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[Review] ‘Kong: Skull Island’ is Impressive But Tonally Uneven

It’s a strange film that would reference both Full Metal Jacket and Jurassic Park, but that just shows how tonally uneven Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ Kong: Skull Island truly is. Although the film starts out as a surprisingly intelligent commentary on war and the absurdity of invading and destroying foreign territory in the name of military triumph, it winds up delving into sillier territory about halfway through, creating a strange thematic rift in the project which hints at some confusion behind the curtain. It is pretty cool how big Kong is, though.

In the film, James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) is recruited by Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) to travel to Skull Island, a mysterious place that supposedly has never been touched by man, and explore the uncharted territory for hidden treasures. The gang adds a few soldiers for protection and a war photographer for documentation purposes to the mix, and sets off on a mission which will hopefully change the course of history. Little do they know, they’re about to stumble onto the grandest discovery of all: King Kong. Now, in a land infested with gigantic spiders, Skull Crawlers, and a hundred-foot-tall ape, the crew becomes less concerned with fame and glory, and more desperate to merely escape the unforgiving jungle with their lives.

Set amongst the chaos of the Vietnam War, the film opens in the year 1973, starts out with images of hippie protestors and a smug broadcasted Nixon announcing the end of the skirmish overseas, and the immediate return of American troops. Between establishing itself during a time period when the nation so politically divided and the choice to use the tagline ‘We don’t belong here’, it’s pretty clear from the beginning that Kong: Skull Island is setting up some pretty strong parallels between the controversial invasion of Vietnam and the sketchy invasion of Kong’s island. Pushing this agenda even further are the Apocalypse Now vibes hanging blatantly overhead as the gang goes up river, bombs terrain that might possibly be populated with innocent civilians, and are led by stuck in the past military general Preston Packard, who insists that “we didn’t lose the war, we abandoned it”.

Enter Kong into the equation and the metaphor is almost fully complete. Kong has always been an iconic cinematic character that represents a feeling of being misunderstood, much like Frankenstein’s monster. Once Packard, who we can assume lost a lot of good men during the war, shows up and sees the towering giant who swats at helicopters like a child would a fly, he immediately identifies the beast as a predator, and cathartically sets out to destroy the unknown thing he labels as the enemy. It’s just another war he can’t win waged for reasons he can’t understand, but somehow, he believes that killing this monster might make up for the fight he couldn’t finish the first time around. What he fails to realize, however, is that by picking a fight with an entity that he doesn’t understand may actually wind up bringing more harm to ‘troops’ than good.

All of the pawns are put in place to make this a symbolic movie about meddling with forces we don’t understand when we choose to invade foreign countries in the maddening name of war. Al of the likenesses are evident and smartly illustrated…that is, until John C. Reily shows up.

While searching for sanctuary from the massive monkey after their planes have crashed, the gang crosses paths with a man named Hank Marlow, an ex veteran from World War I who has been stuck on the island for more than thirty years. Suddenly, a wrench is thrown into the system, and what started out as a highly intelligent and equally exciting monster movie swiftly turns into a buddy comedy with a crazy typecast Riley at the helm. Undeniably, and expectantly, Reily’s character is quite a laugh riot – he just feels so out of place in this movie that was trying so hard to send a message.

From that point on, the movie takes a different turn and becomes something else entirely, which is a little disappointing, to be honest. It’s not that Kong needs to carry a political message, or that it needs to be anything other than a monster movie, it’s just strange how Skull Island seems to encompass two entirely different films in one tightly condensed package. However, despite this odd little break in theme, the film is still a very fun and enjoyable action flick that will be worth watching just to pass the time on a sunny Sunday afternoon. It may not stand the test of time, especially considering that Peter Jackson outdid the grand finale of version within the first thirty minutes of his, but it will still be fondly looked up by movie goers looking for a good time at the movies. At the end of the day, the coolest thing about this movie is how Kong is bigger than he’s ever been before, standing at a hundred and something feet tall, which is not only thrilling to see in contrast with the puny helicopters that circle him and try to bring him down, but also sparks a promising curiosity that makes the viewer wonder what it will look like when Kong finally faces off against Godzilla in the 2020 movie Godzilla vs. King Kong.

