Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Cast: Samuel Jackson, Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson
There’s a memorable shot at the beginning of Kong: Skull Island that summarises it perfectly. Some pesky humans have somehow made their way to one of the last uncharted territories on the planet—and it’s somewhere near Bangkok if you’re wondering—and in keeping with our nature, they begin admiring the beauty of the land before proeceding to detonate bombs on the unsuspecting creatures of the land.
In this spectacular shot in question, the protector of the land, King Kong (get it?) gazes through the raging fire, its blood-red eyes staring in fury and perhaps astonishment too as it sizes up the puny Preston Packard (Samuel Jackson), coming to grips with the scale of the destruction this miniature animal is able to cause. Suddenly, you’re thinking not of the tension in the scene, but of how beautifully the shot is framed (cinematography by Larry King). In a sense, Kong, despite its ill-fitting supposedly deep war references, doesn’t ever get too deep. It’s always on the surface, even if it’s enjoyably so.
Entertainment also comes in the form of leisurely rock music that’s part of transition shots. More enjoyably, it’s also in the form of the film’s often self-deprecatory humour. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts isn’t one to take his material too seriously. That’s why just as one of the innumerable harrowing creatures gobbles up one of the travelling party, you’re shown the shot of a man biting into his sandwich. In another scene, as a group of grotesque predatory birds are about to descend like the plague on the men, Preston, who’s looking at one of the birds through his binocular, observes, “That is one ugly-a** bird.” It’s such moments that make Kong: Skull Island.
Some distractions I didn’t care for include the native folk who have somehow found a way to survive the nightmare that is the island. There’s also another man who’s been left stranded in the island for more than a couple of decades. There are other crazy, gigantic creatures you’re shown which, unlike in say Avatar, don’t add anything to the overall story. Perhaps Kong’s biggest problem is how little you care for King Kong himself. I remember bawling my heart out at the end of Peter Jackson’s King Kong, on account of the ape’s bond with the character played by Naomi Watts. Sadly, there’s no real place for emotion in this film.
This lack of investment in King Kong consequently affects your viewing of its final showdown with, as Preston would likely put it, the ugly-a** evil creature inhabiting the island. It’s yet another version of Alien vs Predator, with the humans relegated to the sidelines. It’s a mark of the film’s visual splendour and the general entertainment on offer that Kong can’t be said to be a bad film, despite lacking emotional beats and any real novelty in storytelling.
The scene after the credits suggests that we haven’t seen the last of these grizzly battles between gigantic, deadly creatures. After everything we have seen over the years, I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised if they removed humans completely from the film and showed only these monsters. We’re halfway-there already.