Much of the promotional footage in the lead up to Kong: Skull Island really focused on the sheer size of the king of the apes, as he towers above people silhouetted by a crimson setting sun. Many of the previous incarnations of King Kong have him seem much smaller. (aside from when he fought the gigantic lizard Godzilla)
What differed coming into Jordan Vogt-Roberts second directorial feature was the backdrop Kong: Skull Island was set. There is a quick introduction of the main cast, where Vogt-Roberts washes the screen in vivid reds and blue, reminiscent of Nicholas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives. John Goodman’s snatches the opening lines with “We’ll never see a more messed up time in Washington”, but he enlists the help of a former SAS solider James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and anti-war photojournalist Mason Weever, (Brie Larson) both of whom are based in the Far East.
I had a slight trepidation with Brie Larson’s character and whether she was going to become the all-too familiar damsel in distress that has been seen many times in previous King Kong films. But instead Mason Weever manages to provide a stance on the social aspects in 1973 and the ending of Vietnamese War. She disagrees with Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) about whether they lost, or abandoned the war effort, in a quite tense word exchange.
I genuinely thought there was going to be some sort of semblance of a character for Samuel L. Jackson, as he solemnly reflects on his medals, but instead he opts for the vengeful and righteous man that is all too familiar with Sam Jackson. And it has to be said that I wasn’t blown away by any of the performances in Kong: Skull Island as they all seem to just offer occasional glances into the distance at the mythical creature Kong.
As the crew land on the uncharted and undiscovered Skull Island, Vogt-Roberts really indulges the visual aspect of this film and creates some beautiful and awe-inspiring shots of this exotic landscape. But I thought what was really impressive in Kong: Skull Island was Larry Fong’s ability to give the film a strong feeling of a Vietnam War film. If you had taken out the battle with a mythical gigantic creature and placed an opposing army, Kong: Skull Island would be the ideal Vietnamese War film.
Fong’s representation of this is largely helped by the soundtrack choice as they all seem to belong to that period of the late 60s and early 70s as the music has almost become iconic for that time period. This includes the incorporation of characters beginning to question the abandoning of the war effort, whilst the older-grizzled veterans try to look for new enemies to conquer.
The film stands just shy of a two-hour runtime, but unfortunately for me, it seemed to be longer and I think this is down to there being a huge amount of walking through this exotic landscape discussing the next steps and what’s going to happen, which is just not needed. Understandably, some of this is needed, but not for each individual lost in the Skull Island forest.
What was enjoyable about the story is that it was not going to be a third retelling of the 1933 story that started this infatuation of monsters on the big screen. This reimagining of the King Kong story worked, especially as we see him swinging around Skull Island, essentially protecting his territory. But Vogt-Roberts did not forget the roots of this mythical beast, as he has Kong snagged in chains during a fierce battle, referencing the previous incarnations hosting Kong to crowds whilst locked in chains, but also the cinematic battles that featured heavily in Peter Jackson’s forgettable retelling of King Kong.
I have always been a fan of monster films, with Cloverfield and Godzilla being some of my favourites, and what Kong: Skull Island is no different as the battle sequences are just simply mesmerising. Throw in some beautiful exotic landscapes and you got some incredible footage, but was that enough to make a decent film?
No. It was not.
What did not work for me was the wooden characters. The best characters were those of the under Packard’s command and their camaraderie really lifted of the screen, really shadowing that of the main cast. What was effective was the ‘Dear Billy’ included throughout the story as they put detail their own thoughts about Skull Island. Overall Kong: Skull Island works on an action level, but when you begin to scratch beneath the surface, you’re going to come up empty. Just sit back and enjoy the mesmerising battles and beautifully shot landscapes.