We are now in the month of March, and the big movie titles are slowly going to begin hitting theaters. One of the 30 films on my “2017: Year in Preview” list (#23) was Kong: Skull Island. Although it’s crazy early, this is the biggest blockbuster release of the year to date. Kong features a solid all-star cast, led by Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson and Brie Larson. In addition, the supporting cast is very strong with John Goodman, John C. Reilly, Shea Whigham and Corey Hawkins, who is beginning to become a legitimate A-list name after his successful role in Straight Outta Compton and recently being a leading cast member on two popular small screen franchises, The Walking Dead and 24: Legacy.
The movie centers around a team of scientists (John Goodman and Corey Hawkins) who want to obtain the government’s permission and funding to explore an unknown Pacific island. Once permission was granted, they recruit a war hero (Samuel L. Jackson), a nature specialist and skilled navigator (Tom Hiddleston), and a photo journalist (Brie Larson) to lead the team and accompany them on the mission. Against their better judgment, the team goes on the journey of their lives.
Unfortunately for some, it would be their last.
I would like to start off by giving a public service announcement – you do not need to see this movie in 3D. For the extra bucks it costs, you don’t get any extra value from watching it through the hard and uncomfortable 3D glasses versus the regular HD version. There are one or two scenes where the 3D pops nicely, but the overall experience of the movie isn’t enhanced much. In fact I’ll be honest – I think the 3D viewings are highly overrated since so many distribution companies love to push it onto movies that don’t need it just so they can make more money at the ticket window. Avatar and the Star Wars films really are the only movies I remember seeing where the 3D definition made the experience magical. Alright, I’ll get off my soapbox.
The first 20 minutes of the movie lag, and I began to wonder what direction this movie was going to turn. I am not familiar with the director, Jordan Vogt-Roberts, so I was going in blind, much as the characters in the story were in their quest. Of course, the only difference being that I was warm and comfortable in a movie theater on a cold, wintry day, while they were hot and uneasy traveling to an unknown part of the planet.
Though the story was lagging and the script seemed weak, the camera shots and cinematography were very strong. I was beginning to think that this would be more of a military minded film than a monster film.
And then came Kong!
Kong, the king of this island, made a triumphant debut onto the screen destroying everything that moved. The giant ape was impressive on screen. The solo killing machine was louder and bigger than ever. Not only does the journey change for the crew at that point, but the movie changes for the audience as well. From that point on, Kong no longer lagged as it had early on, and it had more successes than failures overall.
If you’re looking to see this movie, hoping for an epic “man vs. Kong” battle, you’re going to be mostly disappointed. In fact, I was surprised myself. The freakishly large monsters than inhabit Skull Island are actually the true antagonists of the film. In fact, the movie may have been better off just being titled Skull Island, and featured Kong as one of its residing beasts.
As I mentioned, I really appreciated the cinematography, phtography and visual effects here. The monsters were very original, and the fight scenes between both the humans and the monsters and the monsters themselves were thrilling. They all appeared very realistic, and the landscape was gorgeous.
Speaking of landscape, I can’t fault the highly talented cast of actors who starred in this picture for accepting their respective roles, despite being beneath their skill sets. None of the stars in this cast truly got to flex their acting muscles in this one, but I’m sure they figured as much coming into it. For instance, Brie Larson, who just won an Oscar last year, was used more for eye candy than anything else. She obviously had lines in the film, but none of them were memorable and some were placed at odd times. It was probably a blast filming this movie, though, in a tropical, vacation-type setting. Oh yeah, and I’m sure they were paid handsomely on top of that. That always helps.
There were a few things that I did not appreciate, though. For one, despite being an awesome bad-ass as always, Samuel L. Jackson didn’t give us a classic “M-F” line once! The movie is PG-13, so I guess I should’ve known better, but it still sucks. Also, John C. Reilly being in this movie was strange and out of place. He served as the comic relief, but I still found his performance very awkward. His humor wasn’t funny (which was just as much the fault of the screenwriter), and his serious parts were cheesy and unbelievable.
To be fair, it wasn’t just his lines that were cheesy. Several attempts at light-hearted humor throughout the script fell extremely short. The cast of Kong was the major difference between this movie being in theaters versus a straight to DVD project.
Overall, despite being predictable (even if you don’t see it, you probably know how it plays out) and slow in the beginning, Kong:Skull Island met its agenda of at least being entertaining. The direction of the movie was inconsistent (at times it felt like Apocalypse Now meets Jurassic Park, but not nearly as good as either), but came together in the end just enough to quench your “monster movie” thirst…especially if you stick around for the cool scene at the end of the closing credits.
MATTER RATING: 6/10
OSCAR SCALE: 8/10 (visual effects, sound effects)
BY: CHRIS GUEST