Kong (2017)

Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts

Contains spoilers.

As is the case with all classic franchises in Hollywood, King Kong was in dire need of a reboot. His revival is lackluster, short not of inspiration but of vision.

Kong: Skull Island takes us back to 1976. The conflict in Vietnam is ending, but satellites have begun to take images of Earth, and subsequently made some startling discoveries. One such discovery is an island, never-before-seen by mankind. Scientists from Monarch, along with those from LandSat, acquire a military escort to the island on a supposed charting mission, even getting an experienced tracker, plus a photojournalist, to come along. As they reach the island and begin to chart and survey, mainly through the use of seismic charges dropped from their helicopters, they're attacked by a massive ape. All of the helicopters are brought down and the force of scientists and soldiers is scattered. They all begin to make their way to the extraction point, learning about the island as they go.

For the purposes of my review, I'll be comparing Kong: Skull Island extensively to the 2014 Godzilla. Unfortunately, because so much of King Kong's presence comes from his overall visage, such as his silhouette and his size, it's utterly difficult to recreate him in a unique and memorable way. In that regard, this new version is forgettable. The rebooted Godzilla accomplished this feat remarkably, in creating a massive dinosaur with realistic proportions and body movements, as well as a memorable face. I finished watching Kong: Skull Island just a few hours ago and I already can't remember his face, except for his teeth. This is in stark contrast to the 2005 remake from Peter Jackson, which introduced a King Kong with a markedly unique face and features.

Vogt-Roberts has done something strangely remarkable, because he's crafted a movie that's quite entertaining, but still not really good. There's lots to like, but Kong strings together a lot of bad as well.

One of the most noticeable things about the film is that there never really seems to be a main character. Everyone seems to take turns being the primary protagonist and none really take the lead. At no point do any of the characters feel real or consistent. There's never enough character building, so we never get to know any of the characters. Yes, the acting is admirable, but there isn't enough story to ever really care about them; the movie ends up being about King Kong, yes, but there isn't enough background about him, either. We get a mish mash of characters, who we don't know enough about to care what happens to them, who die almost randomly.

The story itself starts fairly slowly and then ramps up exponentially on the island. Once everything falls apart, the moments of breathing room and comic relief are welcome, but not enough to provide background information. There's never enough information in this, and on the one hand it creates a feeling of mystery and doubt, but the movie moves too quickly and has too much action to pull off a mysterious atmosphere; there isn't enough suspense compared to the action.

The one great thing about the story is the unkind and chaotic nature of it. Rarely does anyone feel safe because the island is so dangerous. In the same way that the Mad Max franchise created an uncertainty in the way that good and bad things can happen regardless of what the main characters do, Kong: Skull Island also has an air of chaos. The characters do their best to survive in the environment they've found themselves, but the enormous doubt, while not necessarily suspenseful, emphasizes how little control they have and how unsafe they really are.

The world itself that Vogt-Roberts and co. have created is intensive, beautiful, interesting, dangerous, and majestic. To explore the world is fun in the same way that James Cameron's Avatar was so fantastic to explore. The difference is that Avatar had a slowly building story that embraced the world in which it was set, and Kong: Skull Island has a fast-paced story that is directly at odds with it's world.

The photography by Larry Fong may be the best thing about the film. Extreme attention is paid to detail, framing, and lighting. The saturated colors create a constant visual masterpiece. Every shot is gorgeous.

The CG itself is great, but draws from the content. Godzilla had such immersive, beautiful CG, especially in the action scenes, because it was depicted in gorgeous context to the surroundings in primarily wide-angles. That attention to context helps make the CG real. On the other hand, King Kong never feels quite real. He often feels blurry and out of place, and the action shots are seen in primarily close-ups, making the CG confusing and sometimes hard to follow.

The ride, altogether, is non-stop fun. It wouldn't be right to call it a thrill ride, but damn it's fun and easy to get lost in. I never care about the characters, who are fantastically inconsistent, but Godzilla suffered from a similar problem: one-dimensional characters, but in the case of Kong: Skull Island they each only bring a singular facet to the team. Although the movie takes itself too seriously at times, it also has perfectly timed comic relief that makes the ride all the more fun.


TL;DR: As much as I have to complain about... I'd be a lying sack of shit if I said it wasn't fun as hell. The problem is that I wish there were more to it, but it's a fast-paced monster movie with a lot of action. Kong: Skull Island is a visually stunning experience, and I can't wait for the sequel, even I don't believe he can go toe-to-toe with Godzilla.

  • Acting – 12 / 20
  • Story – 12 / 20
  • Cinematography – 16 / 20
  • Soundtrack – 7 / 10
  • Entertainment Factor – 9 / 10
  • Fantasy/Sci-Fi – 7 / 10
  • Other – 1 / 10

Grade D = 64 / 100