KONG: SKULL ISLAND Review

kong poster

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Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts

Genre: Action / Adventure

Year: 2017

In the wake of Nixon’s extraction of all U.S. troops from Vietnam, a joint military/civilian expedition is launched to map the last uncharted portion of the earth’s surface: an island newly discovered by satellite imagery called Skull Island. Upon arrival, their helicopters are ripped out of the sky by a humongous, 40-story beast and the titular character of the movie, Kong. And so begins a two-hour-long hammering of mostly self-contained scenes, with little sinew between them to build any type of story or character arc. If KONG: SKULL ISLAND was a meal, each scene would be a tapas plate: individually tasty, but disconnected and devoid of interest after you’ve eaten so many different things in a row.

Perhaps this is unsurprising, since director Jordan Vogt-Roberts’s credits include only the moderately successful indie feature KINGS OF SUMMER and a smattering of television credits. It seems like Vogt-Roberts shot a ton of experimental “cool” shots and then was unwilling to let any of them go in the cut. I was actually disappointed that he didn’t go more all-in with some of these (like the slo-mo of helicopter blades whomp whomp-ing to the beat of Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid”) and instead tried to cram all of them in, one after the other in a sloppy parade of one-second cuts. Separately, and with each given the opportunity to savor it, these stylized shots could have elevated this movie to true art. But alas, they flashed so quickly across the screen that I couldn’t get into the rhythm of the stylistic turn before the film cut back to “normal,” and therefore only served to throw me out of the movie experience.

The ultimate example of these comes in the second half of the movie, when one of the bedraggled party accidentally opens a can of bright green nerve gas during a monster fight and Tom Hiddleston grabs a samurai sword and a gas mask and begins to kick these monsters’ asses in the haze. It’s radioactively awesome. At one point a monster is flying towards Hiddleston and he goes full SHARKNADO, cutting the monster in two, right up the middle as it dive-bombs him with jaws wide to devour him (see below). This part of the scene was terrifically surprising, awesome in the original sense of the word, and totally inconsistent with the rest of the movie. But dang, it was cool.

kong shark

Always a sucker for this shit

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But the sin of sins of this movie lies in its mangled script. Both story and character suffer from a willful disregard of dialogue, character, and motive for nearly all characters, an impressive three-for-three miss. The dialogue has a few good moments in its humor, but in anything related to the actual plot it wilts and dies under the lightest scrutiny. The lines are so lacking in intelligence that only Samuel L. Jackson and John C. Reilly, to an extent, can make them work, while Brie Larson and Tom Hiddleston speak like the understudies for the high school play. It probably doesn’t help that neither of their characters are ever developed beyond their professions, Tom Hiddleston as a former SAS (British) captain and Brie Larson as a lady photographer. And yes, they actually do make a show of pointing that out. Hiddleston and Larson’s characters add absolutely nothing to this movie and could be removed from it with utmost ease. In fact, that almost certainly would have made KONG: SKULL ISLAND a better movie, but I guess it’s pretty difficult to convince the studio to leave an Oscar-winning actress and Hottie McHotster on the cutting room floor.

kong butt

Just to be clear, that’s said with the utmost love for these cheeks

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The few characters in this massively bloated ensemble cast who do have clear motives and desires are very interesting. Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Packard, is the true main character of the movie—or should be—and I wish that we’d gotten to know him a lot better throughout the movie. Packard is a colonel and the only soldier we meet who is disappointed to be going home from Vietnam. So when he is ordered to accompany this “mapping” expedition, he jumps at the chance and is all too eager to identify Kong as the enemy to be annihilated. Packard is blind to the true order of things on the island and could not see the truth through the haze of his war fever. A great story! Now if only everybody else had such a traceable arc…

And to complete the unholy trinity of writing sins is the zero-sum of the film’s story. As I sat in my seat waiting for the post-credits scene, I found myself wondering who cares about this story? They got to the island, they wanted to kill the gorilla, then they didn’t want to, so they didn’t, and then they got rescued. Nobody changed, nobody learned anything except the setup for the next movie! It’s almost like that’s all they cared about—fancy that. They learned that the Earth is hollow, and therefore can bring up all the classic monsters that they teased after the credits, including Godzilla and Mothra. KONG: SKULL ISLAND is not a story, it’s just shameless self-promotion for the string of movies to follow.

kong ace

Even Kong is facepalming

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KONG: SKULL ISLAND makes it clear that Warner Bros. cares nothing for actual storytelling with these movies. Sure, one can argue that it’s a monster movie, valuable only for its violence on a 40-story scale. Warner Bros. doesn’t seem to care that its genre films are consistently disappointing and devoid of story and meaning. It is frustrating that Warner Bros. takes the name Kong as a free pass to throw money at a film without any care for quality, knowing that the film will make money based solely on the fame of the franchise. It’s downright disrespectful of the consumer and shows the indifference to everything but profit itself.

Despite Warner Bros.’ apathy, I do think that Jordan Vogt-Roberts tried to make a solid and interesting film. Slated to direct the METAL GEAR SOLID adaptation, he has clearly showcased the directorial aptitude and gamer fandom that could serve as highly rewarding down the line. There are many parallels with APOCALYPSE NOW (from the jerry-rigged riverboat to the names Kurtz and Marlowe) and it seems clear that he and the writers were doing their utmost to frame KONG: SKULL ISLAND as an homage to Coppola’s 1979 classic. But that doesn’t let him off the hook of writing and directing a good movie that can stand on its own, and KONG fell well short. If you’re going out to the theater this weekend for a great action flick, skip KONG and see LOGAN instead. It gives ten times the character development without losing any of the badass action. KONG boils down to an overly-ambitious romp that, while lacking in several areas, shows gems of potential growth for Jordan Vogt-Roberts. Though I’d skip KONG I look forward to seeing him apply the lessons he learned through this film on his future endeavors. KONG VS. GODZILLA, perhaps?

Verdict: Do Not Recommend

Nicole Barraza Keim

Nicole Barraza Keim is a graduate of USC's School of Cinematic Arts and fervent Trekkie. Her passion is promoting positive change in media by creating content about all types of women kicking ass! To keep up with Nicole’s reviews, follow her on Letterboxd at the link above.

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1 Response

  1. June 6, 2019

    […] unfairly maligned GODZILLA kicked off Legendary Pictures’ so-called MonsterVerse, and two since KONG: SKULL ISLAND promised a modern-day Clash of the Titans. But a lot has changed in that time. INFINITY WAR and […]

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