Kong: Skull Island (12a)
Directed by: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson and John Goodman
Running time: 2 hrs
A team of explorers and soldiers travel to an uncharted island in the Pacific, unaware that they are crossing into the domain of monsters, including the mythic Kong.
Have you ever played a game of chess (or Monopoly or whatever you like to play) when everything is going well, you seem to have your opponent on the ropes (figuratively speaking) with all the right pieces in place and then, without warning, everything goes to hell and suddenly you’re on the losing side?
Yeah, well that’s sort of what happens with Kong: Skull Island.
Cast? Great… Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L Jackson and John Goodman? Yeah, that all works, that’s a cast I’d pay to see any night of the week.
Director? Well, with Kings of Summer and a long list of TV credits to his name, Jordan Vogt-Roberts certainly has promise here.
Special effects (hey, it’s a giant ape movie, this is important, ok?)? Well, ILM are still the world leaders so quietly confident here.
And, in truth none of this really fails here – the performances are all solid and fun. The direction is pretty competent, especially in the massive smack downs and the effects? Well, aside from a few poor scenes and bad green screen, the effects are pretty realistic throughout.
So why does the movie fail to be the non-stop thrill ride it promised to be? Well, it’s in the writing.
Despite having a cast of solid lead and support actors, no-one on the team feels truly fleshed out and in the movie it quickly becomes a Joss Whedon/JRR Martin affair with everyone’s neck on the block and ordinarily I would cerebrate this but the problem is, as important characters – one in particular – start to get killed/crushed/stabbed/eaten, it’s hard to really care and this has to fall at the feet of Screenplay writers Dan Gilroy and Max Borenstein.
And, aside from the characters, there’s massive themes at play here – be it Samuel L Jackson’s personal revenge mission or (the movie’s true highlight, even if he felt out of place more often than not) John C Reilly’s crazy pilot stranded on the island for decades who lost someone very important to him (this would have been a far better adventure) – but none of them really ring true; we understand what is happening, we just don’t feel it.
And the pacing too is a mixed bag, with long periods of nothing happening… we’re on an island with giant lizard monsters, spiders, antelope and, needless to say, King Kong and there’s these long periods of, well, nothing. It’s almost unforgivable.
When Kong is doing his thing? Well, the movie does shine and numerous times I thought to myself that it was going to pick up but sadly it just rests on its laurels again after each such scene… it’s like a full season of The Walking Dead squeezed into two hours: 30% ‘awful’, 40% ‘not bad’ and 30% ‘that was pretty cool’.
Oh, and a special mention of any readers thinking of taking their kids (the rating does allow it) – proceed with caution – I was lucky enough to get tickets for my whole family for this preview – there is a scene in the movie involving the (highlight to read) giant spider from the trailer which has a pretty gruesome death scene and my kids, who watch a fair few movies with me and are well versed n movies up to and including 12a, were pretty upset about and, as a dad, I will say even I thought it was a bit much for this outing.
Oh, and one more thing, as a prequel/sequel/sidequel to Godzilla, tonally this feels a million miles off – Godzilla went for a very straight-faced almost real world feel, while this movie is pure wannabe action movie fare… just a minor quibble but one worth noting, I think.
So, overall, what did I think? Well, it has solid performances and a few fun, if poorly fleshed out, characters. Kong himself, while getting a limited show time, is very impressive on screen and when we first meet him he’s as awesome and terrifying as you’d imagine (with a clever take on the famous Kong Vs planes scene) and the island’s monsters all feel suitably big and menacing.
But the pacing and poorly developed themes and story are real issues here which won’t prevent you from having fun during the big moments, but will leave you wondering if you really care about the universe it sets up or rather races straight towards (there’s a post credits scene which is about a subtle as a kick to the teeth).
On a good day I reckon I could stretch to 3 out of 5 for Kong: Skull Island, but after thinking long and hard about it, I have to go with:
2 out of 5 Nerds