Genre: Action, Fantasy Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John C. Reilly
Whether or not I like a new monster film depends a lot on what they do with said monster. Alien is a good example of this, making use of both fear of the unknown (you know its in certain scenes but not entirely sure where…) and the revulsion of seeing the monster itself (seriously have you seen it?) In more modern films we have Godzilla in 2014 which barely showed off the titular monster and instead focused on the human perspective. Though it may not have been the intention, it comes off as a lack of confidence in their pet project, when most people who want to watch it… are there to watch Godzilla be awesome. (I thought it was okay though, just a mistake in focus)
So going in to Kong: Skull Island, I won’t deny that I had concerns about what they would do with Kong himself. Would he be an unseen beast only appearing when its convenient, and even then showing just his leg or something? Do we have to wait over 2 hours to actually get a glimpse of him?
Well no, he appears within the first few minutes of the film and is essentially a constant presence. So, points there from me. Skull Island may not be the most original direction for the iconic monster story, but it is certainly respectable, I’d definitely say that its better than 2014’s Godzilla.
I will say though that it may not be the most unpredictable monster film ever made; if you’ve watched the likes of Godzilla, or Jurassic Park and others, you’ve likely already seen Kong: Skull Island. Not that it makes this a bad film, just that it doesn’t seem to have as much to say for itself.
The plot then; taking place near the end of US involvement in the Vietnam War, we follow a group of scientists, soldiers and a journalist, who head to investigate a mysterious island in the South Pacific. What starts out as a simple geological survey of the island (through explosives…? Interesting) turns into a story of survival as the ruler of this island; a giant ape known simply as Kong reveals himself to these intruders, while also fighting to defend the island from other less savoury monsters. Oh and John Goodman, Tom Hiddleston, John C. Reilly and Brie Larson are in it, case you wanted to know.
So with the move of the date when the story takes place from its traditional c.1930s setting comes a more ‘modern’ take; with more of a focus on the militaristic aspect of this expedition. I have to say that I think that having this set in the aftermath of the Vietnam War was an intriguing idea; some men wanting to fight a battle that they could actually win, and others just wanting to go home and leave this place. I’m not sure how well realised this idea has been, however, since a lot of it seems to be just a retelling of the traditional “men with guns want to kill monster, but maybe he shouldn’t die” trope that we’ve seen before. I realise there may be a better term for that but, best I’ve got so far..
Anyway, this more ‘modern’ interpretation at least does its job of telling a story in a different way. Not to mention that the action scenes are pretty awesome to watch; there’s a lot of focus on the character’s reactions to what is going on around them, which makes for some interesting perspectives. (like being trapped in a helicopter that Kong has a hold of for example) There’s certainly enough there to tidy over the story.
Actually let’s go on to the story itself since there is a fair bit to talk about. The story is a simple one; explorers come to an island with different goals and meet an impossible monster that threatens or doesn’t threaten them. Its nothing we haven’t seen before, but there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with that. That simplicity is a good foundation to build upon, to provide a good story to follow to the end and get behind the characters that crop up. There are certain areas of the plot that I wish were focused on a bit more though; like the island’s history, or the World War II pilot’s life there, as he was the best character in the film.
The monsters are also a bit underwhelming. Not Kong mind, Kong is a very good monster design. No, what I mean is the “skullcrawlers” that Kong goes up against. I’ve talked about this before with The Great Wall but its worth repeating; why not be more creative with these designs? If you’re going to be spending a lot on CGI for them, it couldn’t hurt to make more interesting monsters, like Pacific Rim certainly did.
All that said though, I am impressed with what they put together for Kong: Skull Island and the focus that they put on actually showing Kong off. At the very least it will be interesting to see how they choose to connect this to Godzilla.
Oh and there’s a plot with a monster-finding company Monarch, but it doesn’t feel very important.
I could tell you about the characters here; the various archetypes that are used to put the story together. However, to be perfectly honest, I barely remember them very much. There’s an ex-SAS solider, (Tom Hiddleston) a vengeful US Commander that I actually found interesting, (Samuel L. Jackson) a journalist who seems to just be there for the ride (Brie Larson) and the Company representatives with ulterior motives. (John Goodman and Corey Hawkins) There are other characters, like the soldiers under Jackson’s command, but while there is a lot of sympathy to be had for their plight on this island, I don’t really remember any names among them. They’re just there really.
Except of course for Hank Marlow, (John C. Reilly) a WWII pilot who ended up stranded on the island during the Pacific Campaign. He’s an interesting character to follow who seems to have had quite the adventure on this island. It would have been more compelling, I feel, if more of the film was about him and his journey to survive this hostile territory. He’s equal parts a funny character and a pretty cool one when the situation calls for it.
After what I’ve written, it may sound like I don’t like this film. I actually do; its very well put together with some interesting ideas. There are just some areas that I wished they focused on more. It serves well enough as a simple monster film, but it does have a lot more potential.