Film Review: ‘Kong: Skull Island’ (spoiler free)

The iconic King of an equally iconic lost world is reborn in a franchise expanding blockbuster…

Starring:  Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Toby Kebbell, John C. Reilly, Corey Hawkins, Terry Notary

Directed by: Jordan Vogt-Roberts / Written by: Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein and Derek Connoly (story by John Gatins) / 118 minutes

What’s it about?

A team composed of scientists and military officers mount an expedition to a mysterious lost island in the South Pacific…

In review

Far from being a masterpiece, Kong: Skull Island isn’t in the same league as the classic original 1933 King Kong or Peter Jackson’s superb 2005 remake but is certainly superior to the creaky 1976 version, which starred Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange.

Taking place as the Vietnam War is coming to an end, the narrative of Skull Island is served by a fairly simple, derivative, yet functional and entertaining script (from screenwriters Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein and Derek Connoly) that’s hindered by weak characterisation and occasionally cheesy dialogue that underserves and underutilises a stellar cast.  Tom Hiddleston (Thor’s Loki) and Brie Larson (awarded an Oscar for her role in Room) are capable leads as former S.A.S. tracker James Conrad and ‘anti-war’ photographer Mason Weaver, respectively, with support from Samuel L. Jackson as tough-as-nails military man Lt. Colonel Packard, John Goodman as the expedition’s scientific leader Bill Randa, Corey Hawkins as fellow scientist Houston Brooks, Toby Kebbell (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) as Major Jack Chapman and John C. Reilly, on hand to provide doses of comic relief as Marlow, a marooned World War II pilot.  The cast is further filled out by a set of largely forgettable ancillary characters.

The pace of Skull Island is fairly tight which for the most part is fine, but the journey to the mythical Skull Island and the expedition’s first encounter with its ‘King’ all happens a little too quickly.  Some viewers might favour this, but it’s arguable that some extra time spent establishing the characters and a more steady build up to Kong’s reveal could have been of benefit.  That being said, the titular ape’s introduction is pretty spectacular and does not disappoint.

Where Skull Island ultimately succeeds then, is in its visuals and creature conflicts.  Whilst Skull Island itself lacks much of the mystery and creepiness of Peter Jackson’s version, it’s a suitably primal eco-system and Kong himself proves to be a magnificently realised creation, a towering behemoth (at 100ft tall this is the largest version of the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’ ever to grace the screen) rendered in CGI with incredibly intricate detail, aided by the performance capture work of Terry Notary.  Kong aside, there’s a decent range of creatures of varied design from giant stick insects and arachnids to the ominously named ‘Skull Crawlers’ that become the main threat to the central characters and provide Kong with a formidable foe to grapple with, leading to a final act that’s quite exhilarating.

Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (currently tapped to helm the long gestating Metal Gear Solid feature film) handles the effects-driven action with relative ease and delivers some pleasing monster smack downs that will wow and thrill.  The Vietnam era setting is also in the film’s overall favour and affords Vogt-Roberts the opportunity to evoke vibes of Apocalypse Now, made all the more indelible by some wonderful photography from Batman v Superman cinematographer Larry Fong.  It also allows the otherwise disappointing script to inject a dash of well-placed satire.

Given Warner Bros.’/Legendary Pictures’ plans to develop a shared cinematic universe that will incorporate that other iconic screen monster – Godzilla – there are naturally some franchise connections within Skull Island, facilitated by the inclusion of the Monarch organisation that featured in Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla and fans are advised to stick around for a tantalising post-credits scene.

More of a blockbuster budgeted B-movie than a modern classic, Skull Island is undemanding fun that’s a little dumb yet occasionally rises to something greater via its visual effects and creature bashing action.

The bottom line:  Entertaining and often exciting, Kong: Skull Island is let down by thinly drawn characters and some weak scripting yet succeeds with its visual thrills.

Kong: Skull Island is in cinemas now.


The gigantic King of Skull Island roars onto the screen in Warner Bros.’/Legendary Pictures’ blockbuster ‘Kong: Skull Island’.

20 thoughts on “Film Review: ‘Kong: Skull Island’ (spoiler free)

  1. I enjoyed Kong Skull Island, but I agree, the scrip and characterization is a bit ropey. Still, the big blockbusting monster action more than made up for it, and Kong looked stunning 🙂

  2. A fun movie, though light on characterization. OTH, most of us are going to see this film for its scenes of Kong smashing things and it is an exciting film in the end.

    • True, but I wish there had been a bit more brains to it (as with Godzilla) – especially considering the fine cast that was assembled…but it certainly delivered on the monster action!

      • Agreed. Though I wasn’t expecting something on the level of Spielberg since I never heard of this director and didn’t think the director could deliver something weighty. But as long as we got our monster action then all is good!

  3. Yours is the only review I’ve read. I’m happy to know it delivers on spectacle, but it’s a shame there isn’t more under the hood. I had no idea they were linking it to Godzilla…

    • Very much appreciate your support Gareth! Yep, Kong vs Godzilla will be unleashed on us in 2020 I hope that there’s more to it than just a mindless monster smash-up but I honesty doubt there will be .

  4. Love how you give credit where credit is due and make sure to remind us what each individual is renown for. So much talent in this movie though, from the release of the first trailer, I had a feeling that the characters would probably fall short, while the action would be the main attraction (I haven’t seen it, but I have the feeling that the level of appreciation I’d have to this movie would be similar to the latest Tarzan movie we had). I’m actually more hyped for the shared universe movie to come out than this one though. I’ll probably wait till Skull Island releases digitally before checking out. Brilliant and honest review, bro!

    – Lashaan

    • Thank you good sir! Skull Island is enjoyable so long as you don’t expect much beyond the monster action and some pretty visuals. I feel that Godzilla was a stronger film, I’m looking forward to seeing how Kong vs Godzilla works out but I really hope it doesn’t end up as dumb as it sounds!

      • The Godzilla franchise that will have the shared universe is Godzilla (2014) right? I was kind of sad when the fate of one of my favourite actor (Bryan Cranston) was shown on screen… From that moment on the movie sort of lost its grip on me. Until Godzilla started doing wicked combat moves on screen! 😀

        – Lashaan

      • Yeah think it’s a first time director, Michael Dougherty, who co-wrote X-Men 2, X-Men: DOFP and Superman Returns. The title for it at the moment is Godzilla: King of the Monsters (think Kong will have something to say about that haha). I’m cautiously optimistic…

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