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Review: "Kong: Skull Island"

by Chris Feil

Kong is back for another franchise chasing smash-em-up with a slight reimagining in Kong: Skull Island. This time director Jordan Vogt-Roberts is aiming almost exclusively for amusement park thrills after Peter Jackson’s high gloss, Very Serious take a decade ago. While the film does deliver the fun with its own visual zeal and resistance to some of the staples of Kong’s past, Skull Island is best met with limited expectations...

Set at the tail end of the Vietnam War, the film follows a crew of scientists and soldiers charged with proving existence of subterranean monsters on a hidden island in the Pacific. The film doesn’t wait too long to introduce the big guy, who promptly wreaks havoc and separates the team. The journey to their rendezvous point provides a host of natives, giant bugs, and massive lizard creatures built to take down Kong himself. Despite its noisy spectacle, its modest, straightforward B-movie ambitions are a relief compared to its brooding and convoluted contemporaries - Skull Island wants to be little more than a monster movie on a large scale.

While its zippy and occasionally awe-inspiring visuals are sometimes dampened by jerky editing, the abruptly paced film is the kind of digestible confection in too short supply these days for big budget actioners. The mayhem isn’t without wit, and it delights in toying with the audience for plenty of genuine squirm-inducing moments. Many of its gorgeous attempts at iconography have already been spent in trailers, but the Larry Fong cinematography is quite dynamic.

Where it does often come up short is its characterizations of its inordinately large (but thankfully diverse) ensemble. Forget remembering their names or particulars: its focus is spread too thin over too many mild archetypes, the stakes more defined than the characters. The best results are the unexpected chemistry between buddies Jason Mitchell and Shea Whigham, and John C. Reilly’s uncloying charm. Brie Larson and John Goodman remain some of our most watchable actors when given very little to work with. Tom Hiddleston fares the worst, our beigest leading actor best left in the hands of auteurs like Jim Jarmusch.

Tropes in the Jurassic Park mold may be present here, but Skull Island is also refreshing for remaining unbeholden to Kong lore. Though it may mean less of an emotional connection to the giant ape than we’ve had in the past, the film shakes off repeated themes and story beats to find a scrappier monster hero. If the tradeoff of less human characters is a more animalistic Kong, this result is at least looser and more enjoyable.

Perhaps more satisfying as a rollercoaster than the groundwork for a new franchise, Kong: Skull Island is something of a firmly qualified success as a genre piece.

Grade: C+

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Reader Comments (30)

So, less ambitious than Peter Jackson. Okay.

March 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

I don't get this site's obsession with short movies. Brevity isn't always a good thing. If a movie moves too fast it risks losing that oomph factor.

March 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTr

This remind me of "King Kong Escapes"

March 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

Brie Larson snubbed the BAFTA ceremony to film this. BAFTA generally don't take to no-shows very well.

March 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEmma

Brie Larson just clarified her stand towards Casey Affleck at the Oscars, saying that her action spoke for itself (not clapping, not shaking his hands). But then let me ask you Brie: why are you so friendly towards Christian Slater who has also been accused of sexual harassment?
Sure, she's entitled to taking a stand with sexually harassed women but she appears as a hypocrite to me. First she doesn't quite know ALL the facts, surrounding the case (nobody does) and second if she's so against those who have ben accused of sexual harassment, why the different reaction to Casey vs Slater? Talk about double standards writ large!

March 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMMNis


She probably wasn't aware of Slater's past. I wasn't.

March 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTr

Didn't care for this movie. It's so endlessly stupid and clueless. But I was also confused by how damn big King Kong is meant to he. He couldn't climb the Empire State this time. He's already reach the observation deck! He's so huge and yet nobody ever seems to hear him coming.

March 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

@Tr: Slater's case was as public, if not more, than Affleck's.

March 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMMNis

Glenn: Well, his big impressive moment this time is supposed to be getting in a title fight with 2014 Godzilla. So, yeah: He needs to be bigger.

March 9, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Brie needs to chill the fuck out - I know she' a hardcore feminist and all...
but she - we - will never know the full extent of what happened on the set of "I'm Not There" - right now it's just a "they said, he said"- situation.
I'm willing to give Casey the benefit of the doubt.

By the way, the Slater thing was really minor - he grabbed a strange girl's ass on the street while drunk.

About the Kong: Skull Island - I thoroughly enjoyed it. Much more entertaining than Peter Jackson's bloated version.
The CGI was - for the most part - really beautiful.
The action was handled very well - some exciting pieces.
Hiddleston had no charisma - wasn't convincing as a leader/leading man/action guy.
Clearly miscast.
Sam Jackson does his usual Sam Jackson-schtick.
Brie makes funny faces when she runs! And she runs a lot in the movie!
Nothing more than a damsel in distress; I'm sure Brie Larson would hate hearing that - being a feminist and all.
John C. Reilly - decent comic relief.

