A surprising number of blockbusters were hits with critics over the first three months of this year.
The sendoff to the Wolverine and the sequel to John Wick garnered a lot of attention with their stylish grit. Beauty and the Beast destroyed all at the box office, The LEGO Batman Movie proved to be a worthy and comical take on the superhero, and Get Out and Split moved Blumhouse’s legitimacy to a new level.
Then there was Kong: Skull Island.
Released the weekend between Logan and Beauty and the Beast, Skull Island was accepted as fresh by over three quarters of Rotten Tomatoes critics and lauded by the site for its “exhilarating eye candy”.
But besides the look of the film and the monster himself, it’s a wonder why this schlock-fest of a film received as much praise as it did. There must be a certain point where we draw the line between feature-lengthened junk food for the eyes and an incoherent and lazy mess.
And for these reasons, Kong: Skull Island should be designated to the latter category.
SPOILERS TO FOLLOW. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.
1. Incredibly predictable
It’s hard to count every ironic or foreseeable moment of Skull Island. The only one that doesn’t seem predictable is Toby Kebbell’s Jack Chapman getting killed off. But that’s only because he’s nearly the only one with a background and a motivation to get back home (his child that he writes to).
It would’ve been an interesting wrinkle to describe an unsympathetic movie, but he seemed to be one of the only people the audience could’ve connected to. Once his death comes, most of the others seem far too predictable. You’re not going to kill off the characters of your money-making duo of Brie Larson or Tom Hiddleston. They also weren’t going to do so to the only person with any kind of meaningful backstory by the end, John C. Reilly’s Hank Marlow.
There’s certain deaths, such as the ones to Samuel L. Jackson’s Packard or John Ortiz’s Victor Nieves, that you can see coming from the moment you’re introduced to them.
Whether speaking on the connection of Kong and Larson’s Weaver, the revealed intentions of other characters, or the rolling out of pretty much every major plot point, it was all obvious. There was no time during the movie that someone couldn’t think two steps ahead of the film.
Throw in the fact we know Kong will live to fight another day because of the upcoming expanded universe, and it really sucked the suspense out of the film. Sure, we knew how Peter Jackson’s Kong would end up, but that was at least an acceptable homage to those that came before it. This on the other hand is merely for a setup to the next movie.
2. Greatest waste of talent
This may be the most irritating of all the problems with this film.
You have a man who just won a Golden Globe and an Oscar-winning actress starring in this film, people with top-of-the-line talent. And Jordan Vogt-Roberts got not an ounce of it from them. But Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson aren’t the only ones. Throw in veterans like Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, and John C. Reilly, and it may be the biggest waste of talent since Movie 43.
Jackson has at least some of that unrivaled flair to go with a slightly charismatic Reilly, but the script dumbs one way too far down and relies on the other to spew block after block of expositional dumps. Goodman falls under the latter category as well. And forget about Hiddleston and Larson’s performances. Never in our wildest nightmares did we expect them to have as forgettable of roles as they had.
Even though Naomi Watts was at her peak back in 2005’s Kong, this seemed like the best cast for a monster movie, a concoction of all types of wonderful acting styles.
But after engrossing audiences with sincerity, depth, and gravitas known by few her age, Brie Larson is a cardboard cutout of herself here. Meanwhile, Hiddleston’s charm is dwindled down to a shadow of itself. It’s not enough to make you question whether these people are talented, because we know their track record. But the fact the script was so insipid that this cast couldn’t escape their two-dimensional characters is truly the worst of all the failures in this film.
3. Way too many characters
For all the many nameless characters who die in this film, there still ends up being survivors who you’ve literally learned next-to-nothing about.
Half of the movie involves people being killed by one monster or another, with its body count easily surpassing Peter Jackson’s King Kong. But offing so many characters isn’t annoying. Trying to incorporate lines for so many of them, however, certainly is.
While there may not be a single name worth remembering, there’s moments focused on a dozen characters or more as if there’s been some extensive buildup to them. In reality, such deaths as Randa’s (Goodman) or Cole’s (Shea Whigham’s) have abrupt arrangements for characters that should’ve been properly explored. Whigham’s performance is actually quite good for how little screen time he has. But there’s too many dull lines spread out to too many people amid the running for these moments to work.
Too many characters leads to a lack of movement in any of their arcs, and that leads to the next major problem.
4. No emotional connection
Having too many names thrown into the ring with a crippled script, there’s nothing and no one to latch onto. The only one you might feel like rooting for in the film is Kong himself, but the focus is taken off of him just enough to where his presence doesn’t resonate.
Jack writing to his kid and Packard dealing with the loss of his men doesn’t do enough to attach us to them. The death of Houston’s (Corey Hawkins) mentor (Randa) doesn’t make us care anymore either. And Conrad (Hiddleston) and Weaver barely have reason for existing in the film other than to pose for the camera. Reilly’s character is really the only human worth giving a damn about.
Godzilla was another movie in this universe with such a problem. Once Bryan Cranston’s Joe Brody bites the dust, the human element of the movie is gone and you spend over half the film waiting for a kaiju battle.
Same goes for this film. For as early as they get around to Kong as opposed to Peter Jackson’s version, there’s still not enough Kong to cover up the soulless pit this movie falls into. Storylines are too clichéd, instances of levity are rare, and Vogt-Roberts’s attempts at genuine character-building are whether cut short or come across as unauthentic.
It’s simply a movie focused on getting from one point to the next while properly showcasing monsters on the bookends. Spectacle and style both have their turn, but there’s never an apparent heart to this movie.
5. Inconsistent pacing
For a film that gets to Kong quickly, it just as quickly abandons its breakneck speed with clunky exposition.
Instead of John Goodman speaking in well-placed scenes to build anticipation (and boy, can he ever do it) or sprinkle in details, we get a large info dump while he sits on a rock. Instead of slowly being educated about the interesting lore of the island, John C. Reilly is instead equipped to spill it all out in one massive drag.
The movie slows down to explain everything, even the blatant things, only to rush through all the segments that need reflection. If it wanted to be Jurassic World, then that would’ve been another thing. But this wasn’t a non-stop thrill ride, but rather one that bored you to sleep and woke you back up with a sudden jolt.
Most of its transitions lack subtleness and none of its worldbuilding moved seamlessly with the rest of the narrative. If Jurassic World or Mad Max: Fury Road are Porsches of pacing, then this film is basically the 18-wheeler. It barrels down the road one minute, but has times where it comes to a slow, screeching halt and takes too long to switch the gears back to top-speed.