With that notion in mind, make sure to stay after the end credits for a sweet little surprise and a hint at the upcoming epic monster standoff feature.


58 Comments
  • Randy Moses

    Hello! I assume the author meant World War 2, not 1.

    I am a bit concerned about the tonal shift. That’s something that can really hurt a film. It sounds almost like a reversed Howard the Duck (although that film is dumb fun).

    • Everhard

      Would give the make-up artists a run for their money, to turn him into an 80-year old ex war-veteran, who delivers jokes as he does 🙂

  • Carlton Fisher

    I’ve been a bit confused about the size issue on this. I know they made Kong bigger so he’d be a more even match with Godzilla, but wasn’t the new Godzilla supposed ot be around 400 feet or something? Is the 100-foot Kong supposed to trip him?

    • Richter Belmont

      Even if Kong was equal in size, Godzilla would toast him with his atomic breath, or spiral fire, or hug him and use his nuclear pulse attack and irradiate Kong. Never mind that Godzilla can regenerate health and resurrect himself at a molecular level.

      But who knows, maybe Kong will get new abilities or receive an upgrade to become Mecha Kong. The more likely scenario is they fight each other with no clear winner then team-up to take on a bigger threat like Cthulhu. Now that would be awesome!

      • DS Ullery

        Adopting the perspective that this incarnation of Kong will ultimately stand almost as tall as Big G by the time they meet, I respectfully disagree. Here’s the thing: Godzilla does have the nuclear breath. No argument that it would roast Kong. But….
        This version of Godzilla is fairly slow on land. All you have to do is watch a clip from Kong Skull Island to see Kong has the edge in speed and agility. He can also brandish weapons and, as a simian, is intelligent. Do you think Kong is going to stand there and get fried? He also has a history of testing giant lizards apart.
        It’s going to be a good fight.

        • Saint of Killers

          People seem to keep forgetting that this is not Toho Godzilla but Legendary Godzilla who only have atomic breath doesn’t have nuclear pulse, spiral fire or “resurrecting himself at molecular level” stuff; even after having those powers in previous movies Godzilla has still lost multiple times in old movies e.g. Mothra & his newborn larvas.
          G14 nearly died fighting Male & Female MUTO at same time, it took humans to blow up FemMUTO nest which distracted her and saved Godzilla. Also Godzilla’s gills are supposed to be his weakpoints which MUTOs exploited; remember Golden Gate bridge scene from movie? Godzilla was screaming by being hurt from human artillery fire in that scene, which is believed to have landed right on his gills. MUTO didn’t even had any hands or projectile weapons and just hatched from their cocoon few days ago but they did great.
          Kong is also getting attacked by napalm in the tv spots and still fighting through it, so I don’t think atomic breath is just going to fry him so easily. Also Kong is swinging chains with large boat propeller to fight Skullcrawler. This is a good match not any stomp that people are making out to be.

          • Richter Belmont

            Industry projections for this film are not looking too good. If Kong doesn’t pull in better numbers against Logan or Beauty & the Beast, and if the second Godzilla film is a bust we might never see the two throw down at all in 2020. Sad face.

          • Daniel Baldwin

            Given the production timeline of Godzilla 2 and Godzilla vs. Kong, the latter will already be filming before the former hits screens. So unless GvK is pushed back, it’s going to happen regardless of Godzilla 2’s performance.

          • Saint of Killers

            It was a stupid move to put Kong in between final Hugh Jackman movie and Beauty and Beast. It took 60 years for a rematch and if doesn’t happens now then it might not happen in this life 🙁

    • chronikheckler

      Kong is essentially a teenager in this film. Since the film takes place in the 1970’s, he has over 40 years to continue to grow until the face-off with the Big-G in 2020.

