The same story can only be told so many times. Kong: Skull Island retains the classic message, but reframes it in a new story.
Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, the director behind the fantastic Kings of Summer, Kong: Skull Island is about a group of scientists who contracts a team to explore the mysterious Skull Island. This is a continuation of the universe set up by the 2014 film Godzilla. However, this is starkly different, for the better.
Godzilla premiered with mostly positive reviews, as it is a competent and exciting action movie. However, an oppressively dark tone, flat characters, and practically no discernible dialogue bog down Godzilla. Kong: Skull Island improves in all of these categories.
Kong: Skull Island is commendable for its tone, as it is incredibly funny, which should be used more widely in modern action movies. This tone is reminiscent of the action-adventure movies prevalent in the 1980s through mid-2000s, which has been largely absent recently. A lot of the humor comes from characters calling out the absurdity of the situation. However, instead of feeling meta, it feels like natural human reactions. The movie in general does not take itself too seriously.
If you’ve seen a trailer for Kong: Skull Island, you have probably noticed there is a large prominent cast. Yes, there definitely is an abundance of characters, so much so that not a single character’s name was memorable. It is clearly obvious that many exist to be killed off. Some for catharsis, some for emotion, and yet this is not problematic. The only character that matters is Kong. This large cast exists mostly to tell separate narratives across the island, and yet is not a burden.
These characters are flat, yet they are interestingly distinct. These performances are so sincere that it is somewhat disappointing that these outstanding actors did not have more to work with. However, what is presented is sufficient enough to ground the story, yet highlight Kong. They may be caricatures, but they act and talk like real people. The introduction of these characters gives just enough information to describe the characters and their initial motives. It moves at a strong tempo, never becoming overwhelmed in exposition, and sets forth all that is needed.
One thing that majorly stood out in Godzilla was the imagery of a red flare gun. However, it served little purpose besides creating a nice visual. This is really one of the only connections in Kong: Skull Island to Godzilla (stay through the credits, though!), as the red flare is reproduced, actually serving a minor point in the story. It does also present a nice visual, but it is just one among many in a gorgeous film.
The composition of practically every shot is beautiful. The movie is able to convey emotion and portray action through masterful cinematography. It also has an interesting color palette, which shifts throughout the movie as they move through the island, significantly assisting the tone. Kong: Skull Island, is influenced by many movies, notably Apocalypse Now. This connection is highlighted in the trailers, but mostly riffs on it through the visuals, especially in a spectacle of helicopters.
Kong: Skull Island is different from other King Kong movies, yet manages to retain the general message. In Peter Jackson’s 2005 King Kong, Kong is not revealed until almost an hour into the movie. In Kong: Skull Island, he appears about five minutes in. The movie recognizes the audience knows the story and wants to provide something new, by strangely both maintaining and defying expectations. Because the audience knows Kong will be in the movie, there is really no point in concealing him. In this way, it is evident early on that Kong is not the villain.
Notably, Kong: Skull Island is different from its predecessors because it is missing the classic iconography. Kong does not scale the Empire State Building with the damsel in his hand. The relationship between Brie Larson’s character and Kong is simply rooted in kindness; there is nothing uncomfortable about it. Although Jackson’s King Kong is beautiful in its own ways, it is also a nice change that Kong: Skull Island is not overindulgent like his. It moves at a strong pace for a great length, never overstaying its welcome.
Kong: Skull Island was never going to be a stirring character piece, but it should not be faulted for being an entertaining movie. It is fun and scary, yet also throws in a message promoting kindness and tolerance. Kong: Skull Island manages to innovate within an enduring genre using a classic character.