Reader, I come to you with a broken heart. Have you ever invested so much into something that it consumed you? Have you ever felt a passion so strong that you genuinely believed that the object your affection was something that could define the rest of your life?
Do you know what it’s like to have that, and then lose it? Watch it slip through your fingers and make you ask yourself “Dear god, what did I do wrong?” Well, I do. I know that feeling all too well. And I’m here to share my story with you.
Kong: Skull Island is … a little mediocre.
Yeah, that’s what I get for being on the hype train. I was hoping that Legendary Pictures was finally going to be doing something interesting with this IP, especially since the Good-to-Bad Kong Movie Ratio, or GTBKMR, is so staggering even by giant monster movie standards.
Why, though? My theory is it’s because of pedigree. The original 1933 King Kong was a science-fantasy special effects rodeo designed to distract viewers from the fact that there was a Great Depression going on. It was built on the same grounds as jungle-themed adventure fiction, complete with popular themes from that era such as battling animals in harsh environments, cruel and weird pastiches of native groups, and blonde white women being in peril so they can be rescued by blonde white men.
King Kong survived as a film, however, because of its special effects and brutally-choreographed fight sequences between fantastically-animated prehistoric monsters. It was a fine movie, to be sure, but it was a product of the time, and so it’s hard to make that lightning strike twice in different eras. They did try, mind, but outside of the two King Kong movies produced by Toho Pictures, King Kong’s filmography is little more than a sequel (Son of Kong, also in 1933), two remakes (from 1976 and 2005), and a sequel to one of those remakes (King Kong Lives, from 1986).
This is, of course, to say nothing of the various family-friendly animated series based on Kong, as well as the one direct-to-video animated musical which no doubt bombed the moment someone at Warner Brothers uttered the words “direct-to-video.”
My excitement for Kong: Skull Island came from the fact that they weren’t just going to be retelling the original film’s story again. The idea of a King Kong movie where we do not leave Skull Island until the very end was an exciting prospect. That was, really, the best part of any King Kong movie.
I’ll give credit where credit’s due. Kong: Skull Island’s basic trajectory and cinematography are good. A lot of thought was put into the world-building and development of Skull Island itself. Everything pertaining to the monsters and the monster-fights were well-crafted and choreographed, and whatever music that wasn’t pilfered from someone’s Best Of The ‘70s mixtape is atmospheric and striking. Even the weird natives who are there to be weird natives had some interesting elements to them.
So what went wrong? Well, our protagonists are plagued by beasts far worse than swarms of monsters and giant gorillas: bad characterization, half-assed acting, and appalling dialogue.
Poor acting and bad dialogue in a giant monster movie are both par for the course, mind, but you can still have a great movie without them. Sadly, we have several big-name actors phoning in their lines or speaking with the grace and subtlety of a palm tree spearing a helicopter. The only two actors in the film who were of note were probably Corey Hawkins and John C Reilly, but they were forced to play off of the rest of the cast. Samuel L Jackson and John Goodman might as well have been playing caricatures of themselves, Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson fell flat, and Jing Tian spent most of the movie staring into the distance or delivering what few lines she had like she was at a library.
Then again, quality acting couldn’t have saved the film from its overloaded script and clumsy characterization. Kong: Skull Island’s dialogue is Age of Ultron bad. Firstly, I could have mixed up 90% of the characters’ dialogue and nobody would be able to notice. Secondly, and here’s some screenwriting 101 for you, when dealing with audio-visual storytelling medium where the audience’s role is passive, one has to ask “should a character be talking at this moment and if they do, then will it be important?” Instead, the editing team seemed to say “a character should be talking at this moment and it doesn’t matter if they say anything important.” Characters will just express what they’re thinking or feeling, rather than just showing it to the audience or demonstrating it in a clever way.
Now, that could have been done right. If Kong: Skull Island’s dialogue was properly-cheesy, it would have probably flown better. Cheesy dialogue is charming and light like a good Jack Kirby comic, or over-the-top and nonsensical like Deep Blue Sea. Bad dialogue is droll and heavy, and worst of all it is distracting.
Look, I didn’t want Kong: Skull Island to be high art, and in many ways I’m glad that it’s not. I just didn’t want it to be, I don’t know, average? And I feel like that’s what the studio settled for – a well-designed world bogged down by a boilerplate cast and half-assed writing. At least with Peter Jackson’s King Kong, flawed though it was, we got more of a sense as to who our protagonists were and felt some level of empathy for them when they were eaten by monsters. Carrying over some aspect of that to this film – with either a smaller cast struggling to survive or a larger and better-defined cast getting whittled down – could have made the experience on Skull Island more exciting, and it would have made the tense moments all the more tense. Instead, I found myself going “who died and why do I not care that they’re dead” every time a monster ate or crushed someone.
Despite all my harsh words, though, there is this weird trepidation that I’m feeling. It’s almost as though warning friends and colleagues and strangers on the internet about this film is somehow treasonous. At least this film is far more visually inspired than half of the other remakes, adaptations, and reimagined properties floating around out there. I mean, have you seen the trailers for the Power Rangers movie? It feels like I’m doing the world a disservice by not recommending this film. Yes, the acting and writing are painful and most of the cast is indiscernible from one another, but by god is this movie colourful, creative, full of life, and damn good to look at. I almost want to recommend it to my fellow kaiju groupies to spite the grimdark tones and Twilight-style colour-coding of modern adventure cinema. So, I am going to recommend it. I have to recommend it. But I’m also going to tell you to catch it on a half-off day at the theatre, or get it when it’s released at home and just leave the room whenever the human characters start talking.
And that’s all I’m going to say about that. I feel …strange and bloodless now, and my heart is ever-so heavy. I need some time alone. I invested so much energy into this, and I don’t know what went wrong, but I need to heal and see some other movies. Maybe some time apart will help, and maybe there’s a chance of reconciliation later, but right now it feels like Legendary Pictures made a monkey out of me.
Did you like this article? If you did, then head to Paypal and send care packages to my crash site on Skull Island. Thanks for reading!