Ah, now how’s this for juxtaposition. Last week I was typing a up a review of a film filled with laughter, frolics and fun. A film with whirlwind romance and moving emotional drama, as well as some rather excellent singing. Perhaps by way of withdrawal, I’ve veered to the far end of the spectrum and picked a very serious film filled with blood, guts and napalm. A film in which big manly men fight horrifying monstrosities from the depths of the earth. And yet I ask you this: between the film I’ve just mentioned and the one with the dancing candlestick with the voice of Ewan McGregor, which do you think is the more ridiculous?
So here we have Kong: Skull Island, the second film in what is now known as Legendary’s ‘MonsterVerse’, which if you’ve been following movie news is the franchise that has been born out of Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla reboot and an almost fetishistic desire for wanton destruction. The comparison more or less ends there, though. While the new Godzilla earned some well-deserved stick for barely featuring any actual footage of its titular monster, Kong: Skull Island goes in the other direction and really puts the monsters front and centre. I mention this now, because it’s about the only thing praiseworthy. Some of the cinematography in this film is stunning, with the huge tropical island setting working much more effectively than sprawling cityscape du-jour. The visuals are very impressive and the monster design very imaginative, with the giant spidery bastard making my skin crawl. And forewarning; if you thought Peter Jackson’s creepy-crawlies from his version were horrible, just wait until the blood starts flowing here. The viscera has been ramped up in couple with the pyrotechnics, and as such makes the Vietnam-era setting work reasonably well, although they do rather hammer that home, to the point where I was pleasantly surprised by the fact that the film doesn’t feature Fortunate Son by Creedance Clearwater Revival at any point.
Well now that I’ve got the good stuff out of the way, let’s get down to the bad stuff. Firstly, the plot of this film is utterly stupid, with more holes in it than the bullet riddled lizards that pop up later on. Not that good kind of stupid either, like Pacific Rim, where you can tolerate it with a pinch of salt. I mean the self-contradicting kind of stupid, where the island surrounded by storm can only be approached by air until later on when they decide that boats can get through after all. Or when the leading lady tells the blokes that the world will never hear the story of what happened despite having spent the entire film photographing their shenanigans. The film boasts an all-star cast, but none of them receive adequate screen time to flex their acting muscles, with poor Tom Hiddleston reduced to just another soldier in a film populated almost entirely with them. And there’s so many of the bastards, played by minor actors, why on earth are we supposed to care when they inevitably end up as one of Kong’s pre-dinner snacks? The only uniform of interest is Samuel L. Jackson’s Colonel Packard, but he’s effectively just Captain Ahab in a flight suit, conveniently obsessing over the giant murdering gorilla that massacred his platoon. Yes, he apparently is the villain here. This something about the Kong movies that I’ve never really understood. The filmmakers constantly try to make him into some wronged individual, but I take no shame in admitting that if a 100-foot tall man-eating primate decided to eviscerate my pals, I’d probably want to kill the hairy blighter as well! Oh but he’s alright compared to the ‘skullcrawlers’ or whatever they’re called.
And that brings me to my biggest problem with this film. It isn’t funny. Like, at all. Oh it tries very hard to be, with John C. Reilly crowbarred in as the bonkers WWII pilot who’s been on the island the whole time. I love that actor, I really do, so it’s tragic to see him reduced to playing the fool like this, especially with the absolutely atrocious quality of writing he is expected to work with. Diversity is an issue here, as well. It’s quite clear that what with the setting and everything the studio needed to portray Oriental people in more ways than Vietnamese prostitutes, so they inserted a Chinese biologist into the science team that makes up the exploratory mission onto the island. But if you’re going to do that, script-writers, then for heaven’s sake have her actually say something! Don’t just hand her an M16 and have her to tag along with everyone else without asking questions!
On the whole, Kong: Skull Island is exactly what I expected it to be. It’s entertaining, to a degree, with lots of blood and explosions flying around to keep you enthralled, and if you’re a Hiddlestoner then the scene in which he dons a gas mask and hacks at flying lizards with a katana sword will have you foaming at the mouth. It’s visually quite engaging, but that’s about it. With no substance to the characters or plot, there’s little to recommend this film as essential viewing, but it’s not so awful that I can condemn it to a bottomless pit either. Soundtrack’s alright, but I hope you like military bugles and Black Sabbath, because by Christ are you going to hear a lot of it. Certainly the film looks very nice, but don’t look too closely or you’ll see the thread from where they stitched it together. Slam down a few pints beforehand and then never think about it again, because that’s the best way to view this sort of thing.