Film Review – Kong: Skull Island

Kong: Skull Island

Kong: Skull Island

“And remember the story of Icarus, whose father gave him wings made of wax and warned him not to fly too close to the sun.” Samuel L. Jackson’s Lt. Colonel Packard tells his men this as helicopters carrying soldiers and explorers fly into a storm surrounding their destination, Skull Island. It’s a long-winded soliloquy that has Jackson talking over the roar of winds and whirring rotor blades. It also comes from out of nowhere and ultimately serves no greater purpose than for us to listen to Jackson coolly spew something mythic for an excessive amount of time. Which when summed up, is pretty much the totality of Kong: Skull Island.

Following in similar footsteps to practically every iteration of the giant monster known as King Kong, this movie is also beholden to a now standardized mythology of colonialists in search of a spectacle to mooch capital from. This time around the mission is helmed by Bill Randa (John Goodman), a Charles Forte-type scientist in search of proof that fantastical creatures do indeed exist. Randa hires scientists like Brooks (Corey Hawkins) and San (Tian Jing), uses political sway to commission a platoon led by Packard, a photo journalist, Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), and a professional tracker, James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston). The doomed voyage is christened when Packard, as helicopters are taking off, says “Hold on to your butts.” A clear nod to Jackson’s character in the original Jurassic Park. Again, another apt summation of what this journey has in store, a lot of schtick.

Kong: Skull Island Movie Still 1

Little time is wasted in introducing the title character in a prologue that sets up the story of a World War II pilot, Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly) who becomes marooned on the island only for Randa and company to eventually find him in 1973. But all of this really is just a flimsy excuse for Kong and his island of all sorts of crazy monster creatures to wreak a lot of carnage on our human characters. It sounds big, dumb and fun, unfortunately it’s really just big and dumb. Like a Saturday morning cartoon on steroids, Kong is flashy, slick, and looks as if every moment is trying to sell you something. If the criticism levelled against most Marvel Studios movies has been how little they actually appear to be directed, stuffed instead with cheap, made-for-TV style shots that are purely designed to feature a special effect, then director Jordan Vogt-Roberts and company have heeded such a repeat and instead make every shot as meticulously constructed as money and time allowed.

This sounds great and for the most part would be if not for the overly obtuse and blunt delivery of a paper thin metaphor about a world of chaos that muddles the line between monsters and humans. Beginning with a romanticized version of the Vietnam war that makes Marvel’s WWII fetishism seem more like a Disney ride than any tragedy and then throwing in close-up shots of a searing sun coupled with a greatest hits of Vietnam war soundtrack accompaniments such as the Credence Clear Water Revival back catalog. It’s a menagerie of clichés and empty characters that barely fit their stereotypical tropes.

Kong: Skull Island Movie Still 2

But who cares when there’s monsters fighting, right? And sure, the monster fights look like some of the best yet in the current field of computer animation, yet none of them have weight beyond something ridiculous to present. Kong kicks a lot of ass and it looks pretty, but once each shot is over there’s nothing holding those images in memory; a cursory glance and it’s onto another John C. Reilly quip and some more people get eaten. A ride like this is usually equipped with a cast of fun, likeable characters, instead everybody’s just kind of waiting for the next cgi spectacle to wow them and then fights to survive. The filmmakers never give the cast anything to work with, or towards. Characters like Hiddleston’s Conrad are presented as heroes, but outside of simply surviving, do nothing particularly heroic, or even exciting. All of this is saved for Kong, and sure Kong’s king but even Kong is given less of a personality here than almost any presentation before.

Somewhere in the inane white noise of it all, Larson’s professional wartime photographer only carries a fixed-lens, point and shoot camera that miraculously takes photos in complete darkness and never gets broken, yet she sports a duffel bag of equipment through the whole movie. It’s details like this that may seem trivial but it all adds up to a lack of caring over detail in favor of making it all look good. Oh, and fit it into a looming overarching universe of monster characters that will include Godzilla and his Toho Company cohorts, King Ghidorah, Mothra and Rodan. If the Marvel comparisons in this review seemed specific it’s precisely because of the hope to copy the success of the Marvel model that we have this movie anyway. And suddenly the metaphoric mention of the overzealous Icarus comes back to mind.


Benjamin Nason is a writer, film-maker and critic from the Pacific Northwest, where he lives with his cat Lulu.

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