Kong: Skull Island (2017)
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John C. Reilly
Synopsis: A team of scientists explore an uncharted island in the Pacific, venturing into the domain of the mighty Kong, and must fight to escape a primal Eden.
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (For intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for brief strong language)
Release Date: March 10, 2017
The iconic ape Kong has enjoyed nearly a century's worth of portrayal on the big screen, the first being in 1933 in King Kong (Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack). Since then, there have been six more film adaptations that have brought the character to life, with each film taking advantage of the more advanced special effects available of the day.
The latest on-screen depiction comes a mere decade after the previous with Kong: Skull Island. The premise, however, is a bit different than previous installments. You won't find an Ann Darrow or final battle on top of the Empire State Building. Nevertheless, the film begins similarly with a group of scientists seeking out the mysterious Skull Island in search of riches. After becoming stranded on the island after a sudden attack by Kong, the survivors must navigate their way to the island's coast to a rescue ship that leaves in a matter of days.
Kong: Skull Island seeks to distinguish itself from the previous Kong films. And it does that by varying the story. Unfortunately, that's also where the film crashes. The film is populated with characters that, quite frankly, no one will really care about. You won't care if they survive the ordeal on the island or get eaten alive or torn in half by one of the island's monsters. The reason? The film instead diverts its attention almost entirely to the special effects. Don't get me wrong: it's a very good thing that a film about a giant ape wants to delivery the goods to the eyes of its audience--you expect that going into the film--and it delivers. But the filmmakers try so hard to please your eyes that they don't leave room (or care) to deliver much else in the form of interesting characters to root for. Sadly, this includes the character of Kong himself. For much of the film's bloated running time, Kong smashes, rips apart, and produces enough carnage to please any disaster-happy filmgoer. But the film almost never relents--it constantly bombards you with the action that it becomes numbing and even dull. This is sad because in smaller doses, I believe the action would be more entertaining.
What further drags Skull Island down is the fact that Kong's character and the film itself is devoid of the emotion that drove Peter Jackson's 2005 adaptation. Andy Serkis is no longer behind the eyes of Kong, and it shows. This time around, Toby Kebbell performs the motion capture. And although Kebbell did terrific work as "Koba" opposite Andy Serkis in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (Matt Reeves, 2014), he's unable to capture the emotion due to always being engaged in a battle with humans or other monsters. Instead, the film gives Kebbell literally 30 seconds to connect with the humans in the film and (quite nonsensically) that's all it takes for the characters to feel sorry for him and try to protect him.
Ultimately, Kong: Skull Island delivers the special effects-laden action sequences most viewers will come for, but instead of balancing those sequences with the quieter, emotion-filled moments as in Peter Jackson's film, Skull Island is content with piling on more action sequences to the point that it becomes dull. That, coupled with the one dimensional human characters that infest the film make Skull Island lack the most powerful element you can put into a film: heart and soul.