It is a little known fact that Warner Bros. has ‘marvel-ized’ their Godzilla and King Kong property to create what they are calling the MonsterVerse. This cinematic universe revolves around creating a series of monster films featuring characters from the Godzilla and King Kong franchises with Godzilla (2014) acting as the ‘Iron Man’ movie of the universe. Kong: Skull Island is the next chapter in the series and it successfully reboots the King Kong franchise with big napalm explosions and a head-banging 1970s rock soundtrack to boot. King Kong comes roaring back to life on the big screen and he proves that he is not only the king of apes, but also the king of monsters. At least for now.
In 1973, a secret organization known as Monarch discovers an island only spoken of in myths and legends. An expedition team is formed and their trip to the island, otherwise known as Skull Island, reveals more than just geological breakthroughs – a monstrous ape named King Kong has made the island its home. As the crew makes plans to fight for survival against Kong and other monsters on the island, some of them begin to see that Kong is worth saving.
Kong: Skull Island thankfully doesn’t follow 2014’s Godzilla of using a slow reveal method to keep the audience in suspense. It wastes little time in revealing the massive kaiju to us and that reveal comes as early as the first scene. From then on, the film never stops to take a break as we are introduced to the characters, travelling to Skull Island, gathering firepower and of course fighting King Kong himself. That is perfectly fine because Kong: Skull Island doesn’t aim to have deep philosophical ideas but rather an action-packed story from the start to the end – and it excels tremendously at that.
One thing which Kong: Skull Island did equally well with Godzilla was its stylistic portrayal of its kaiju. The new Kong is 30 metres tall, two times taller than Peter Jackson’s rendition in 2005 and more significantly, the largest in the history of the franchise. Larry Fong, who worked as the cinematographer for Batman V Superman did a brilliant job here depicting Kong as an awe inspiring creature with various imagery suggesting that Kong is a god amongst men – just like what he did for Superman in BvS. Those shots are stunning and you would have to see it for your own eyes to know what I mean.
The design and the detail of the new Kong is unlike anything we have ever seen before. Part of the credit goes to the technological advancements we have had since 2005 of course. The difference in quality is very prominent when you are able to see the individual hairs on Kong’s body bristle against the wind and grimace in pain at his blood soaked fur when he is injured. But the CGI is at its best when Kong starts to acrobatically leap around the area, annihilating anyone who tries to get in his way and even using his bare hands to smack a helicopter down as if he were spiking a volleyball at one point in the movie.
With its faced-paced story and likable characters we care about, Kong: Skull Island can easily be mistaken for the perfect (monster) movie. Unfortunately, it is nowhere close to that. A lot of the characters felt like thinly sketched calefare rather than fully-explored people. As ironic as it may sound, the supporting cast also appeared to be more fleshed out and intriguing compared to the rest of the main cast who put in good performances but were overall still pretty one dimensional. For the record, the supporting cast statement which I made does not apply to Jing Tian who was as useless as tits on a nun in the movie. You could tell that she was included in the movie just to tick the box on ethnic diversity.
I don’t expect a monster movie like Kong: Skull Island to have powerful levels of humanistic examination which Dawn of the Planet of the Apes achieved with astounding maturity but the attempt by Roberts to force some form of humanity in Kong is at best shallow. The scenes which play out the softer side of Kong is artificial; barely scraping the surface of the topic and very much like a touch-and-go scenario which doesn’t make for anything worth thinking or even caring about.
For what Kong: Skull Island sets out to be – a destruction led monster movie in the merciless jungles of Vietnam during WWII, it is downright awesome. It is however hampered by the lack of focus on the empathetic side of Kong and his human adversaries which I hope they will dabble into a little bit more in future. It is still a great popcorn flick to watch on a big screen with a booming surround sound system. Needless to say, if Kong battling the Skullcrawlers is anything to go by, then Godzilla v Kong will be mindblowing when it finally comes.
Should you spend money on it? Yes
Directed by: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Screenplay by: Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein
Based on: Merian C. Cooper, Edgar Wallace
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Jing Tian, John C. Reilly
Running time: 118 minutes
Genre: Fantasy/Science fiction