The second film in Legendary Pictures “MonsterVerse” Kong: Skull Island is the story of a team of soldiers, scientists and explorers who at the end of the Vietnam war set off to an uncharted island in the Pacific. Almost immediately they encounter the wrath of the mighty King Kong who destroying their military helicopters leave them stranded on Skull Island. The survivors must traverse this unknown land to reach their originally planned evacuation point completely unaware that there are things on this island much worse than a 100 foot tall monkey.
I thoroughly enjoyed 2014’s Godzilla. While I thought the movie had some issues I feel it captured the perfect tone and representation of the titular King of the Monsters. I had heard about Kong: Skull Island from one source that it didn’t take itself too seriously and then from another that it took itself too seriously. After seeing the film I think it’s a mixture of both and it isn’t alway pretty.
From the beginning the filmmakers attempts to make “Apocalypse Now but with monsters” comes off as comedic. The opening scene which itself is set at the height of WW2 as both a US and Japanese soldier crash land on the island and duke it out before being interrupted by Kong feels more like a parody than anything. I was seriously expecting it to turn out to be “golden age of Hollywood” crew making some schlocky movie as a reference to the storylines of other “King Kong” films before being attacked. But no, this is the tone of the movie, rather than awe or drama I’m expecting a punchline and usually getting one from one of the movie’s many comedy relief moments. At a moment of high tension as Kong is about to eat some unfortunate soldier it jump cuts to a man biting into a sandwich. This is comedy stuff and drives a steamroller through any tension the film has built up and turns it into a joke.
The other serious moments, or attempts at serious moments come from the characters mostly, all of whom are non entities. There are simply way too many characters in this movie and not enough plot to go around to flesh them all out in 2 hours. One of the shortcomings of Peter Jackson’s King Kong (2005) was the amount of time early on spent on supporting characters who either weren’t going to make it or weren’t going to be relevant at all by the halfway point.
Their stories felt genuine at least however. Here every other character has some monologue about their past. They talk about writing letters to their mama back home, or their newborn son they’ve never seen or they reminisce about some village they obliterated in ‘nam. All of it feels so melodramatic and ridiculous, again like it came from a parody film such as Black Dynamite and it comes from characters who probably shouldn’t be in the movie at all as their only purpose is to be fodder for some beastie or in some cases not even that. I know it’s complaining about “forced diversity” or “trying to appeal to the Chinese audience” in movies is low hanging fruit but it helps if in a movie your writers give a black guy and a Chinese girl something more substantial to do than just exist, follow the main characters around and talk to each other every now and then to remind us they’re there.
All of this damages the movie. I don’t care about the plot or Samuel L Jackson’s Colonel Kurtz-surrogate insane military commander because so much screen time is dedicated to redundancies. I would say it feels like a movie that has had 30 minutes of story cut out of it if it wasn’t for the low quality of what IS in the movie telling me otherwise.
Now while the actual monster on monster action fares much better and let’s be honest that’s what people came to see even that I found to be harmed by the need at comedy relief. We’re told about “Skull Crawlers”, the REAL threat on the island and what our hero Kong is up against, in a scene which needs to be interrupted for some jokes from long marooned soldier John C. Reilly told in exactly such a fashion that you’d expect from him. The result is on par with a Bond villain slipping on a banana peel in the middle of his master plan speech to James.
That said fans of the genre may get more out of this movie than out of Godzilla 2014. Purely from the fact that while in that film the filmmakers wished to hide the monsters from us as much as possible, here they can’t seem to wait to show it to us.
The film is what it is, a monster themed popcorn movie with cheesy comedy, wafer thin characters and story and 100 foot ape. I do believe that much more could have been done with it however if the filmmakers just knew more what tone they wished to take and story they wanted to tell. The film is tries to mix serious moments with comedy but comes off more like Hot Shots 2 than Mash.