By Jason Yon
Elm Staff Writer
Once again, the arrival of the summer movie season is upon us, this time with “Kong: Skull Island,” the eighth incarnation of the hulking ape on the big screen. In this version, the monster and the characters inhabit the turbulent 1970s, just after the removal of troops from Vietnam. “Kong: Skull Island” boasts a star-studded cast from Samuel L. Jackson to John Goodman to Tom Hiddleston and fantastic CGI sequences featuring the titular monster. Unfortunately, the movie has received strong criticism for lack of characters and writing, something which is not all too surprising for a big budget summer monster movie like this.
While a majority of the human characters are rather shallow, “Kong: Skull Island” essentially follows an expedition of scientists, led by Bill Randa (goodman), to the uncharted Pacific island known as Skull Island. Tagging along with the scientists is a combat photo journalist, a discharged SAS soldier, some hollow earth theorists, and a division of helicopter cavalry headed by Preston Packard (L. Jackson). The surface explanation for the trip is to search the island for subterranean resources, but Randa is really looking for evidence of MUTO’s, or Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms, which he had first-hand experience with while serving in the Navy. Randa’s poking and prodding brings Kong out into the open, where he destroys all of the helicopters. Scattered and hurt, the expedition team must struggle to survive in the dangerous jungles and swamps of Skull Island.
What “Kong: Skull Island” truly succeeds in are the visuals and creature design. This is the second CGI interpretation of the King Kong character and arguably the largest and best. His fight scenes are the main draw of the movie even though they are few and far between. Kong’s imposing presence certainly steals the show when he is in frame. Opposite Kong is an array of bizarre and frightening creatures from giant spiders and squids to pterodactyl birds and skullcrawlers. Nearly everything on the island poses a threat to the intrusive expedition crew, and all of the creatures are as dangerous as they look. The contrast between the natural wonders of Skull Island and the militarized humans is highlighted by the color palette. “Kong: Skull Island” uses the vibrant oranges of a hazy sunset and napalm with worn olive drab to great effect. In short, the movie simply looks great.
Even though the visuals are fantastic, they do little to cover up the failings of the characters and story. The only two interesting characters are Packard, who is seeking vengeance on Kong for the casualties inflicted upon his division, and Hank Marlow, a WWII pilot who became stranded on the island. The stories of these characters are cut short to make space for the rest of the useless characters in the movie. These are the only two characters with a drive that the audience really care about, or are given time to care about. Most of the characters are expendable, forgettable, or just simply not fleshed out and explained.
So, while “Kong: Skull Island” has everything set in the CGI and fight scene department, it is heavily lacking in regards to characters and story, which honestly is not the point of a movie like this. It can survive perfectly fine with just great action scenes. What makes it suffer more than it should are the unapologetic and blatant references to the Kong/ Godzilla universe mash-up and the forced situations to play a recognizable song for a few seconds. There are people that won’t be bothered by this, or maybe even pleased by the connections to the 2014 Godzilla film, but it is disturbing to see movies fall into the franchise trap. That being said, “Kong: Skull Island” is not completely broken and is a perfect source for awesome monster fights and Vietnam-era vibes.