Published on March 10th, 2017 | by Dan Nicholls


Kong: Skull Island

Kong: Skull Island is probably what you were expecting — big, dumb, hairy fun.  What, did you think it was going to be artistic greatness?

The new monster-mash-creature-feature Kong: Skull Island is a cinematic behemoth unto itself. With a purported budge of over $185 million and a series predecessor that wasn’t exactly loved, the movie undeniably has an uphill challenge in front of it. For those who can invest in its premise the film itself will not disappoint. Being a grand ol’ time at the multiplex doesn’t equate to longevity as a classic, however, and this Kong likely won’t be the King talked about in circles for decades to come.

Even with its apparent shortcomings, the film is by and large successful in conquering its objectives. It’s a fun, snappy, effectively edited summer blockbuster premiering while we still have snow on the ground. It doesn’t have much of a brain but it doesn’t ask you to use yours either. Just get that butter layered on your popcorn and lean your seat back for an impressively unpredictable new world. What we came for is giant-ass monsters bashing each other senseless, and that’s what we receive with glee.

Those monster fights are off the hook with brutality and awesomeness and the cheese layered on top makes the clogged arteries somehow worthwhile. Kong: Skull Island is not perfect and continents away from fine art – it’s about a giant ape messing shit up, fuck’d you expect? – but it is a helluva entertaining time.

Our heroes are set up in very large, broad strokes and there are a lot of them to keep track of. Most notable of which are the roguish Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), Kurtzwhile army leader Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), and scientific researcher Bill Randa (John Goodman). After an unexpected crash landing on the fantastical and titular Skull Island we follow the separate teams in multiple strands.

They’re supposedly there to chart undiscovered territory (for science!) but Randa’s true motives are to prove the existence of behemoth monsters bigger than skyscrapers and nastier than your garden-variety mammals. It isn’t a stretch to say that they uncover more than they bargained for and quickly find themselves in a battle to survive and find a way off this isle of the damned.

The last time we all saw a giant ape filibustering about onscreen with a blonde damsel was a dozen years ago in Peter Jackson’s poetic King Kong. That film followed the age-old story established long before it: man conquers beast – beast falls in love with a woman – woman frees beast’s heart literally or figuratively (depending on what iteration you’re choosing to entertain). It’s somewhat refreshing then that Kong: Skull Island sets sights on a fresh narrative adventure for the “character” of King Kong and tries to cut forth a new impression into the wilderness.

What we get right here with Kong: Skull Island is a full-on primal visual assault. The effects are top-notch and the cinematography is at times quite stunning. However, during some moments, it feels like the cheap and lazy way out was taken and the post-production team just slapped an Instagram filter on entire sequences at a time. Like the size and scale of the giant beast at the core of it all, sometimes bigger isn’t necessarily more effective when it comes to leaving your artistic mark.

For all the strengths of the actors, the characters are sadly underwritten. They’re broad enough tropes to latch onto for the first two thirds but it seems everyone swallowed a bunch of stupid pills before the film’s final act. Character logic goes out the window in the name of making a louder finale to send you home with your eyes bulged and ears ringing.

The film doesn’t quite fully deliver on what was promised with a nostalgic wink and nudge from Samuel L. Jackson when he quotes himself in 1993’s Jurassic Park: “Hold onto your butts.” Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts previously helmed the structurally sound and inherently authentic The Kings of Summer (2013) and he manages to handle the quantum leap from indie to blockbuster with considerable confidence and skill. Even with a screenplay that feels manhandled by a zillion different writers, Kong: Skull Island still manages to entertain by in large thanks to the individual values, not always the collective sum, of its magnificent parts.

Even lovers of war movies might find that Vogt-Roberts piles on the Apocalypse Now nods and references way too thick and heavy. But if you’re going to acknowledge a forbearer, why not pick the best, right? Either way, the film would’ve been more satisfying if it would’ve sidestepped the obvious opportunities to pay its weird “homages” to Francis Ford Coppola’s genuine masterpiece.

Though the film ends on a note that’s a complete tonal shift to everything that’s come before it, one can still find enough monstrous moments of merriment and wonder in Kong: Skull Island to make the journey worthwhile. It’s far from perfect but just might be enough to keep the “Warner Monster Franchise” afloat with more promise than 2014’s Godzilla. An expected post-credits stinger connecting the Skull Island proceedings to the events of that disappointing spectacle isn’t overly encouraging, however. It’s expected, because everything has to have a connected expanded universe these days in Hollywood, but that fact doesn’t mean it isn’t a groan-worthy capper to the fun two hours that came before it.

There are encounters with amazing creatures aplenty and enough thrills to give Indiana Jones heart palpitations. Either way you split it, Skull Island contains enough pure cinematic spectacle to make it a worthwhile, if not completely essential, viewing experience.

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is a Vancouver-based, lifelong movie geek who's been a projectionist, critic, director, (accidental) actor, and writer in the industry since E.T. phoned home. @dannicholls

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