Movie Review: Kong: Skull Island - nice visuals, shame about the story
Kong: Skull Island (M)
118 mins ★★★
If you went off King Kong movies a bit following Peter Jackson's 2005 epic, I'd love to be able to say don't worry because this Kong movie is completely unrelated, but in fact you can worry, because this Kong movie follows a similar tack (plonking bull-headed explorers on a mysterious island to become prey and hunter), while giving its actors less of a script and no character development to work with.
At least Jackson employed quality actors in Naomi Watts and Adrien Brody, and attempted an emotional arc. Here, the only arc is the one taken by burning helicopters being hurled to the ground by the eponymous beast.
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Not exactly a first-time director but he might as well be, Jordan Vogt-Roberts appears to have borrowed a book on monster movie tropes and ticked them off one-by-one. Skull Island's characters are thrown together in circumstances the script doesn't waste much time on, but the clichés are all accounted for: attractive female photographer and her initial, unsubstantiated animosity towards the buff, but unsmiling ex-military type; a buffoon lost from civilisation; foolhardy scientists and bloodthirsty Lieutenant Colonels.
Skull Island boasts its attempted credentials via an international cast (British heartthrob du jour Tom Hiddleston, American Oscar fodder Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson, and Chinese actress Tian Jing, fresh off The Great Wall), but squanders their proven talents. Hiddleston (with British accent) merely feels like the Night Manager on safari. Larson has freckles painted on her face. And Jackson evidently only gets a decent script if Tarantino is writing it.
The dialogue, surprisingly attributable to Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler, The Bourne Legacy), gives the Chinese woman four token lines (including "Hurry!"), and the sole moment of potential pathos is an exchange along the lines of: "Oh, I see you have an RAF lighter?"
"Yes, my father gave it to me before he went away… and died in the war."
"Oh. Look out, there's a monster."
The film really only succeeds in the "special effects and bombastic moments" category. Unlike Godzilla, which kept the reveal of its monster up its sleeve until an hour in, the Kong in Skull Island appears before the opening credits, feeling like a massive anti-climax…that is, until the other creatures join the fray, and then things get quite spectacular.
It's the monsters that make Skull Island the movie fans will want to see – utterly terrifying and well-rendered against beautiful natural backdrops lit in golden brown hues. They are the stuff of nightmares, original and awful, while Kong himself is magnificent – the most impressive portrayal yet of the beleaguered, lonely creature who demonstrates compassion when his hunters don't.
And the carnage – of which there is plenty – is breathtakingly beautiful, even in chronic slo-mo. It's terrible to recommend a film entirely on its computer-generated grounds, but this is what Kong: Skull Island does best.