After successfully bringing the “King of Monsters” back to cinematic life in 2014, Legendary Pictures turns its attention to another behemoth to further solidify its own cinematic universe of super-species. The second feature film in Legendary’s MonsterVerse that also serves as a reboot of the King Kong franchise, Kong: Skull Island is full of references to the 1933 original and also tries to capture the iconic texture of Apocalypse Now in its images but all of it doesn’t amount to much in the end, for what we have here is yet another generic monster movie that offers nothing new in its retelling of the legend of the giant ape.
Kong: Skull Island follows a team of scientists who, just before the end of Vietnam War, manage to secure the US government funding for the expedition of an uncharted island in the South Pacific. Hiring a British mercenary as their tracker and escorted to the mythic place by US military squadron, the group soon encounters a 100-foot tall bipedal ape who destroys their choppers and leaves them dispersed & stranded in the unmapped territory, thus turning the survey job into a survival race. With danger lurking on every corner, their only hope for rescue is a resupply team that will meet them up north in three days time.
Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, the story begins with a prologue that offers a glimpse of the mighty Kong before heading to pave the necessary groundwork, which is established rather quickly. The first act of Kong: Skull Island is also its strongest, for the premise is set up expertly and the efficient handling of its ominous vibe & sense of foreboding evokes interest. But once all our characters are on the island and the main plot is set into motion, it starts to lose momentum as the director is unable to juggle multiple subplots properly while the simultaneous need of monster mayhem further throws the narrative off-balance.
Many writers worked on the script yet the final draft resulting from their collective effort is neither refreshing nor emotionally engaging. Characterisation is downright terrible, for there isn’t one character in the picture whose arc exhibits an interesting trajectory or whose journey is compelling enough to be worthy of any emotional investment. Making things worse are its lame attempts at humour that fall flat most times and create a jarring effect more often than expected. It’s quite evident that the filmmakers themselves weren’t sure whether they wanted it to be a lighthearted, fun-filled extravaganza or a serious monster flick with dark undertones.
Production design team does well to imbue a sense of mystery & danger to the exotic island, plus all the man-made stuff featured in the movie are in tune with its 1970s timeline. Cinematography attempts to duplicate the haunting aura of Apocalypse Now with its radiant colour palette, skilful use of lighting & shadows but succeeds only in bits n pieces. Slow-mo camerawork is finely utilised during the first encounter with Kong but is ultimately overdone in the end. Add to that, there is virtually nothing in its images that enhance the 3D viewing experience — No point of view shots, no real depth perception, no cleverly placed camera angles, nothing.
Editing is a mixed bag in itself, for the film paves a solid foundation with a promising first act but fails to capitalise on that as pacing flounders in the middle once the story splits into two subplots. Unnecessary pandering, awful application of wit & hollow CGI action is what unfolds after the first 30 minutes before concluding with an uninspiring & predictable finale. Visual effects has its share of strengths & flaws, for the giant ape is rendered in immaculate detail while other kaiju designs are at times laughable, and the battles between the two isn’t even half as exciting as it was in Peter Jackson’s King Kong. Lastly, Henry Jackman’s score isn’t memorable but it does its job nonetheless
Coming to the performances, Kong: Skull Island features a talented ensemble in Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John Goodman & John C. Reilly, with Terry Notary providing the motion capture work for the eponymous giant ape. Hiddleston is alright as the mercenary, Larson does nothing but take photographs & act surprised in her role of a photojournalist, Goodman’s character appears to be lifted right from 10 Cloverfield Lane, Jackson puts on the United States Army gear but keeps his badass persona in tact to deliver a very Samuel L. Jackson-like performance while Reilly is plainly annoying plus the excessive focus on his character was totally unwarranted.
On an overall scale, Kong: Skull Island is just as mediocre an entry in MonsterVerse as Godzilla but it does feature more monster mayhem, even if those brief battles never manage to be wholly engrossing or emotionally fulfilling. It really is a shame because both films had the resources and they both did well during the first act, only to throw it all away in the remaining segments. Characterisation takes a backseat here, which is understandable to an extent, but it still doesn’t result in more focus on the depicted monsters. Most creative choices don’t work out in the film’s favour and, in addition to all that, there is pretty much nothing in it that we haven’t seen before. Falling short on expectations, Kong: Skull Island is yet another monster flick that neither realised its true potential nor looked up to see what was up for grabs. A wasted opportunity.