      • Carlton Fisher

        That makes more sense–had not considered the idea of him being an adolescent. Of course, if he’s a teenager, then where are his parents? I’ve always kind of wondered how the model with Kong works, since it’s always implied (with the exception of King Kong Lives) that he’s the only one of his kind. So where did he come from? Spontaneous generation? Regular ape stood too close to the microwave while making popcorn?

        • Saint of Killers

          In old movies, the novels explained how Kong species were brought to the island by ancient but advance civilization on Skull island. Long story there but the his species were killed off by larger mutant Dinos called Gaws till Kong remained, grew up alone, challenged and killed the Queen Gaw and became the King.
          In reboot universe, right now no one knows his origin but we do know his parents were killed by larger Skullcrawlers, Kong can be seen fighting one of them in final trailer. So it makes this movie also a revenge story. Maybe that will give him motivation to fight Godzilla since he’s also a reptile.
          Also Kong got nothing on Mothra. Imagine 65 meter Moth goddess which is accompanied by 2 magical fairies. There’s also King Ghidorah, planet destroying 3 headed alien dragon. If people with problem with science behind 100 ft Ape then God help them because these two are set to appear in the sequels.

        • Adam Paquette

          They show the skeletal remains of his parents in Kong: Skull Island.

  • dukeblues

    Great, more politics in movies…. Cuz you know, its always important to show that Hollywood is still liberal.

    • Southernholiday

      Notice how there is footage of Nixon, but no mention of footage of Kennedy or Johnson.

    • FadedLineVigil

      More pressure from the Left to make anyone who doesn’t agree with their ideals feel like the bad guys. Too bad that doesn’t really work.

  • Creepshow

    This isn’t a review. It’s a giant ape-like SPOILER!
    Go vent in another manner, not in a review here.

    • Joe Brick (TGOL)

      You could always take up knitting you poor baby.. better yet how about window licking

      • Creepshow

        Hey look, Shit Brick gets to use the computer in the mental ward. Good job kiddo! Now if you could only stop playing with your own feces.

        • Joe Brick (TGOL)

          Was that supposed to be hurtful or insulting because I have no friends or life and I need any kind of attention. 🙂

          • Creepshow

            You could always take up knitting you poor baby…better yet how about window licking.

          • Joe Brick (TGOL)

            Did you? Smh

  • Ethan Steers

    I could tell it was uneven from the marketing. Everything that came out said something different about the story, the characters, and the tone.

  • Bloodspatta

    This site has a habit of putting massive spoilers in their reviews with no warnings. *cough A Cure for Wellness cough*

    • Okay, I did not have a MASSIVE spoiler in that review. I merely said that the ending was obvious and that a monologue in the first act pretty much telegraphed the entire ending. To me, that is not a massive spoiler.

      • Nahuel Benvenuto

        you dont know what an spoiler is and need to stop writing reviews telling the whole movie or stopt writing at all, otherwise is a dick move

        • Joe Brick (TGOL)

          Drama Queen much

        • Could you please let me know what in the A Cure For Wellness review qualifies as “telling the whole movie?” I’m happy to add in a spoiler alert and white out the text.

  • G.A. McGillivray

    BAD: I have to agree with others – more often than not – REVIEWS on this site are not reviews – but more or less walkthroughs of the movie from beginning to end – spoiling everything that wasn’t seen in trailers, and leaving nothing left unsaid.

    Why is it that random people on IMDB can always preface their reviews with a spoiler warning – but not actual reviewers so often?

    GOOD: I have no intention of paying to see this movie – so – I knew I could read this article, and save myself the money since it would be all laid out here.

    PS – What I’m saying is that when Alien Covenant comes out – I will be avoiding this site the week before it is released up until I see it in theatres otherwise I know I’ll come here and in the headline there will be a huge spoiler about the movie I would have loved to discover myself. (This reviewer is not guilty of that).

    • Joe Brick (TGOL)

      Then don’t come here you whinny little bastard

      • undergraduate

        Learn to spell, Darnell.

