Kong: Skull Island is a monster action film directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts and stars an ensemble cast including Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John C. Reilly, John Goodman and Toby Kebbell. The second film in Legendary Pictures’ MonsterVerse, the fictional cinematic universe which focuses on monster films including King Kong and Godzilla, Kong acts as a reboot of the King Kong series.
Set in the 1970s, post Vietnam War, a team consisting of scientists, military men, a tracker and a photojournalist embark on an expedition to Skull Island, one of the few remaining islands which has yet to be discovered by man. Immediately upon discovery, the crew unload seismic bombs onto the island, which results in a face to face encounter with the giant monstrous ape that is Kong, who unleashes his wrath on the crew.
Having been conveniently split up into two groups, one consisting the military men led by Samuel L. Jackson’s character and the other consisting of the civilians, led by Tom Hiddleston’s character, the two teams must survive and make their way through treacherous terrain to meet at the edge of the island for the recovery team.
The film quickly illustrates an interesting dichotomy between the two teams; the military team are solely focused on recovering the missing men from their unit, moving through the island without a care of the land, chopping down whatever flora and fauna are in their way. Their approach is quickly recognised as ‘shoot first ask questions later’, which is in contrast to the civilian team, whose approach is far more respectful and cautious. The civilians move through the island slowly, are careful not to cause any disruption and get a lay of the land by meeting the local indigenous tribe.
This contrast immediately shows us the direction in which the film will take as overall, Kong: Skull Island is relatively predictable. As a monster film, it is glaringly obvious that the notion of ‘kill or be killed’ will take precedence and is easily seen in the way in which the military decide to handle their situation and the large threat that is Kong. In this regard, the film opens our eyes to the fact that humans are the real threat for they fear and destroy that which they don’t understand
On the other hand, the film also illustrates tolerance, compassion and respect for other cultures in that the civilians are welcomed in by the local tribe upon meeting John C. Reilly’s character, a man who has been trapped in Skull Island for over 20 years. His character brings a breath of fresh air in the way he seems to understand the island and its inhabitants. One of the aspects which I enjoyed was the way he referred to the tribe as the ‘iwi’, which means tribe, which I saw as a nice little link to New Zealand.
Despite portraying human nature at both ends of the spectrum, that is, being cruel and unforgiving, as well as understanding and respectful, Kong: Skull Island does not depict much in the way of narrative and story in its plot. For a monster action film of its kind, one would expect there to be some form of backstory into the island, the characters, or the very least, Kong himself. However, despite there being an inkling of a story and an opportunity to delve deeper into the island and characters’ history, Kong: Skull Island simply does not entertain this crucial film device. The film also lacks in character development, where, apart from John C. Reilly’s character, we know barely anything about anyone else and feel nothing for them. This results in a character’s death meaning nothing to us. The only character that we, as viewers, truly come to care about is John C. Reilly, who despite being the comic relief has more to offer us as viewers than the ensemble cast combined. We learn bits and pieces about Kong and the island through him and his is the only backstory given, wherein we learn how he ended up on Skull Island, leaving a wife and son out in the world, waiting for him. Of the entire cast, he is the one character we can truly sympathise with. In essence, with no compelling story-line nor any real character development, Kong: Skull Island is nothing more than a mindless monster action film.
However, the film is visually stunning and enjoyable as an action film to veg out to. Being set in the 1970s, the scenery, clothing and general ‘look’ of the film was appropriate for its time, which made viewers feel as if they were back in the past. What was even more visually gratifying is the serenity and beauty of Skull Island, despite being a dangerous place. The island is shown to be a truly stunning landscape, illustrating how advanced technology is today that filmmakers are able to create such beauty artificially. Even the inhabitants of the island looked marvelous using CGI graphics. Kong, in particular, looked realistic and the iwi’s costumes and makeup was simply breathtaking. If for nothing else, film-goers should watch this film for it’s visual feats. My favourite technique used in the film is the way in which photographs taken in colour were depicted on the screen in black and white, which, to me, was a way of reminding us and emphasising the time period we were in.
Of course, no action film is complete without an amazing soundtrack. The other way the film reinforces the 70s time period is through the use of classic rock music of the time. This was especially cool when coupled with brilliant action scenes and truly made the experience all the more lively. After all, heading into war just isn’t the same without the Bestie Boys playing in the background.
Kong: Skull Island may not be a masterpiece of a film, with a lacking story and characters that viewers truly didn’t care about, however, it certainly sets the stage for future monster films and crossovers, such as the potential remake of the epic Kong vs Godzilla film. Despite falling short in many areas, this rather standard monster film is great to pass the time and a perfect film to unwind to.