In the world of movies, few films inspire as much awe and creativity as “King Kong.” The classic 1933 film revolutionized cinema as we know it today with its groundbreaking use of special effects and sound design that were highly ambitious for their time while telling a timeless tale of beauty and beast. The lasting impact of this film has been in the hearts and minds of cinema-goers for nearly 85 years, with a collection of semi-sequels, remakes and spinoffs coming out in the decades that followed. While these followups have ranged in quality, they typically come with loads of hype and big box office results.
So, it’s no surprise that the newest film in the franchise, “Kong: Skull Island” has come with plenty of anticipation from fans and moviegoers alike. With its star-studded cast that includes Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John C. Reilly and John Goodman, as well as its connection to the 2014 “Godzilla” (the films are now in a connected movie universe, dubbed the Monsterverse, similar to the Marvel Cinematic Universe), I couldn’t wait to see how director Jordan Vogt-Roberts would portray everyone’s favorite massive monkey and his creative island home of Skull Island.
This film focuses on a team headed by Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and senior official Monarch William Randa (John Goodman), who go into an uncharted island, presumably to test seismic charges. However, it is soon discovered that Randa has another agenda when the island is full of giant, bloodthirsty monsters, including a massive ape called Kong. After an attack by Kong, they must team up with an island castaway named Hank Marlow (played by John C. Reilly) to help get off the island while also learning the power Kong holds on the island. However, when Packard begins to have a new vendetta on the island, it becomes a race to survive as his plans may put the team in danger with a much larger threat that only Kong can take down.
Hands down, this is probably the most creative interpretation of Skull Island ever shown. Not only is the scope and beauty of the island incredibly presented, but the vast array of creatures and their designs are insane. Unlike previous Kong films that limited themselves to only having dinosaurs roam the island, the island here almost comes alive with weird monsters and creatures. This film is also surprisingly gory and violent, which makes the danger of the island feel all the more concerning. It’s a welcome addition to the Kong mythos that takes things in a very unique direction.
Kong, himself, is portrayed wonderfully. He comes off as both a powerful and threatening force while still having some level of character that makes the monster so engaging to watch. The interactions he has with the human characters especially, whether tender or aggressive, prove to be fascinating.
Most of the human characters are also, to some degree, well-handled. Both Tom Hiddleston’s James Conrad and Brie Larson’s Mason Weaver are likable enough as leads, and Randa proves to be a determined and, at times, chilling character. However, the real show stoppers are Samuel L. Jackson and John C. Reilly. Jackson makes Packard a threatening villain, and the character has some interestingly dark motives. Reilly’s Marlow brings the best comedy to the story but still has some depth, given his backstory and his respect to Kong’s power.
However, oddly enough, the same points that make this film good are ultimately what hold it back from being anything amazing. Why? Two simple reasons — the pacing and the editing. In most cases, I would compliment a film for having a fast pace, but here, it almost feels too fast. The film contains a lot of abrupt transitions and oddly edited moments that make it feel like important parts of the story were cut out. This becomes annoying, not just because it’s disorienting and frustrating, but also because the good elements of this film don’t feel like they receive enough focus. While the characters are likable, the story wants to make more room for action and comedy, so most of the characters, particularly Hiddleston and Larson, end up feeling hollow. Even the characters who are given more depth, particularly Marlow, only express their backstory through rather lazy exposition that feels like it was trying to force emotions out of the audience. While Randa comes off as interesting during the first half, his purpose throughout the rest feels squandered, to the point that you forget what happened to him by the final act.
Similarly, the environment also feels somewhat underutilized. A lot of what we learn about this island and its inhabitants often comes through exposition and, much like the characters, there are moments that feel as if they could have built up more atmosphere and more creativity, but the film rushes through them so quickly at times you soon forget about them. This is a shame, because the few moments where atmosphere and wonder are created are really good, giving the other rushed elements not enough time to shine.
The film also suffers from odd tonal shifts, making it feel in places like it wants to try being more self aware by implementing humor, which rarely works, and other times when it wants to try being serious by killing off characters who we don’t really get to know or care about that much.
Overall, while I wasn’t particularly disappointed with “Kong: Skull Island,” it’s hard to deny the film’s problems with tone, character development, editing and pacing that ultimately may turn some people off who want a more intriguing story. However, if you’re looking for a fun, large-scaled and exciting film with some awesome creativity, then “Kong: Skull Island” will leave you satisfied. But for me, the original 1933 will remain top banana in my book.
Mikael, 18, is a freshman at the Savannah College of Art and Design in Atlanta where he majors in animation. Mikael has made a host of stop-motion and claymation short films, including his award-winning short film “The Tree That Refused To Fall,” and all of them can be found on his YouTube channel, Cyclops Studios.