Kong: Skull Island movie review: Apocalypse Now meets a string of video game scenes
When you’re going to see a movie about a giant ape wrecking carnage on an undiscovered island, you’re not going to want an Oscar worthy movie, but a simple popcorn entertainer that shows the monster punching things in the face.
So if you’re into that sort of thing (who isn’t?) Kong: Skull Island is a very worthy visit to the theater.
Continuing the tradition of hiring one-film-old indie directors for a big budget action blockbuster (Colin Trevorrow, Marc Webb etc), this is finally the film that ends Hollywood’s awful streak of awful big budget cinema. Moreover it’s not dark and depressing, and seen in 2D it’s quite an entertaining visual monster mashup extravaganza.
The film is directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts who made the charming The Kings of Summer, and he seems like someone who absolutely loves video games and also the ‘spectacle’ of big cinema. The final product is blockbuster whose clichés are cleverly shrouded by the indie flavor of its director’s filmmaking flourish.
The difficult aspect of describing this film is the story. This is going to sound weird but here goes: if Apocalypse Now were an action comedy with a string of video game cut scenes, it would be Kong: Skull Island.
A bunch of American soldiers in the wake of the Vietnam War go to the legendary island for a recon mission at the behest of a secretive government honcho (John Goodman). They drop some bombs on the island but their choppers are downed by Kong hilariously swatting them like flies. Split into three groups the soldiers and mercenaries try and regroup to formulate a plan to get the hell off the island.
The fact that the writers Dan Gilroy and Max Borenstein took even that much effort into a story about a large ape is commendable.
This film could have been as empty and vacuous as 2014’s Godzilla but it’s far better in every way. For one unlike in Godzilla, our hero Kong occupies quite a bit of screen time (sometimes to a fault). Secondly, there are hardly any night shots – save one lovely brief segment under the Aurora Borealis the entirety of the film is beautifully lit in bright sunlight, bringing out the eye popping landscapes captured by Zack Snyder’s cinematographer Larry Fong. It’s like the studio heard your complaints and tried to do something different – which is great.
And thirdly, Kong’s battles with the other creatures on the island are full paisa vasool. The lesser you know about which creatures show up in the film the better – rest assured the battles are quite epic in scale – executed in child like enthusiasm. Much like Bhai in Sultan, Kong expertly and crowd-pleasingly wrestles the ‘bad’ monsters on Skull Island and romances the unlikely fair lady on the island (Brie Larson).
Which brings us to the unexciting aspect of the film – the humans.
Except for Samuel L Jackson and his winning villainous cheesiness none of the characters are the least bit interesting.
Larson is a photographer who does little but run and repeatedly be saved from doom. Tom Hiddleston is a mercenary who is supposed to be the ‘lead hero’ but makes zero difference to the plot. If he’d not been there in the film it would still have been the same film. Toby Kebbell is wasted as a white man playing the stereotypical Hollywood black guy - the role of being the first bloke to be killed off. John C Reilly is the standard issue ‘comic relief’ who doesn’t generate even a single genuine laugh.
It feels like a lot of the character development was chopped off in the edit to focus more on the ‘action stuff’, leaving a perfunctory cast that only exists to stick out like a sore thumb in an otherwise entertaining film.
Hilariously neither Larson nor Hiddleston have a single scratch at any point in the film, despite constantly running around, being attacked, tumbling about and even crashing from a chopper. It only invokes the hatred of humans found in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, another film in which the sub humans were the stars. One wishes this movie contained the nuanced dynamics between humans and the ‘monsters’ from that one.
On the bright side we’re getting the Godzilla vs King Kong movie in 2020, we’ll all be three years older then, but Kong is going to be much bigger. Bring it on.