        • Joe Brick (TGOL)

          Kunt. Rofl

    • Daniel Baldwin

      I don’t see any information in this review that hasn’t already been revealed in the various trailers and TV spots.

  • PsychoMantis18

    Hmmm…. interesting. Was expecting a rave-review. Some good points made.

  • Nahuel Benvenuto

    unreadable SHIT review filled with spoilers

    • Daniel Baldwin

      What spoilers?

  • Nahuel Benvenuto

    also, the mcu stared the trend of making all movies “light and fun” but shallow and formulaic, the comedic relief is forced and out of place

  • Freida Peeple

    Skull Island, a mysterious place that supposedly has never been touched by man, and explore the uncharted territory for hidden treasures.
    If the island is untouched by man then where did the treasures come from? They couldn’t just hide themselves.

    • Munchie

      Ape shit turns to gold and diamonds naturally over time.

      • Joe Brick (TGOL)

        Does that mean you’re really a diamond?

        • Munchie

          Damn, son, got some ointment for me. I’m quite burned.

          • Joe Brick (TGOL)

            I bet I know where the burn is and what needs the ointment. 🙂

          • undergraduate

            And ANOTHER faggot heard from.

          • Joe Brick (TGOL)

            You wish Mr

  • Alanmac

    Wonderful. More “how we want you to feel about politics” crap. Why can’t we just have a fucking monster movie? Sheesh

    • Evi

      King Kong and Godzilla are historically 2 of the most political and allegorical franchises out there.

    • ScriptGiverrrr

      Does your brain hurt already boo boo?

  • cagonker

    Well I always knew it was a mistake to even place this movie within the godzilla universe. Don’t get me wrong. I love Godzilla 2014, but putting Kong into it doesn’t even match, sure there was King Kong vs Godzilla, but by the time RKO still owned the rights and Merian C. Cooper and Willis O’Brien thought it was a bad idea to cross the two (even though O’Brien made a small stop motion for the film, yes he actually did but was a quick scene) and Godzilla Raids again was supposed to be a last Godzilla movie, but after that success of KK vs Godzilla, they went over board with Godzilla sequels. But the big mistake was having legendary and Warner Bros doing the movie. Before it was Universal Pictures that wanted to do the movie that was called Skull Island a prequel to Jackson’s Kong. But that script didn’t go nowhere. Then Peter Jackson came to them and offered to produce the film as Guillermo Del Toro will direct (no lie check it out). But of course Del Toro had other projects and universal made an error by even giving the film to WB-Legendary pictures. I love the concept of Kong: Skull Island, but I always knew it’ll be a downer from the start when they announced the movie. Before Jackson wanted to do Son of Kong but universal decided to go with Riddick and no pay for the film. Now if Universal pictures and Legendary were to have Peter Jackson onboard with Weta (with Del Toro and the cooper family’s help), then it’ll have been an amazing movie to see and return back to the mystery and legend of Jackson’s kong. Because Jackson’s remake and reboot of king kong is one of the very very best Kong movie that stayed true to the 1933 original. And if they made Son of Kong (or renamed it) that continued that success, and brought the concept of kong skull island to it, then it’ll been great to watch and while bringing the climatic destruction of a relic of Gondwana down to the ocean floor. But!!! They didn’t. I’ll still watch the movie. But the only ape film that’ll be good this year is War for the Planet of the Apes.

  • EvilHead1981

    Was interested in seeing this. From the early trailers, it looked like a solid action/adventure movie with an all-star cast. Then I saw the recent trailer where John C. Reilly is telling the people how he named the creatures “Skull -somethings-” and there was this awkward line-o-rama schtick about how it is a really cool name, where the other two characters are like, “Yeah, that’s cool. We’ll call them that from now on!” That is all it took to kill my hype.

    • Judge Satchmo

      Completely agree. It felt like it was torn from the most generic of sitcoms.

    • Billy Bob Throrton

      one line makes a 2 hour movie bad. Makes sense.

    • FadedLineVigil

      I appreciated the Dr. Steve Brule nod with the shot of the back of Reily’s jacket saying ‘For Your Health’.

