy by today’s standards, and of course you know that Kong and the dinosaurs aren’t really and are essentially just moving models. But it’s the films execution and the power it has over our hearts and imagination that really bring this film to life; not to mention the fact that you can feel every sweat of effort that was put into it. There have, of course been many sequels, remakes, spin-offs and rip-offs, some of which were mediocre, some were awful and some were actually really good; but there really is only one true King Kong film. So, compared to such high standards, how does new incarnation Kong: Skull Island hold up?
The story of this one is that, in 1973 a military expedition to an uncharted island, that’s hidden by storms, plans to scientifically map out the island before Soviet rivals can do so (make the most of what they have while they can, basically). After dropping what are essentially bombs on the island they are attacked by its king, Kong. What follows is a conflict of interest, with some wanting to leave the island right off, some wanting to get proof first and some wanting to exact revenge on the titanic primate. Along the way they encounter many strange beasts and environments, and soon discover that Kong is fighting his own war against the real enemy on the island; the savage skullcrawlers.
I’m going to go into more detail on the film here, but before I do I’m going to get something out of the way. There are actually two basic ways I can sum up this film. If you are looking for some fun; just a big blockbuster, with Kong wrecking choppers and fighting monsters, with Tom Hiddleston playing the action hero, saving people from the same monsters, with Samuel L Jackson becoming more insane as it goes on and carrying an over-the-top theme of the war with nature (and war in general), then you should see this film as it is a blast and is just so entertaining. But if you want to see a King Kong film, with deeper meanings, that pushes boundaries, that features great characters to accommodate the monsters and action, or if you are looking for Jurassic Park meets Apocalypse Now, then you’re going to be disappointed.
King Kong in this film looks great. He’s much larger and far more powerful than we have ever seen him before. He’s nearly a 100-foot tall and from the get-go takes out a whole squadron of helicopters. And the film says that he’s basically just a teenager, he’s still growing is what I remember them saying. This is really just to get him ready to fight Godzilla in 2020; yes the 2014 Godzilla and this one, plus the upcoming Godzilla: King of the Monsters all share the same universe, just like Marvel and DC. That is crazy to me, in a good way as I grew up with films like King Kong and the Ray Harryhausen monster movies, so this is a dream to me. Also on the island are the Skullcrawlers, who are also pretty good; they’re very well designed and the effects look great too. The moments when Kong and them wrestle or when the human characters face against them are awesome. This helped by the fact that, just like Godzilla before it, the film has a great sense of scale. Kong feels huge, especially when we see his silhouette against the sun, and the skullcrawlers are given an equal amount of scale to them. There are a good number of other monsters on the island and every single one of them looks great. If I were a kid I would have loved this film for just this alone.
Also inhabiting the island is our cast of characters. Just from the credits you can tell the acting that we are going to get. Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Toby Kebbell, John C. Riley, John Goodman and Samuel L. Jackson; that there is our cast people. The thing is though, while these are all great actors, here they are given nothing to really work with because of their characters. I’m not saying that their characters are bad, but they are extremely basic. Hiddleston is our hero, and that’s really all he is. He’s still Hiddleston; he plays him well and he is very charming and likable, but I don’t remember anything about him other than his actor. Brie Larson is the heroine of the film and she’s a photographer; and that’s it. Again, played really well by a great actress, but there was nothing else to her as a character. The same goes for pretty much all the side-characters too, including John Goodman, who’s basically just there to get the plot going. Riley and Jackson are really the only ones who have something memorable about them. With Riley, it’s that he has been on this island for many years, giving his character some decent backstory. He also acts as the comic relief, and I actually thought that he was pretty funny. While Jackson gets more of a Captain Ahab and Moby Dick thing going on, and only gets crazier towards the end. All parts are played fine, and it does speak a lot to these actors when their characters are so bland yet I can feel sorry when things go wrong for them (a self-sacrifice moment stands out for that), but nobody is giving the best of their career either. You can tell that most actors signed on for the fun of it, and it does look like they all had fun with it though.
Sadly, alongside the weak characters, Kong: Skull Island has a very strange structure to it as well. Tonally and visually it’s fairly consistent and it does work well as a metaphor for the horrors of war, with echoes of Vietnam. But pacing wise it’s a little, well strange. You barely have time to lay back and catch your breath because most quiet moments get interrupted by something fast and aggressive, and then those moments will suddenly calm down. I’m not sure if this was a conscious decision or not, but it felt pretty jarring. Sometimes this jarring was effective, and others it just wasn’t. It’s also bizarrely edited too. Some fight scenes were a little hard to keep track of, yet others ran smoothly. Scenes will start and end with no real warning. And the film moves by so fast that if our characters did have something interesting about them, then it was brushed aside to make way for more action. And then comes the big question: if we’re here for the action with Kong, do we need to care for the characters really? It’s a tough one to answer, but I can only give my take. Films like Kong: Skull Island, and others like Predators and Jurassic World can get away with it. Because when we reach those moments, they are great and more than worth the price of admission. I would prefer it if I did know the characters, but when they’re well-acted then you can sympathise with them to an extent. Because every scene with Kong and the Skullcrawlers is so awesome to watch, and they appear often enough, I can look past the films shortcomings and enjoy it for what it is.
When all is said and done Kong: Skull Island is not great, and if you expected great then you really can only blame yourself. But it is great fun. I really enjoyed it, but I knew what it was; it was a B-Movie that featured Kong. Once that was accepted then I was able to enjoy the film to its full extent. I had seen it with my family and we all enjoyed it, and when the time comes it will definitely have a place in my DVD collection, maybe even the Blu-Ray one. This might sound simple but if you want to gage whether or not you’ll enjoy it, just watch the final trailer; it will give you all you need to make the perfect judgement. It’s still not a scratch on the original, but it’s something I shall definitely see again.
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