- ‘Twas beauty that killed the beast.
Sometimes when we go to a movie it's simply to escape the outside world. As long as the film can transport us to a new world, a different time period or some far-off dimension, it doesn't much matter if the movie is good or bad. But as a critic, it can be difficult to search for nuance or thematic resonance in something that's only designed to entertain. "Kong: Skull Island" might not have much meat on its bones, but it's one of the finest adventure movies of the last several years.
In 2005, Peter Jackson made his version of "King Kong," something he had wanted to do since he was a child. As over-long and bloated as the film might have been, the Skull Island section was pure cinematic joy. Most critics remarked that an entire film set on the deadly home of the giant man-ape would have been a much better idea. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts took that skeleton of an idea, set it during the Vietnam War and made a two-hour theme park ride that doesn't slow down for a second.
Populating this island of giant monsters is one of the strongest casts of the year, with Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, John Goodman, Samuel L. Jackson, John C. Reilly and more. This cast presents the biggest problem with the movie: they're all basically wasted. Aside from Reilly (who has a lovely and bittersweet arc), the characters only exist to have giant computer-generated things happen to and around them. Hiddleston acts like he's auditioning for the next Bond movie and Larson, playing a pacifist war photographer, barely has a dozen lines in the film.
Yet, "Kong: Skull Island" is so lovingly crafted and every frame is filled with such imagination that it's hard to get worked up about the thin characterizations and occasionally wooden dialogue. Just when Samuel L. Jackson threatens to over-act his way into an entirely different movie, the absolutely astonishing sight of King Kong shows up and the entire audience is 10 years old again. In a way, "Kong" is critic proof. It doesn't matter that some things don't work; other parts are ridiculously fun.
Setting the film during the Vietnam War was the perfect choice, as the characters who end up on Skull Island are already haunted by the horrors they've seen. The soundtrack, front-loaded with Creedence Clearwater Revival, makes the film feel like a lost hybrid of "Apocalypse Now" and "Platoon" that gave birth to a Ray Harryhausen fever dream. Seeing King Kong swat down helicopters instead of bi-planes gives the film a visual palate and texture never before seen in giant monster movies.
"Kong: Skull Island" will age very well. There's a timeless quality to the direction, cinematography and production design that makes every frame absolutely gorgeous to look at. There's no depth or subtlety, but that's not why we go to movies like this. "Kong" exists to take us to the most dangerous island on the planet, leaving us there to marvel in the sights. Enjoy this movie for what it is: pure unadulterated cinema.
Kong: Skull Island
Dir. Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Old Mill Stadium 16 & IMAX, Sisters Movie House, Redmond Cinema