Thursday, 9 March 2017

Film Review: By the end of Kong: Skull Island you'll want a giant ape to step on your head too


There is a moment in Kong: Skull Island where a character says "I don't know what that was" about the titular beast, as if his fellow soldiers were already aware of the giant ape creature's existence. There's a moment where, despite his massive size and weight, Kong just appears out of nowhere, no footsteps or anything; twice, actually. There's also a moment where someone drops a cigarette and the ground explodes, yet a minute later someone uses a flamethrower on the same land and nothing happens. There's also a bit of someone putting on a gas mask because of a toxic gas explosion, but then taking it off again thirty seconds later while still in the gas zone.

If that all sounds ludicrous, it's because it is. I struggle to think of another blockbuster in recent memory with a bigger disregard of continuity and logic and general film making common sense than Kong: Skull Island. Now, you might be thinking "But Ryan, this is a film about a giant ape! Why are you thinking about logic?!". Ordinarily, you'd have a point. If this were Pacific Rim or one of those fun 80s monster movies, I'd let you have that argument. But Skull Island takes itself seriously. Far too seriously. So seriously, in fact, that it prevents any of these silly logic and realism issues from being irrelevant. This Kong wants to be treated with respect, but has no idea how to do so.

The story itself is as tiresome and unoriginal as everything else. Basically, a man (John Goodman) thinks there's a big monster on this island so he manages to gather army support to visit the island and get proof. Him and a rather large squad of soldiers and scientists, as well as one expedition guide and one photographer courtesy of Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson, travel to the island where they encounter Kong; a 100 foot tall ape that attacks them when they arrive.

Everyone's motivations for being on the island are already thin. Pretty much everyone is only on Skull Island because a) they were forced to, b) they were paid to, or c) they already believe the island has a giant creature living on it. Surprise surprise, it does. Surprise surprise again, their response to discovering that they were right isn't part of the film.

And why would it be? Skull Island just wants to be a brain dead, monster smashing B-movie right? Wrong again. The film is overtly serious, to the extent that none of its actors are even allowed to have fun. Four terrific actors are squandered: Hiddleston crumbles under his tepid dialogue, he's more wooden than the forest he lands in; Larson only just scrapes through her complete lack of any material; Samuel L. Jackson isn't given anything meaty to play with; Goodman is totally wasted. Only John C. Reilly is allowed to have a bit more fun in his role, meaning he's the only one who you enjoy spending time with.

You can't really blame the actors though, that mostly comes down to the script. If it isn't trying its hand at awkward humour (and mostly failing), it's forcing cringe inducing lines onto its characters. I can't imagine poor Tom Hiddleston not dying internally when forced to utter out the sheer drivel that is "Isn't it strange how the most dangerous places are often the most beautiful?". The line isn't even laughed off in the film. Nope, Brie Larson's character has to push everything towards a conversation about truth and meaning. When there's a giant ape roaming the vicinity. Y'know, as ya do. 

If the writing hasn't done it already, Jordan Vogt-Roberts' direction might be what finally pushes you over the tipping point. His framing is bizarre - the camera tilts to a 90 degree angle for one shot that lasts about half a second maybe, for some unbeknownst reason - but his real crime is showing no understanding of style. This is a monster movie, we need spectacle. We need thrills.

Roberts' is an inexperienced film maker, and this inexperience is his undoing. He throws his whole knowledge at Skull Island and none of it sticks. He tries to do everything at once, meaning his film never coerces into one distinct visual style. We're left watching the camera jolt from sweeping wide shots to extreme close ups of characters' eyes. It's jarring enough as it is, but when Robert's almost always refuses to find a master shot and covers every scene from innumerable angles, it's incredibly tough to feel satisfied by anything he's done here.

To the film's credit, once the monsters actually do come together and the human characters are shoved out the way, there's a little fun to be had. The CGI is undeniably strong, even if the action scenes themselves aren't shot well enough to really fly. Skull Island also moves quickly, we first meet Kong in the opening scene and he gets his first full on rage moment about half an hour in, but it's not enough to forgive how mishandled everything else here is. If you aren't rolling your eyes at the insipid dialogue forced onto this talented (and wasted) cast, you'll be checking your watch and praying the credits come soon. Monster movies should never be this tiresome.

In A Sentence

Inexperienced direction, laughable scripting and a lack of any sense of monster smashing fun all mean that Kong: Skull Island is rarely more than a CGI fest with no soul or identity in sight.


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