TL;DR – Fantastic action, amazing visuals, interesting characters, and the best rendition of King Kong in a long while, this is a must watch film
Score – 4 out of 5 stars
P.S. There is a post-credits scene
The more and more we heard about Kong: Skull Island, the more I had a feeling that Kong was either going to be a masterpiece or a heaping pile of trash, I just could not see a middle ground happening. Well, I was right, Kong: Skull Island is not a mediocre film at all, and thankfully it is not a pile of trash either, instead it is an epic film that makes the most of the characters whilst setting it away from the traditional narrative. The effects alone make it a film you have to see, but it is so much more than just a technically brilliant film, it has a strong narrative, characters you relate to, and one of the more interesting island set ups I have seen since I read Dinotopia, quick aside, can we actually get that Dinotopia film now please and thank-you. Ok so let’s go break down why I think you should go see Kong: Skull Island.
The first thing we need to talk about is the casting, and boy did Kong get this one so right. We start with Samuel L. Jackson who plays the airborne commander Packard. He is the man that has fought a losing war for a long time, and it wondering what is his life and achievements are worth when people just run away. Part of his performance shows a little bit of PSTD, like the progression in Spec Ops The Line, incremental steps into oblivion, but at every moment Sam L commands the screen. Tom Hiddleston works well as the free agent and tracker James Conrad. I like the way he almost always has command over the situation, it works well with his character and his arc throughout the movie. John Goodman, well John Goodman is John Goodman, you could put him in a trash movie and he would rise above it with his performance, his voice alone commands the scene. I was concerned going in that John C. Reilly’s character Hank would just be there for comic relief and that it would not fit the tone of the film, or worse still risk becoming a Jar Jar character. However, instead what we get is a man with immense complexity, he has been away from his people since WW2, so he has an enormous knowledge of the island, but also he is slightly unhinged. This is a really interesting combination and it makes Hank one of the most interesting characters in the movie. As well as this, there is a large ensemble cast, which yes some of them are just there to be redshirts for the main cast, but every one of named characters gets their moment to shine or at least a moment to be memorable.
Now the one thing that is clear is that as long as Kong: Skull Island had big monsters battling each other or the military, then it would have been a good film just for the spectacle alone. However, the action sequences are more than that, they are intense, really well filmed and full of moments of dread. I have to give the filmmakers full props for not going down the cut every half a second route like some modern action films, yes I’m talking about you Resident Evil. Now there is a lot of cutting between shots, but the action is always easy to follow, and they work hard to contextualise where everyone is in relation to each other. As well as this, there are some sequences towards the end where they have some wonderful long shots of battle that really are a sight to behold. Indeed if the action was the only reason you are going to see the film then you will not be disappointed.
As far as the narrative goes, there is an interesting story here. The movie uses the characters, the setting, and a lot of the beats of the original source material, but then it tells a unique story about it. Now I think this is why I like Kong Skull Island more than Peter Jackson’s King Kong. Jackson’s movie was an amazing recreation of the original story, but it is a story that we have seen before and the original still holds up (thankfully PJ’s version is still a good film in its own right unlike other recent remakes like Ben-Hur). However, here we are getting a fresh take on the story rather than a step by step recreation, like next week’s Beauty and the Beast. There are also a lot of interesting themes that are hinted on here and there, like the role of media in war, and who lost the Vietnam War, and hints of the Cold War paranoia. Now the story is not that original, and you will probably have a good idea as to where it is going, but that does not take away from the remarkable work that has gone into making the narrative feel alive.
Now I have to give full credit to Industrial Light and Magic here because they have put so much work into getting the CGI elements to work flawlessly with the practical elements. First the creature creation in Kong: Skull Island was amazing, all the creatures felt like they were realised actual beings that existed in the world. The Skullcrawlers are this creepy combination of a lizard and a snake, and they flow/run like you would expect them to. There are a number of other amazing creations but of course we have to talk about the one and only King Kong. The amount of work and effort that went into creating such a wonderful model must have been phenomenal. You have Terry Notary’s motion capture work, which I can’t wait to see the behind the scenes to get a glimpse of that. But the amount of detail they got out of Kong, the individual hairs, the scars, those eyes, goodness those eyes. Like when Kong gets burnt, the fur looks burnt, the amount of detail they put into Kong makes you really feel like he is a real character.
As well as the graphics, I really have to give credit to the filmmakers for their attention to detail with the sets and designs. Firstly, the movie is set in the 1970s and every little detail from the helicopters, to the clothes, to the cameras all fit with the time. The sets like the village all felt like they were real places, filled with real people, and the intriguing make-up really helps with the notion that this is a lost place. This also flows on to the locations, the movie makes the best use out of its Vietnam, Hawaii, and Gold Coast locations. They all work together to make Skull Island feel otherworldly yet also somewhat familiar.
As well as the visuals, a lot of work have been done on the technical aspects of the film. Take for example the opening credits, that yes were just credits, but they were also used to show that time was moving forward, and to give context to the world we were in. There were some really interesting editing choices, the sort of transitions you see in Edgar Wright films. As well as this, there were some really interesting uses of light and shadow, light from explosions, the shadow from being in front of the sun, to what lurks in the dark. These along with some really interesting framing provide not only visual interest but help create a compelling narrative. This is supported by a great score by Henry Jackman which uses the instruments and music popular at the time and blends it with an epic orchestral score.
Now all this being said Kong is a great film, but it is not a perfect film, and while these issues were not problems for me, I could see how it could take you out of the film. First, we have the case of magical appearing helicopters. On the ship coming over we see about five helicopters, but then we end up with about ten going into the storm, plus the ones that were coming to pick them up at the end. Now were they stored under the deck of the ship, sure maybe, but that’s not what we see. As well as this, in the first big battle, ok yes Kong v the helicopters was a visual spectacle, and a great action set piece. However, you would think that the first thing trained professionals would do is fly away from his reach instead of conveniently flying into the grabbing range of Kong. Now as I said there was a lot of amazing effects in this film but there were a couple of times where you could tell that there were CGI helicopters and things like that being used. As well as this, there were one or two odd or quite predictable story beats. Now while these can be an issue, they weren’t for me and didn’t detract from my enjoyment of Kong.
In the end, I highly recommend Kong: Skull Island, for its story, for its action, for its characters, and for its presentation, everything I working together to make a great action film. So far in March we have had two amazing action films, first Logan and now Kong. March is shaping up to be a really good month for cinema.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Directed by – Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Screenplay by – Dan Gilroy & Max Borenstein
Story by – John Gatins & Dan Gilroy
Based on – King Kong by Merian C. Cooper & Edgar Wallace
Music by – Henry Jackman
Cinematography by – Larry Fong
Edited by – Richard Pearson
Starring – Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Brie Larson, Toby Kebbell, Jing Tian, Corey Hawkins, John Ortiz, Marc Evan Jackson, Jason Mitchell, Shea Whigham, Thomas Mann, Terry Notary, & John C. Reilly
Rating – Australia: M; Canada: 14A; NZ: M; UK: 12A; USA: PG-13