Following on from our recent review of Godzilla (2014), we watched the Monsterverse sequel Kong: Skull Island to see how the titles compare.
Straight off, Kong sets about establishing its tone. Planes fall from the sky, and their pilots, WWII soldiers, survive only to begin a frantic fight, chasing each other across a strange landscape of desert and jungle, only to have their hostilities interrupted by a colossal ape.
Jumping ahead a few decades to the final days of the Vietnam War, we meet a group of soldiers tasked with escorting scientists to the mysterious Skull Island, the last uncharted patch of Earth.
It’s a pretty standard monster movie set-up, although stylistically it does establish pretty strong ’70s vibe that gives the movie an added sense of identity. There’s plenty of needlessly drawn out dialogue, and Kong takes a while introducing the many members of its large ensemble cast, but after that, the action begins.
Upon dropping seismic charges all over the island, Kong becomes enraged and attacks the military helicopters, killing much of the team and scattering the survivors. It’s a sensible if uninspired way to set up the survival-adventure tone of the movie – something that’s emblematic of Kong: Skull Island‘s approach to narrative; it’s predictable throughout, but sound enough in premise.
One of Kong‘s stranger choices lies in its character development. With Tom Hiddleston getting top billing, it’s fair to assume that he’s the film’s star, and he is – except for the fact that he says very little, does practically nothing to affect the plot and has exactly zero in the way of a personal arc (the same can be said for Brie Larson’s character, apparently only included as a sort of weird platonic, subtextual love-interest for Kong).
Instead, the movie’s secondary characters see far more development, and are given much more depth. Samuel L. Jackson delivers a solid performance as the revenge-driven Colonel Packard, and John C. Reilly is on form as former soldier Hank Marlow, who’s been stranded on Skull Island for nearly three decades. There’s also Toby Kebbell and Thomas Mann in supporting roles, both given far more to do than Hiddleston’s apparent protagonist.
Weird treatment of its characters aside, Kong: Skull Island boasts some truly breathtaking action scenes, as well as introduces a wealth of lore to Legendary’s Monsterverse, all without ever feeling too swollen or difficult to digest. That’s a line that’s not easy to walk, but Kong manages to do so without hardly a second thought, with only two noticeable exposition dumps during its 2 hour run-time.
All in all, it’s a well presented non-taxing adventure movie. It’s consistent in its tone, and offers more than a few edge-of-your-seat thrills, although it never really steps outside of the genre’s comfort zone to offer something unique, and that’s where it really lets itself down.
Summary: Kong: Skull Island has a lot going for it, but aside from its characterisation of the iconic ape, it offers nothing extraordinary. Solid performances exist alongside uninspired narrative choices, which makes for one of the least remarkable good movies you’ll have seen in a long while.