Kong: Skull Island is the latest King Kong film, and one that is set within the same universe as 2014’s Godzilla. It’s a very different adaptation of the King Kong story than we know, doing away with the 8th Wonder of the World storyline, and moving it to take place in 1973, during the period of the Vietnam War.
As a film Kong: Skull Island had some real identity issues. I think early on in development there must have been the idea to make it a film with an anti war message. There were strong hints to this in the first act of the film before they get to the island, particularly with Brie Larson’s character describing herself as “an anti war journalist”. However this never really gets revisited later on in the film. I suspect this may have been because of the complaints about the lack of Godzilla in the 2014 film.
There was clearly an attempt to rectify this made in Kong: Skull Island. We get out first look at Kong in the opening of the film, and once we get to the island there is only a minute or two to wait for the king of the apes to show up again. And the scenes with Kong are where the film excels. The action is fantastic, Kong taking on a whole host of helicopters gives you an indication of just of big and powerful he is. And the film really doubles down on the big monster fighting action, and it gets those parts right. There is plenty of big, fun, B-Movie monster fighting action, with some fantastic creature effects.
What let’s Kong down though is the human characters. Most of them feel more like basic stereotypes and cut-and-paste version of characters from similar films rather than great individual characters in their own rights. And this is such a waste when you consider the talent in the cast, Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackman, John Goodman, John C. Reilly, and Toby Kebbell are amongst a fairly large and talented ensemble. Hiddleston’s character feels just like Chris Pratt’s in Jurassic World, where a charismatic actor is playing a bland hero that they struggle to make stand out. Larson’s journalist was a Lois Lane ripoff, and Jackson the typical Captain Ahab type.
Beyond this the rest of the characters just fit into the basic archetypes of a monster movie; there is the guy with a family back home, the loud mouthed humorous one, and the scientist who knows more about what is happening that is let on. The only character who is actually interesting in the film is John C. Reilly’s abandoned WW2 soldier, he’s funny, I actually cared about him, and he’s the only character who gets any proper resolution to his story.
Kong does capture the 70s feel, particularly early on, and the major part of that is the soundtrack. The film features a host of Vietnam era and 70s hits, from artists like David Bowie, Black Sabbath, and Jefferson Aiplane. The score from Henry Jackman blends nicely into the soundtrack music, helping that 70s feeling. It’s just a shame that they never ended up capitalising on that period, letting it fall away for big action sequences.
I felt like Kong: Skull Island wanted to be the next Jurassic Park, but the characters and the anti war message of the film just don’t work. Thankfully there is a very entertaining action film about a giant ape beating the hell out of other monsters, but no more than that. Kong succeeding will have been the biggest hope for the studio going forward into crossovers with Godzilla, and on that level there is plenty of promise.