article by Connor Behrens for ArtsEarth
Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ latest film, “Kong: Skull Island,” is an American monster thriller film that features Tom Hiddleston and Samuel Jackson.
“Kong: Skull Island” tells the story of a varied group of experts, fighters and explorers who unite together to discover and investigate a legendary, unexplored island in the Pacific, as treacherous as it is gorgeous. Becoming stranded and cut off from civilization, the team embarks into the territory of the colossal Kong, awakening a critical war between nature and man. As the team’s task of unearthing becomes one of endurance and survival, they must battle to flee a primordial paradise where humankind does not belong.
“Kong: Skull Island” flourishes due to the fact that it never tries to outdo its predecessors. The film strives to be more of a matinee creature feature. Vogt-Roberts never attempts to construct a film as sophisticated or ambitious as Peter Jackson’s 2005 film. He simply aims to create a creature feature that takes audiences on a roller coaster – and he mostly achieves this result.
If 2014’s “Godzilla” was restraint, then “Kong: Skull Island” is overindulgence. Vogt-Roberts dedicates the film to high-octane thrills and monster action that’s outrageously campy. The goal of the film is to transport the audience to 1973, where a world of prehistoric monsters exist outside the Vietnam War. Deciding to set the film in 1973 is ironic; these soldiers have seen the absolute worst sights… until they land on an island full of gigantic beasts.
And while the film’s setting is refreshing for modern audiences and the thrills are not lacking, the human characters become less than satisfactory. There is nothing particularly wrong with the cast. John Goodman brings a certain flair; Hiddleston and Jackson both sell dramatic scenes well with their magnetic presence and gravitas. Even Brie Larson gives wonderful reaction shots as she marvels at all the grotesque sights around her.
But while the actors all give respective flavors, the characters they play are one-note. None of the characters are layered enough for the audience to care when the body count starts climbing. The only character that is given a story that humanizes them is John C. Reilly.
Reilly’s character is a winning parody of Marlon Brando’s Colonel Kurtz from “Apocalypse Now.” Reilly plays a man who has been stranded on the island for decades and is mentally unstable. This instability creates genuinely hilarious moments that alleviate the film’s tension and gives the audience a chance to relax. In many ways, Reilly is just as important to this film as Kong is.
And Kong is beautiful – brown fur, towering in front of the setting sun. Visual effects in Hollywood have clearly improved since Jackson’s 2005 epic. Here, Kong carries a visible weight to him that’s palpable. And Kong is not the only creature given a chance to shine. Kong battles gigantic lizards and squids, while mantises and spiders lurk in the depths of the jungles.
Overall, “Kong: Skull Island” embraces its B-movie influences and wears it proudly. The characters may be paper-thin and the tone inconsistent at times, but the film is too much fun to resist. Legendary is on the right track with its MonsterVerse.