Kong: Skull Island

Kong: Skull Island ★★★

Kong: Skull Island takes bits and pieces from most of the King Kong movies that have come before it and freshens them up for a modern audience.

Set at the end of the Vietnam War, a group of scientists, a military battalion, a renegade "tracker", and a war photographer set out to the mysterious and newly found Skull Island in search of....something.

The mission is never really made clear, and we find out that there is a reason for that later in the film (mainly that there is giant freaking monsters on the island) but it calls into question why everyone would be willing to go there.

This is where you run into the first and biggest problem with this movie. Everything that everybody says is utter nonsense, and completely unbelievable. Even in a movie about a 400 gorilla, you have give reason for why someone would do something in order for me to believe it. You can't just make things happen without some sort of motivation. Let me give you an example:

In the film there is a military guy (played by Shea Whigham, who is a dead ringer for Gary Sinise) who is seemingly unaffected by being attacked by giant monkey and having Kong rip helicopters out of the air. He is the unshakable one in the group. So later in the film when out of no where he decided to sacrifice his life (keep in mind he isn't suicidal, nor is he wounded, nor has he been even all that troubled by anything that has happened so far in the film) to save the others, when they aren't really in any more danger than they have been for the past 2 hours, it doesn't make any f'ing sense. There is no reason for to do it, and quite frankly his skills could have been really helpful in the next few scenes. But the movie apparently wanted to have someone sacrifice themselves for the greater good, because that is what movies like this does.

Aside from everything everyone does or says, the film has a remarkable visual style. The pretentious snob in me would call it the mise-en-scène. Sure there is plenty of well proportioned and remarkably scaled monster fighting, but the connecting scenes are really interestingly shot. There are angles and camera movements unlike what I was expecting from a mainstream blockbuster. It does use the first-person video game shot from the POV of the soldier holding a gun in frame, that I absolutely HATE, but it is only a few seconds, and only a couple of times.

The scene where Tom Hiddleston is recruited in an Vietnamese brothel / strip club / pool lounge is a great character introduction. It sets him up like a sleazy yet skilled Indiana Jones. Then the film goes on to never seem him use those skills ever again. This scene is shot with a very interesting blue and pink lighting that would be at home in a Nicholas Winding Refn film. From here it transitions to reciting Bree Larson. The pink turns to red and drowns out the blue as we see her in her darkroom processing photographs.

The film takes forever setting up everyone. The cast is massive, and like I said earlier, they all need have formed (at best) reasons to tag along. Then, out of nowhere, once we have just spent 30 minutes explaining who everyone is, and why they are there, from out of nowhere a Asian woman shows up and I guess we are supposed to know who she is? I'm pretty sure her character name was never said in the film, and she maybe had 4 lines of dialogue. Then she lives through the film as dozens of nameless military and scientists die all around her, just to be in the post credit sequence setting up more Kong movies.

Speaking of dozens of nameless military types and scientists, after the helicopters crash onto the island, we see camps with a few people tops in each one. I would guess that about 12 - 15 people made it to the ground alive. Then all through the movie, more of these nameless people keep showing up. We see them killed in all sorts of fun and campy sorts of ways, but way, way, way more people are seen being attacked by monsters than we see safely land on the island.

So I haven't even mentioned John C. Riley yet. His character is in the set up to the film. He was a WWII pilot that crashed onto Skull Island in '44. He lived, and has become friendly with the natives. He is how the story explains everything in a succinct way, while still trying to be funny. The key here is trying. I appreciate the effort, and some of what he said made me chuckle, but mostly his jokes were as bad as the rest of the script.

I also haven't really talked about Kong yet. I don't know how much there is to say. He is front and center in the film. There is none of this "hiding the monster" like in Jaws. But he also never really got me on his team. There is a scene with him and Bree Larson (who is almost completely wasted in the film, and over sexualized in a puritanical kind of way) that had zero emotional impact on me. He is a good fighter, and for some reason he is protecting the people on the island from the monsters that live below it, but again...we don't know why. We don't know what he gets out of it. Maybe that is cynical of me to expect something in return for a good deed, but there is nothing there.

For me, I think the appeal of this film is similar to that of the last 80 years of Kong narratives. The search and the danger of the unknown. Now as the internet and cell phones have nearly completely obliterated "wonder", to think of a place where no one has ever been, and no one knows anything about, is a rarity indeed. Kong represents the thrill and the horror of mystery.