‘Kong: Skull Island’ has its share of excitement and effective acting, but the film does not fit with any other ‘Kong’ film ever made as prequel, sequel or coquel. The script is creative where it needs to be and funny where it needs to be. If you think you wouldn’t like a live-action film about a hundred-foot ape, you won’t. If you think you would like the film, you will. If you are not sure, you might want to give it a try. At best, it is a joy ride and at worst it is at least goofy.
Rating: +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
At a hundred feet, the Kong in ‘Kong: Skull Island’ is too darn big. If you give a young girl a Barbie(r) doll she will dress it and give some thought to its appearance. In short, she will have a sort of relationship with it. Give the same girl a Lego(r) person and there will be little she can do with it except move it around. There is too much difference in size scale. In the 1933 ‘King Kong’, the size ratio between Kong and Ann is about the same as the ratio of the little girl to the Barbie(r) doll. The blonde girl whose trunk fits comfortably into his paw intrigues Kong. Kong certainly has some interest in Ann that he probably would not have if Ann were the size of the last joint on his little finger. The new Kong is a hundred feet tall, according to director Jordon Vogt-Roberts.
With kaiju proportions, Kong would have a body falling apart of its own weight by the square-cube law. More importantly, the beast can have little emotional connection with six-foot humans on the island or in the audience. We see him in only two states, placid and angry. Even the 1976 version of ‘King Kong’ showed more range of emotion. Kong here has no conscience, no affection, only the barest personality. That is not my idea of King Kong. It would have been a better film if they had named the chief monster something like Gorga rather than disappointing expectations by making the super-giant ape Kong.
The film opens in 1944 with an American and a Japanese plane in a dogfight. They both crash on an unknown Pacific island. On the ground, the two pilots are fighting to the death when they are interrupted by…can you guess? This strand of plot is abandoned to have connections later in the story. Twenty-nine years later an apparent crackpot James Conrad (played by John Goodman) has been trying repeatedly to have the get an expedition to a nearly unknown island charmingly called ‘Skull Island’.
When the expedition is finally approved, a team is put together including James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and helicopter commander Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson). It is joined by Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), who wants to expose the secret operation. One last member joins the group well into the story, but not too late to steal the rest of the film. John C. Reilly plays Hank Marlow, just a little charmingly deranged. Together, the team will face the dangers of the island that time forgot. It is a better cast than this film would have needed, but it will probably pay off at the box office.
The script by Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein and Derek Connolly has some original ideas and visual images we have not seen before, but also there are little touches we have seen in previous ‘Kong’ films. Kong kills a creature by breaking its jaw and then checks to see the jaw is limp. We saw that in the 1933 version. Skull Island has gone undiscovered because it is eternally enshrouded in heavy clouds. That idea came from the 1976 version. In fact’ there are little shout-outs to all three US origin stories: 1933, 1976 and 2005, as well as references to ‘Apocalypse Now’.
On the other hand, Kong’s size called for some original thinking. For once, Kong never carries a human anywhere for long because he is just too big and probably does not want red stuff and pulp all over his fingers. The island itself brings up more complexities than were thought through. The idea is raised that what we thought were Pacific nuclear tests were really attempts to kill monsters. That idea was borrowed from ‘Godzilla’ (2014). If that is true, who knew that the island was the home of monsters and how was it kept a secret if that was true? How did an island the size of Skull Island go undiscovered by all but the people doing the bomb test? The script could have used some doctoring before the film was shot. With such a great variety of kaiju-sized monsters on one island, the film has the feel of an admittedly more detailed and realistically done Toho film.
On the positive side, somebody was very imaginative with ideas for the fauna of the island. There are a lot of ‘What-the-heck-Oh-my-god!’ reactions. There are moments that are a lot of fun. Overall, I rate ‘Kong: Skull Island’ a +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10. The filmmakers have what must be nine or ten minutes of credit crawl at the end, but there is a coda at the end of it all.
Mark R. Leeper
© Mark R. Leeper 2017