King Kong drops his royal heritage for his grand return in Kong: Skull Island; supposedly the next film in Legendary’s MonsterVerse. How does it hold up? Lee reviews.
There’s something to be said for the ‘popcorn movie’; a switch-off experience that allows the viewer to absorb only the odd joke and interesting image and leave the rest behind as a pleasant, comfortable afterthought. It’s a valid form of cinema, and like all forms it has its shining archetypes that take real advantage of the virtues of mindless film in order to give us bigger laughs and more enjoyable moments throughout, and its middle-of-the-road, overwrought, exhausting efforts that, for all the laughs they muster, can’t help but waste valuable viewer time with uninteresting material that bears no reward. Kong: Skull Island is, unfortunately, the latter.
While hopes are set high from an opening that works as a rush of bewildered adrenaline to the system and as a send up of both anime gunfights and classic monster movie/creature feature cinematography of the 50s, the tone and style makes way for the modern equivalent of straight-to-DVD B-movies: stylistically trying but unconvincingly cheap and without substance.
Characterisation isn’t a must in a popcorn movie, but it at least must be consistent: if we’re not really supposed to be here for the characters, why do we keep getting slow-down moments of the characters bonding? If we’re not supposed to care, why do we keep being asked to? We have a great cast of goofy one-liner spouting characters here, who really do their best to keep the fun alive, but then cut so often to Hiddleston’s Conrad, Larson’s Waver and Jackson’s Packard who exist for no reason other than to further a total nothing of a plot and bring the mood down? The philosophising here isn’t interesting, or upbeat, or fun, and there’s much too much of it to ignore.
There’s some genuine creativity on show throughout, especially in the monsters and hazards the group are up against, but the movie never figures out how to pace itself. As the company is split into three distinct groups for most of the movie, each transition requires set-up to allow us to understand where these people are and how they’re feeling, leaving around a quarter of the movie as a waiting game as the movie tries to catch up with itself. While the action is quick and pulpy, reminiscent of a panel-to-panel comic book effect, things never stay that way for long as the film bombards us with exposition and much too much plot in a total mistranslation of what the audience should be seeing.
The main issue really isn’t much to do with what the film had to show, but how it had to show it. The potential here was so much greater than the execution, and after the buzz of a first watch, you’ll glance back to the movie and ask why did we spend so much time building a plane boat? Why did we spend so much time pretending to be interested in the natives and their way of life? Why did anyone go along with Packard’s demands for so long when they could have turned on him at any point? Simple writing questions that should have been snuffed out much earlier on instead of leading us down a contrived, endless pursuit of nothing.
As for Kong, the updating of his lore from romantic man to Byronic man was a necessary, if predictable, move. No risks were taken, but that’s not necessarily a fault, just a note. The movie sidesteps or at least quietly nods to old traditions, like the ‘beauty and the beast’ fallacy and the introspection into man’s corrupt capitalist mind, and there is certainly praise to be given for trying to take Kong in the far simpler direction of stoic ape guardian.
For some, this will tick all the right boxes; there are just enough memorable scenes to play happily in the mind on rewind. For most, this will be a surprisingly boring experience, setting a stylistic bar far too high for it to meet and constantly diverting your attention from all that fun jungle survival stuff to give you another lecture on the lore of some island you don’t care about.
It was great to see Thomas Mann in this though; felt like it all might be one of his many mash-ups from Me, Earl and the Dying Girl. “Baboon” came to my mind; too esoteric?