March 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterUlrich

^ "I'm Still Here" I meant.

March 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterUlrich

It may have been the whiskey but I remember Brie CLEARLY giving him a hug when he came up to get his award so she needs to have a seat.

March 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDerreck.

I hope she wasn't molested by the ape like Jessica Lange was in the 70's. That scene is repulsive! Why are people going after her personally? She is just an actor.

March 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJono

"Brie needs to chill the fuck out"

She didn't clap for Casey Affleck. She hardly brought a protest sign with her on stage.

March 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn Dunks

Slater's case was as public, if not more, than Affleck's.

Larson was born in '89. Slater's scandal is a relic to the world.

March 10, 2017 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

Larson was born in '89. Slater's scandal is a relic to the world.

No sexual harassment is a relic to the world no matter what year it took place, or whether you are aware of it or not. Just ask the victim.

March 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMMNis

MMNis -- this is also the first i'm hearing of this Slater thing.

Glenn -- the size comment doesn't give me hope. I hate movies that can't get basic things like that straight about its monsters.

March 10, 2017 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Yes, she might not know the personal history of each human being she interacts with, even if it was public information (a long time ago). None of us do. Hardly makes her a hypocrite.

March 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

The reason why you haven't heard about Slater's "scandal" is because the incident was so minor!
He grabbed some strange woman's ass - maybe he squeezed it - while he was drunk.

March 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterUlrich

Gah, dunno about this one. I love Brie and like (well, ok, lust after) Hiddleston and the rest of the cast seems good, but I don't see any need for another Kong movie. I actually really liked Peter Jackson's take, though I haven't seen it again since it came out.

And as for Hiddleston, he does well in some big-budget, non-auteurist roles (e.g., Loki). And there are *far* "beiger" leading men out there! (Sam Worthington jumps to mind, although Hollywood may finally have given up on making him a leading man.)

March 10, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterlylee

Peter Jackson's KK remake was pretty sucky. He was like a 12-year old who was given a zillion dollars to make a monster movie, and there were no adults around to reign him in just a little. So it was a bit of an overblown mess.

Not sure about this remake. I'd try it on Netflix, I guess.

PS Brie Larson is cool. Leave her be!

March 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterRob

Am I the only one who likes the Jessica Lange version? lol

It is really a lot of fun. Cheesy but definitely fun.

March 10, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

FTR I like the Peter Jackson version too, but if that one is an overpriced champagne, this one is like a refreshing soda. Tasty junk!

I was however hoping Brie had more to do

March 10, 2017 | Registered CommenterChris Feil

brookesboy: I like the Lange version too! A handsome production, juicy cast, good Kong - a nice companion piece to the '33 classic. Jackson's take comes in third for me: good in parts but overlong and a bit silly.

March 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterEdward L.

Rob: He was over passionate, sure, but I wouldn't say the problem with that was he was acting like a 12 year old and needed an adult to reign him in. More like he was trying to make the "prestige" version of King freaking Kong (THREE, count 'em THREE, bleeping hours long, with Kong not on screen for 90 minutes (to bust out a nerd joke: So it's like how Ang Lee did Hulk?) and, if anything, needed a kid to reign him in.

March 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

The reason why you haven't heard about Slater's "scandal" is because the incident was so minor!

It was all over the news for 2-3 weeks so to brush it off as 'minor' would be an understatement. He was arrested and charged (till the charges were dropped). The facts in his case were clear(drunk was just an excuse). So Brie, if you're reading this, take note.

March 10, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMMNis

MMNis, you're what alt right douches complain about when they rail against social justice warriors. Nobody cares about some brief drunken harassment by Slater in the 80's or 90s. Brie Larson is not a hypocrite. End of story.

March 11, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterTr

While I thought Logan was wayyyy too long and didn't deserve the enthusiastic critical response (sure it was better than the first outings but was it that difficult ?), i really liked this new Kong, not only because it runs less than two hours, but it was so refreshing after Logan's 137 minutes !!!
I also loved the cinematography, visual effects, John C. Reilly having to play a fun character for the first time in ages ..... It didn't mean to be anything more than just a great big adventure and it succeeded in my opinion. Another thing to enjoy and to cherish was the anti-war message throughout the movie.

March 11, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterClement_Paris

Tr, my point is there has to be consistency if Brie wants to act all that self-righteous against sexual abusers. And to dismiss a sexual harassment case as one that nobody cares about shows who the true social justice warrior is. The fact is she went on and on to justify her stand against abusers having played two characters in two movies, Room and Short Term 12, blah, blah, blah. She's a hypocrite. End of story.

March 11, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterMMNis

C+ for me, too. Stupid but fun

March 15, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJesus Alonso

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