Film Review: "Kong: Skull Island"

King Kong is back again for probably the 30th time in “Kong: Skull Island,” a new franchise starter directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts.

The film stars Tom Hiddleston (The Avengers), Brie Larson (Room), Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction), John Goodman (10 Cloverfield Lane), and John C. Reilly (Check It Out! With Dr. Steve Brule).

Official promo for "Kong: Skull Island." (Photo from IMDB)

Official promo for "Kong: Skull Island." (Photo from IMDB)

After a mysterious new island is discovered in the middle of the Pacific in 1973, Bill Randa (Goodman) is sent to investigate along with a team of Vietnam Soldiers led by Lieutenant colonel Preston Packard, hunter-tracker James Conrad (Hiddleston), and war photojournalist Mason Weaver (Larson). After dropping bombs on the island to research it’s geology, a big monkey shows up and ruins everyone’s day.

Don’t worry, the movie shows the monster right off the bat. There’s no suspense or anticipation here. This isn’t the 2014 “Godzilla”, or any other King Kong movie for that matter. After about a 15 minute introduction to all of the characters, King Kong gets right to smashing. Once that hits, the movie rolls at a rollicking pace until the very end. For what it’s worth, it’s entertaining. It’s fun to watch a giant gorilla beat up other giant monsters. It’s fun to watch a whole bunch of things explode. Anybody going into this expecting those things is going to get their money’s well worth.

Cinematographer Larry Fong adds a lot of visual flair to the movie. A good portion of his work has been with Zack Snyder, including that of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Watchmen”. While the reception of both of those films has been mixed, most will probably agree that the visuals aren’t the problem in either of those movies. Unlike most big budget reboots these days, this film isn’t going for the typical dark-and-gritty, super serious approach to its color pallet. When Fong isn’t using neon blues and reds, he’s making the most of various shades of green, sunsets, and artificial grain to recreate a 70’s “Apocalypse Now” sort a vibe, which is what many of trailers seemed to have been going for.

The visual effects themselves are decently impressive. By no means are they state of the art, or even that convincing for that matter, but Industrial Light & Magic puts a lot of detail into every model. The pours on Kong’s face and the hair that covers his body are all intricately placed. This is an absolute CGI-fest, though. This isn’t unexpected, but there isn’t any weight to Kong. He was sized up from about 25 feet to 100 feet in this movie, but it really doesn’t make much of a difference. The audience doesn’t ever really feel the size of him, because he’s just a weightless CGI character.

With that, there’s also a good deal of noticeably bad green screening. A lot of the movie was apparently filmed on location in Vietnam, Hawaii, and Australia, and most of the movie seems to prove that, but when the green screens hit, they hit hard. The actors look like they’re completely disconnected from the flat background. Maybe this was intended as a stylistic choice, but it just takes the audience out of the moment.

With a budget of $185 million, whatever money they could’ve put into better green screens, they must have put into the music licenses. There’s a whole heck of a lot of songs in the movie, almost all from the late 60’s, early 70’s. It’s not as obnoxious as the opening to “Suicide Squad”, but it does get a tad bit close. Regardless, the music does help to get audience into the 1970’s mood, and it always cool to hear “Creedence Clearwater Revival” over the surround sound movie theatre speakers.

It would be pointless to talk about any of the actors. Pretty much the same thing could be said about any of them. “Larson was good.” “Hiddleston was good.” “Goodman was good, man.” Everyone did the best with what they were given. This movie has a thinly written script with barely any character development. Almost no character development, in fact. People exist solely to get smashed by the big monkey. The only differentiating characteristics between most of them is whether they want to fight Kong, or run away from him.

The only two characters that really have any sort of purpose are Packard (Jackson) and Hank Marlow (Reilly). Jackson plays a typical delusion-of-grandeur hardass that thinks he can kill the ape, and Reilly plays the comic relief. Between the two, the audience only cares about Reilly, because John C. Reilly is hilarious. If he dies, then any sort of humor gets stripped away from the movie. To be fair, John C. Reilly does get a lot of great stuff into the movie and he increases the enjoyment level tenfold.

Nobody should be expecting an Oscar winner from “Kong: Skull Island”. It’s a dumb monster movie that delivers on exactly what it promises. The visuals are hit or miss, but from a cinematography standpoint, it can be striking at times. While the characters are as bland as they come, it’s still fun to watch a giant gorilla beat up lizards, especially when John C. Reilly is running around making jokes the whole time.