Upon exiting Kong: Skull Island, two things were left resonating strongly in my mind. Firstly, the uncontrollable notion that I had just paid £9.50 of my precious student loan to witness some of the worst acting, screenwriting and directing in a big budget blockbuster for quite a while. And secondly, that I absolutely loved every second of it, and it was worth all 950 of those pennies.
Kong: Skull Island is, undoubtedly, one of the finest comedies of the year, albeit completely unintentional (I think). Tom Hiddleston’s performance as the generic cardboard cut-out leading male is blandly marvellous, channelling all the depth and charisma of a wet Skull Island fern, whilst consistently flexing his standard action-hero muscles in his mandatory tight grey vest. Dwayne Johnson would be proud. But, not to be outdone, the rest of the cast and production team put in equally stellar performances, with special mentions going to Samuel L Jackson for crafting a villainous villain with evil villain-like tendencies in an impressively superficial and two-dimensional manner, and of course the writers, whoever they may be, for producing a script where conversation and cohesive dialogue is a rare treat.
‘The stakes have never been lower, no cliché is left unturned, and yet … a weirdly brilliant experience’
On a more serious note, Kong has some deep-rooted issues which produce a film with an unfortunate amount of squandered potential. The concept of man wrestling with nature to gain dominance and control is, at its heart, an interesting and relevant idea, especially in a world in which humanity is gradually decimating the forests and wildlife. But with some serious overcrowding, the message is lost in the colourful ape-smashing orgy that remains. At least ten characters could quite easily have been cut with minimal consequences, leaving time to give Hiddleston, Larson and Jackson some of the character development which makes other recent franchise films (Guardians of the Galaxy, Logan, and 10 Cloverfield Lane, to name a few) far more memorable and resonant with modern audiences. Another serious issue is the reveal of Kong, or rather, the lack thereof. Without spoiling anything, the introduction of Kong is mundane, almost perfunctory, deeply lacking the build-up and teasing of the creature we’ve grown to adore in monster movies gone by. The most immediate and affecting implication of this is simple: Kong is not scary. Perhaps it was a bid to get the 12A mass-market rating the studio wanted, or perhaps it was that they had enough money to go in with the big CGI shots from the start – either way, the build-up is a feature which is sorely missed.
Having said that, Kong: Skull Island promised our big beloved ape smashing things very hard, and on that front, it delivers. The fights, and there are plenty of them, are explosively pretty, brutal, and exciting in equal proportions, providing the enthralling destruction any Kong cinema-goer craved leading up to the release of this film. Clocking in at 104 feet tall (compared to Jackson’s 25 foot Kong in 2005), we’ve never seen Kong on this scale before and it truly is spectacular. I think it’s part of the basic human condition that watching a 104-foot ape swat helicopters out of the air like flies is utterly exhilarating. Credit should go to the visual effects team who have successfully made a lifelike, believable giant ape, complete with matted hair, bloodied scars and that familiar glint of humanity in his eye. Additionally, the extra monsters we meet on the island are worth a mention. The truth of it is, they’re silly, and for some of them I even had to stifle a laugh when they were introduced, but they never fail to produce an entertaining sequence, and as far as I’m concerned that’s a success.
‘special mention going to Samuel L Jackson for crafting a villainous villain with evil villain-like tendencies’
Jordan Vogt-Robert’s directing is, at best, hit and miss here. Particularly baffling is his choice of colour palette, which I found remarkably similar to the packet of Skittles I was eating at the time. Bright, saturated and saccharine, the whole film is drenched in deep greens, blues or purples, occasionally making for hilariously ridiculous images (cue Tom Hiddleston emerging from green ocean of gas, donning a gas mask and swinging a samurai sword while screeching pterodactyls with blue blood charge at him). It’s ridiculous, stupid, and yet, again, it’s kind of fun. It’s like being trapped in a brutal children’s cartoon and being unable to escape, producing an almost sugar-rush-like feeling and leaving you in some sort of daze by the film’s end. Equally, however, stilted conversation where it feels like characters are simply waiting to deliver their line counteracts this hyperactive excitement created by the film. Although dialogue (and the direction of it) is generally kept to a painful minimum, it’s mandatory to tell some sort of story in a film, which in this case is incredibly forced and clunky, leaving you to wonder when the next action sequence will be whenever you’re knee-deep in cheesy meaningless dialogue. In other words, to sum up Kong: you sit through the story because the giant ape is worth it.
The combination of the spectacular action sequences and the (again, unintentional) hilariously bad filmmaking on other fronts, somehow inexplicably combines to produce an incredibly enjoyable film. This is the fast food of cinema. It’s bad – really bad – yet, once the credits rolled, I realised I hadn’t stopped grinning for almost two hours.
The stakes have never been lower, no cliché is left unturned, and yet Kong: Skull Island is a weirdly brilliant experience.
Image: Warner Bros.