  • Billy Bob Throrton

    Comparing it to Full Metal Jacket is pretty dumb and shows how little this reviewer knows about Nam movies( I’m pretty sure this isn’t about the horrors of boot camp) and that’s the first sentence of the review,which also misuses the word reference. Must be easy to be a shitty online reviewer.

  • Vicente Garcia

    I’m noticing a trend wherein the reviewers for this site review the plot and dialogue…but don’t seem to talk much about acting, direction, cinematography, editing, lighting, score, etc. All these reviews are just big plot descriptions with opinions thrown in.

    • Hash-Slinging Slasher

      Gotta generate that sweet sweet ad revenue somehow!

  • FadedLineVigil

    I suppose it is an intentional question the studio knows we’re all wondering, but how is a hundred foot Kong going to stand toe to toe with a 300+ foot Godzilla? Since this is set in 1973, maybe Kong Vs. Godzilla is present day or future and Kong will have grown or possibly been exposed to radioactive fallout himself and gotten much larger?

  • Brandon Burns

    I just got back from seeing this. I have no problems what so ever with it. It was a great and very fun action flick.

  • DS Ullery

    I had a markedly different reaction to the film than the author of this review.
    Here’s my take, as posted over at Rotten Tomatoes:

    **This involves minor spoilers for a couple of incidental moments ***

    Review: Kong; Skull Island
    by D.S. Ullery

    The legendary “Eighth Wonder of the World” returns to the silver screen in the new film “Kong: Skull Island”, a reboot of the Kong mythology which also serves the dual purpose of fleshing out the shared monster universe begun with Legendary Pictures’ excellent 2014 “Godzilla”.
    The film opens in 1944, with two pilots- one American, one Japanese- crashing down on the shore of the titular location during World War II. While confronting one another, the two men encounter Kong, who makes his first appearance in an effectively staged sequence where we first see his enormous hands emerge from over the edge of a steep cliff.
    Fast forward to 1973. A scientific expedition headed by William Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) and granted a military escort from Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and his helicopter squad The Sky Devils (who are all fresh out of the war in Vietnam), make their way to a recently discovered uncharted island shrouded from the rest of the world by a perpetual lightning storm. Along for the ride are former British Special Forces Captain turned hunter-tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and photojournalist/peace activist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson)
    The expedition pierces the storm ( a jaw dropping sequence wherein the helicopters are surrounded by seemingly impenetrable cloud cover , frequently shattered by electric fire), makes their way through the airspace above Skull Island and begins to drop seismic charges, ostensibly to get a reading on what lies beneath the surface of this lush, jungle paradise.
    The dropping of the charges amounts to a bombing run and one very protective, monster sized simian shows up to make his displeasure over this intrusion known.
    The survivors of this initial attack find themselves landing in different locations across the island. From there they have to find out who survived, find each other and get off the island in one piece. Along the way one character will begin a vendetta against Kong and another will reveal how much the organization MONARCH ( introduced in the 2014 Godzilla) knew about what they would find there.
    That’s about as much plot as Kong: Skull Island delivers and, honestly, I consider that one of the great strengths of the film, because it’s really all that’s required. Although the film does touch on the horrors of war and the way it can twist the nature of otherwise good men into something dark, it isn’t designed to make some sort of profound statement.
    I’ve read criticism of Kong: Skull Island which derided the film for having thin characters and not much of a plot, but I think those critics missed the point. This is first and foremost a monster movie. A big budget, glossy, superbly crafted and insanely entertaining monster movie. It’s an amusement park ride, a visual , action heavy roller coaster that happens to have clever dialogue and rock solid pacing. The characters have exactly as much depth and personality as the story requires (particularly John C. Reilly, who shows up about at third of the way in as the older incarnation of the American pilot from the beginning of the film and is an absolute scene stealer). I thought there was enough invested in the humans to keep the film flowing at a brisk, entertaining pace in between the larger set pieces. I was never, not for one moment, bored during this movie.
    Then there are the visual effects. Kong himself is an absolute joy to behold. Depicted as a biped standing (as one character succinctly puts it) the size of a building, he is indeed a living god. The range of emotion, the texture of his presence in the film, the emergence over the course of the film of his intelligence and surprisingly protective and curious personality – all of these attributes combine to perfect the illusion he’s really there. Kong never seems to be a CGI cartoon, but a real, awe inspiring, flesh and blood animal. According to Reilly’s character, this version of Kong is “still growing”. So, presumably, by the time he encounters Godzilla in the present day, he will be even larger. When audiences see what he’s capable of (not to mention how enormous he already is), they will understand the potential threat posed to the other “king”.**
    The same can be said for the rest of the various beasts (and there are many) which pop up throughout the film, including (in a nice nod to the famous scene in the TOHO classic King Kong vs Godzilla), a giant octopus that tangles with Kong.
    I was also impressed with how legitimately terrifying the film is at times. While I enjoy giant monster movies for their larger than life entertainment value, I have to go back to Cloverfield to find one that actually managed to scare me (I can’t include 10 Cloverfield Lane, because that film is more about the horror of being trapped with an unstable human being under duress).
    Kong: Skull Island bucks that trend by delivering several well earned , startling moments of pure fright that add to the overall atmosphere of danger the humans find themselves mired in. Having an element of legitimate horror thrown into the mix along with the action and adventure beats this time around adds to the impact.
    Henry Jackman’s engaging score keeps the mood intense throughout and a number of classic 70’s era rock tunes are employed to terrific effect, most noticeably Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid.” Likewise, Larry Fong’s gorgeous cinematography is a treasure, particularly his images captured when the production was on location in Vietnam, Hawaii and the Gold Coast of Australia. The entire film feels alive, never stagnant.
    Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts began with small, independent work before being handed the keys to the kingdom with Kong :Skull Island and he acquits himself nicely here, providing just enough exposition before getting to what audiences paid to see.
    Vogt-Roberts also demonstrates an astonishingly adept eye for staging action beats. When Kong goes toe to toe in an earth shattering, gut wrenching free for all against the film’s big bad, we’re allowed a fully unobstructed (and visually coherent) ring side seat to every glorious moment. Building on that statement, I wholeheartedly endorse seeing this film in IMAX 3D. The movie is eye popping in the format, putting the audience right in the center of the action with remarkable sharpness and clarity.

