One of the biggest films currently lighting up the big screen is Kong: Skull Island. Nerd Nation Magazine was in attendance for the early press screening courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures, Allied Marketing, and Regal Cinemas. Due to a few delays around the office, namely, our editor being out of town as convention season kicks off, this review (originally written March 10, 2017) has been held until now.
First off, Kong: Skull Island really is a movie that is actually about the monster, mainly featuring the monster. Unlike some other recent monster movies that shall remain nameless (I’m staring hard at you Godzilla 2014). Sure, there are humans in it for half of the movie, but we get to see the title character equally, and that makes me a happy kitty. (Seriously, don’t call it a monster movie if all I get to see of the creature is bits and pieces or five minutes of actual monster time!)
The movie starts in 1944 (11 years after the first movie was made). We’re over the South Pacific, so, it’s no surprise when we see two planes going down over an uncharted island. One is an American fighter plane (I’m not 100%, but I’m pretty sure it’s a P51 Mustang) and the other is Japanese (a Mitsubishi A6M Zero). Both pilots eject and survive, and, of course, they both start fighting after they land. That’s when we first see Kong. The CGI here is dark, I’m going to guess that they’re doing that to make him appear more sinister. And it absolutely worked.
Fast forward to 1974, the ending of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam war. For Bill Randa, played by John Goodman (of 10 Cloverfield Lane, Oh Brother Where Art Thou?) it’s a last chance to prove that monsters do exist. With the U.S. pulling out of the South Pacific, he would no longer have the opportunity to travel to this heretofore uncharted island called Skull Island. He gets approval by playing on a senators fear of what the Russians might find if they don’t beat them to the island.
Randa asks for and gets a military escort in the form of Colonel Preston Packard (played by Samuel L. Jackson of the Avengers franchise and Pulp Fiction), a man facing the unfortunate removal of American troops before they could win the war. Something his character clearly doesn’t care much for. They’re accompanied by Life Magazine anti-war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson of Trainwreck, Room) and former British SS man and jungle tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston of the Thor and Avengers franchises). Weaver is there to find out just what Randa and the military are up to, Conrad is just going for the payday.
Everything is hunky dory until they reach the mysterious and hard to reach island. Doesn’t take long before they find themselves face to face with the islands largest inhabitant and guardian, Kong. Pain, blood, and death ensue and the group ends up crashed and separated. Conrad and Weaver meet Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly of Guardians of the Galaxy, Talladega Nights) the downed American fighter pilot from 1944. He gives them a bit of a history lesson about the island and some of it’s nastier inhabitants.
Now, in the interest of remaining *SPOILER FREE* I’m going to stop with the story there and move on to the critique.
Moving this forward a few years from the original was a good move, and then moving it forward to the end of Vietnam was a useful plot device. It afforded them with a viable reason for their military escort to the island (the Cold War). Since the military involvement is essential to this whole film, it was a necessary move.
You’re not going to care much for Goodman‘s character nor Jackson‘s character. Don’t worry, you’re not supposed to. Both have less-than-humanitarian reasons for going to the island. Sadly, Goodman isn’t in this enough for my happiness.
Hiddleston and Larson have important characters but, for some reason, both felt flat and uninspiring. I’m going to go with the writing as the reason for that. The rest of the characters were pretty well executed, especially Reilly‘s character, though, I suspect a lot of that was his ad-libbing.
The real stars of this movie are the FX/CGI artists. Kong is beautifully done, as are the various monsters, including the Skull Crawlers, and the final fight scene was brutal and brilliant.
The Bottom Line:
Overall, Kong: Skull Island is a pretty decent homage to the original without the female character being a damsel in distress. This is one of the few modern monster movies that actually features the monster as much as it features humans. It’s good, really good in fact, but not exactly great. Hiddleston and Larson could’ve been replaced by lower-paid actors and the movie wouldn’t have suffered for it. They wasted their talents on this movie. That said, it is definitely worth seeing in the theaters at least once. Especially as I don’t think all that CGI magic is going to translate well to smaller screens. Something that a lot of big-budget CGI heavy movies have in common, but I digress. At least it wasn’t the 1998 version of Godzilla, or another crappy made-for-SyFy movie, so we can all be happy to have a monster movie that’s actually worth going to see! – 8.5/10
– Hannah Collins
Staff Writer: Nerd Nation Magazine