Hot Take: The entertaining escapism of a B-movie creature feature is enhanced by an A-list cast and AA-sized budget. It is what it is but it at least doesn’t try to be something it isn’t.
Usually, movies like Kong: Skull Island are reserved for the summer. Seeing a March release date with a cast featuring Academy Award winner Brie Larson, Academy Award nominee Samuel L. Jackson and other reliable talent — Tom Hiddleston, John Goodman, John C. Reilly — as well as some newer faces who have impressed recently — Jing Tian (the only thing good about The Great Wall), Jason Mitchell (breakout performance in Straight Outta Compton as Eazy-E) — makes it easy to get your hopes up for something a little deeper than a creature feature continuation of the King Kong mythology. Hopes may end up being dashed for something more but the talented cast and solid casting do enhance the end result and putting this in March gives this popcorn flick the opportunity to own March rather than getting lost amongst all of the other popcorn flicks we’ll get in the summer months.
Talent aside, you probably are there to see King Kong and all of the other scientifically impossible beasts of Skull Island as we quickly learn this uncharted island is ripe for creatures we’ve never seen before. The story itself is secondary. It’s a convoluted tale of a fledgling government-supported company at the end of the Vietnam War (headed by John Goodman’s Bill Randa) getting the rights to piggyback on a government visit to an uncharted island found in the South Pacific. Randa ropes in a military escort (led by Samuel L. Jackson’s Colonel Packard), a superstar photojournalist (Brie Larson’s Mason Weaver) and a savvy hunter/tracker (Tom Hiddleston’s James Conrad) to help his hidden agenda of proving monsters exist. He quickly gets his evidence as we’re treated to Kong in all his glory as the military escort is ambushed by a cranky Kong who is riled up by the group dropping Seismic blasts on the island.
After Kong’s devastating effects on the group, the party is split up with one group led by Colonel Preston hellbent on getting revenge for the death of some of the soldiers at the hands (and feet) of Kong and another led by Conrad hellbent on getting the hell off the island. Of course, Hiddleston’s Conrad and Larson’s Weaver end up in the same group and likewise, Jackson’s Preston and Goodman’s Randa for obvious reasons. There’s technically a third group consisting of one soldier (Chapman played by Toby Kebbell) and enough explosives to wipe Kong from existence that also plays a part in the story. Preston has his men headed toward the weapons. Conrad’s group encounters a military man of a different sort played expertly by John C. Reilly. Reilly’s Lieutenant Marlow, a soldier shot down onto the island during World War II where he’s remained for the last 30 years, is the hidden gem of the film. His comedic timing is impeccable and adds a humorous element that really enhances the B-movie creature feature aspect of the movie.
There are a few critical points to bring up. While the cinematography is fabulous and visual effects, dare I say, might be Academy Award nomination-worthy, some of the shots feel ripped directly from the Jurassic Park series. Hell, you even have Jackson repeat his iconic line, “Hold onto your butts!” Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts was obviously inspired by the classic dinosaur flicks. The trio of writers — one of which (Derek Connolly) worked on the team of writers who brought Jurassic World to life — were seemingly inspired by the works of Michael Crichton and his luminaries. Also, there were too many scenes of Hiddleston and Larson either mugging for the camera or not being very adept at acting in front of a green screen as the two vacantly stared with mouth agape at whatever was going to end up on that green screen (in this case, it was usually Kong… lots and lots of Kong).
That being said, Kong: Skull Island is a fun time at the cinema. There is some incredible eye candy, action on a grand scale and even the occasional laugh out loud moment with a few killer one liners from Reilly. Legendary Pictures has grand plans for their creature feature series (Stick around for the post-credits scene if you want to learn more) and Kong: Skull Island proves the franchises of King Kong, Godzilla and “friends” are in good hands.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- Kong is Impressive
The visuals of Kong in action are nearly flawless and eye popping. The scale is perfect and the appearance of humans as flies being swatted away in some scenes gives Kong the clout he deserves.
- John C. Reilly
Reilly really is the unexpected scene stealer of the film. It’s not the first time Reilly has done so, either but he’s typically the sidekick in an outright comedy instead of the comic relief of a balls to the wall action flick. Reilly’s character is more than comic relief, though, as the film develops a subplot of getting Lieutenant Marlow home to his family who hasn’t seen him in three decades.
- Some of the Beasts
Kong vs. a giant Octopus? Sign me up! I’ll watch Kong rip apart an octopus and slurp down tentacles all day, every day.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- Some of the Other Beasts
Not all of the “beasts” of Skull Island are winners. I’m particularly not a fan of Kong’s ultimate nemesis which appears to be a cross between a few different dinosaurs and a lizard and acts a lot like the Velociraptors of the original Jurassic Park. They’re called Skullcrawlers if you care. I didn’t.
- Does Every 70s Soundtrack have to be inundated with Credence Clearwater Revival?
The film’s soundtrack is a send up of every 70s war movie you’ve ever seen. Does CCR have to be represented twice? Isn’t there enough music from this time to find another band or artist from this period?