    Moving at a brisk pace, featuring a talented cast and boasting some of the most amazing on screen action/adventure sequences this fan has ever laid eyes on, Kong: Skull island is an incredibly entertaining blast of jaw dropping monster movie spectacle. It’s an assured big budget debut for Jordan Vogt-Roberts, a film that knows exactly what it is and proceeds to be that very thing better than just about any film of its type I’ve seen to date. It is never dull and succeeds in two very important regards: It delivers a fresh, thrilling take on King Kong and compliments the 2014 Godzilla in establishing Legendary’s shared monster universe as a cinematic force to be reckoned with.
    ***** out of ***** stars. I’m giving this my highest rating because the film understands what it is and it delivers on its promise consistently, while functioning on a level that surpasses similar films in the genre.
    ** In regards to the ongoing controversy surrounding Kong being too small and vulnerable in the face of the much larger Godzilla and his atomic breath, actually seeing Kong: Skull Island should adjust a lot of perspectives on the subject. To give an example, there’s a scene early on where Kong’s face is seen filling the cockpit window of one of the helicopters. He leaps up and a moment later we see a glimpse of shadow as he lands. It takes a second, but you realize he leaped up and over the helicopter, without knocking it to the ground. This moment and several others in the film (most notably when Kong demonstrates the ability to use weapons) indicate his strength, intelligence and speed may all surpass Godzilla’s. Factor in that this is a younger version of Kong who will apparently be larger by the time he faces off against Big G and you have an incredible fight in the making.
    I’ll end by mentioning fans should stay for a post credit scene, which serves as a terrific harbinger of things to come.

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