Monster films are a much loved, classic film genre. From Creature from the Black Lagoon to Jaws to Tremors, moviegoers have been enamored with tales of larger than life creatures for decades. Kong: Skull Island is the most recent addition to the genre. And like many a monster movie before it, Kong is a mildly entertaining popcorn flick that wasn’t quite as bad as you were expecting.
The film is set in the 1970s, towards the end of the Vietnam War. A pair of scientists (played by John Goodman and Corey Hawkins) convinces a Senator to fund their monster tracking venture into the South Pacific. Accompanied by a photographer (Brie Larson), a survivalist (Tom Hiddleston), a military escort lead by Samuel L. Jackson, and a crew of scientists, they arrive at Skull Island. Cut off from the rest of the world, the journey quickly changes from one of discovery, to one of survival. This island takes no prisoners, and the crew must journey to the other side of the island to find safety.
I saw the film in 3D and IMAX, courtesy of Allied Screenings, and quickly forgot that I was watching in 3D. While Skull Island is a beautiful place, the scale of CGI creatures and environment made it difficult for the 3D viewing to have much effect on the audience. Incredibly, Kong’s size was unimpressive, even though he is larger in this film than previous iterations. Save some money and skip the 3D and IMAX on this one.
The acting in the film is fine, although Brie Larson and John C. Reilly shine the most. Larson has a subdued presence, but her character is smart, quick thinking, and (thankfully) doesn’t emit an ear piercing shriek when the monsters arrive. True to King Kong lore, Kong treats her with more care than the other characters. Reilly is by far the most loveable character in the film, and he injects some much needed humor into the story.
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There are some positive changes to the story from your typical monster flick. First, the women (Larson and Tian Jing) deal with the deteriorating situation as well as the men do. There is no screaming, crying, or fainting. While Larson is saved by Kong at one moment, in an earlier scene, her quick thinking saves Tom Hiddleston. Secondly, not one but two black men survive the film, helping combat the trope that the black character always dies first. That said things are not all perfect. John C. Reilly’s character lives among a tribe of natives who are entirely silent. His explanation is that they rarely ever speak and the film leaves Reilly to explain Skull Island to the newcomers and the audience. The natives are played by a group of Asian actors, most of whom are uncredited. Tian Jing also barely has any speaking lines, compared to her cast members. Their silence struck me, especially amid the push for further representation for Asian actors in Hollywood. That was one major negative that stuck with me after the film was over.
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Skull Island left me pleasantly surprised, as I honestly wasn’t expecting much. It’s a generic monster movie in a lot of ways, and there was nothing there to push this movie up to the ranks of the classics. That said, it certainly isn’t bad, and if you’re looking for pure mindless entertainment, this is the movie for you.
3 Monsters out of 5