Overall: 14/20 = B
I don’t typically make it a habit of going to the theater mid-week. My days are long enough that by the time I get home, I don’t usually want to go out again. I make rare exceptions for Retro Movie Night and an occasional act of desperation. Tonight, was one such night of desperation. Oddly enough, I had the desire to see Kong: Skull Island on the big screen and if I hadn’t done it tonight, the opportunity probably would have slipped through my fingers. I doubt I would have had another free moment to see it before it left my small town theater for good.
To be perfectly honest, there were really only two main reasons I wanted to see this particular monster flick, as it is not my typical fare. 1. Tom Hiddleston is a brilliant actor and I try to see most things he is in. 2. I have a friend who was actually attached to the project, so I felt the need to support her. As for needing to see it on the big screen, I’m not sure. It seemed like if I was going to go watch an ape the size of a building go, well, ape, then it needed to be seen on the big screen to really understand the intensity.
The plot was about as uncomplicated as you could get. People go to an uncharted island, make one giant inhabitant mad, and then wake up another giant angry monster and watch them fight it out. Okay, so maybe it’s slightly more complicated than that, but not by much. In 1973, a group of scientists, escorted by an American military unit, a photojournalist, and a tracker/survival expert attempt to explore an uncharted island. They start off by angering the giant Kong, last survivor of his race and protector of the island when they start dropping seismic charges. The head of the military unit vows vengeance against the great ape for the death of his soldiers, while the remaining survivors really just want to go home. Since everything on that island is trying to kill them, you can imagine how difficult that turns out to be. Eventually Kong gets distracted by some truly persistent lizard-like beings and those humans left alive (not even a 1/6th of the group) skedaddle as fast as their homemade boat will take them. Cue credits.
For a monster flick, this had some familiar and big names associated with it. Samuel L. Jackson leads the military unit as Preston Packard – a man who can’t leave the war behind him. When Kong kills the majority of his men, he goes slightly power-mad and endangers everyone’s life in order to get his vengeance. In order to stop him, Tom Hiddleston as James Conrad (the tracker) and John C. Reilly as Marlow (a 1945 war pilot surviving on the island) take drastic steps, forming an alliance of sorts with Kong. Brie Larson flits around as the photojournalist and John Goodman rounds out the cast as the man who started it all in his search for monsters, Bill Randa.
I wish I could say that the rest of the actors had an impact on me, but they were thoroughly unremarkable soldiers. Most of them died too quickly to get to know and the rest spent their time following the orders of a crazy person. One thing I can say about this movie is that it was filled with a lot of grim humor and snarky one-liners which provided some necessary breathing space between deaths. I have a particular fondness for dark humor, so I enjoyed snickering throughout the movie. There is something to be said for a character looking around them in disbelief saying “is this seriously happening right now??” The acting was spot on, however, the characters just weren’t that memorable. There was no character development, no backstories, and nothing to make me feel anything for the characters. I watched a dozen people get ripped apart and/or eaten and all I could think was “that was some great CGI.” The only person who had any sort of development was not a person at all. Kong had a bigger backstory than any other character on that island.
The one thing I can say about this movie is that it has great visuals. The island itself is gorgeous (if not deadly) and if it weren’t for the monsters would have been a true paradise. The CGI for the lizard monsters (or skullcrushers – as they were dubbed), was actually more realistic than that of Kong. Some of Kong’s facial features and even his movements did not seem quite as realistic as they could have been. Granted, animating a human is difficult, much less an 100 foot tall ape. His classic chest slam seemed stilted and I was far more terrified of the Skullcrushers gaping maw than I was of Kong’s iconic roar. However, overall, the cinematography was excellent, right down to the water droplets on the lens from the final battle. Arguably the best scenes were at the beginning as Kong slams helicopter after helicopter out of the sky.
Aside from the humor, the best part of the movie was the music itself. As the movie is set in 1973, the music was made to match. A lot of great early 70s songs were used as the backdrop, particularly as they were beginning and then transitioned into the epic score that Henry Jackman is known for with lots of pounding drums, and full blaring horn sections and high pitched whines to drive the energy forward. I honestly believe it was the music that kept me on the edge of my seat far more than the action on screen. Without that music, it would not have worked out nearly so well.
It was a solid movie with great actors doing the best they could with what they had. The humor was amazing as was the visuals and the music. However, the plot falls a little flat and the characters themselves are sadly not all that memorable.
Adults: Unless you have a particular love of monster movies, I’d wait for it to come out on blu ray. But it is a solid monster movie and does credit to the Kong franchise.
Children: Not really suitable for kids. The monsters aren’t that scary but a lot of people die in creative ways. Not sure it’s the best idea, really.
A max of 5 stars for each category: Plot, Acting, Visuals, Music. Films will receive an overall score out of 20 and an equivalent letter grade.
A = 16-20 stars
B = 11-15 stars
C = 6-10 stars
D = 1-5 stars