“Kong” is a Stylish Epic That Lacks Real Characters

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“This world never belonged to us, it belongs to THEM. The only question is how long we have before they take it back.”—Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins)

“Kong: Skull Island” fulfills its promise of monster mayhem, man vs. nature brutality, and glorious visuals but falters the moment someone dares to open their mouth.

Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, the film centers around a team of scientists, soldiers, and adventurers who work together to explore a mythical, uncharted island in the Pacific Ocean. Cut off from the outside world, they venture into the domain of the mighty Kong, sparking a great battle between Mother Nature and mankind. As their mission of discovery suddenly turns into a vicious fight for survival, they must find a way off this primal Eden, a world where humans do not belong.

Old fans of the MonsterVerse film series of films were promised a movie that paid homage to the jaw-dropping amazement that was the original, and boy does “Kong” deliver.

Kong is primarily what makes this film enjoyable. He is ginormous, and the audience can feel this from the film’s stylish cinematography. For instance, when two soldiers in a helicopter are being lifted from the forest floor by Kong, instead of capturing the scene from the outside, the camera is inside of the copter. Viewers cannot help but stare with open mouths every time Kong is on screen.

Thoughts of CGI go out the window when you get a glimpse of Kong for the first time. He looks real. He looks magnificent, intimidating, something that originated before mankind. Those behind the visual effects perfectly blended Kong with the real, untouched environment of Vietnam.

Combined, the cinematography and visual effects will convince many that something this big can actually exist and create such destruction with its bare hands.

Another big win: the jumbo-sized monster throwdowns. The action sequences will satisfy any action and monster movie fan. The fights between Kong and the other monsters on the island are amazing to look at, for they are equally, if not more terrifyingly bigger than the main man. When the creatures are not trying to kill each other or our human characters, their behaviors are intriguing to watch. While some are ruthless, carnivorous creatures, others are peaceful, shy, and breathtaking to behold. Including more than just a few primal species in the film respects the monster lore well, pleasing old fans as well as those who are not.

Everyone gave great performances, but the character that surprisingly stood out the most was Jack Chapman (Toby Kebbell). Playing a major with a son at home, Kebbell’s character is given the most character development, evoking the strongest emotional attachment movie-goers may have. When the situation turns south on Skull Island, the movie does a great job of reminding the audience of what Chapman could potentially be leaving behind should he die. As viewers, we relate to his situation and soon become emotionally invested in his character.

After Chapman, Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly) are also the more fleshed out and emotionally invested characters. Jackson does it again as an “eye-for-an-eye” Lieutenant Colonel Packard, effortlessly playing a man who is willing to venture through the depths of hell to avenge his men. Marlow is intriguing as the eccentric, yet wise castaway on Skull Island. Reilly’s character brings with him wisdom and motivation, something that is lacking in most of the other characters. His motivation to get off the island is more apparent considering what he had to leave behind and what he has experienced for so many years.

Despite going to see this movie for Kong, the visuals, and the bigger-than-life action, you can’t help but see the film’s problems that are shoved in your face.

The characters and the script are the weakest components of the movie, and it is obvious from the very beginning and until the very end. When the time comes for dialogue, the lack of authentic interactions definitely shows on screen. Because the movie puts so much faith in the human characters to push the storyline, the bad script starts to suck the life out of what makes the movie great.

The script is so very flawed in the sense that the characters are two-dimensional, lacking any complexities and motivations that an actual person would possess. The supposed hero and heroine of the film, James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), are disappointingly the most underdeveloped characters. Both actors put on a great performance from what they were given— bland characters with expositional dialogue that left nothing to be desired besides their good looks.

Sadly, the majority of the characters are infected with the same flatness. When it comes time to introduce or develop characters, the scenes are flooded with plot-point dialogue, nothing beyond setting up and pushing the plot forward. This becomes a problem from the very beginning because it creates a “scripted,” obviously-in-front-of-the-camera environment. Films with good scripts, for examples see Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight,” “Inglourious Basterds,” and “Kill Bill: Volume 1,” bless their viewers with thrilling action and fleshed out characters by weaving clever, quotable, and most importantly, real conversations into the storyline.

The script is also afflicted with unreal reactions to traumatic events. While time is spent pushing the characters towards more life-threatening situations— so viewers can see more of Kong and the villainous skullcrawlers— time spent focusing on the characters’ emotional states are short. After Kong viciously destroys the helicopters—killing several soldiers—instead of the expected emotional breakdown, most of the characters stoically move on, unnaturally pushed by the plot. The lack of emotional realism makes it difficult to relate to the characters and latch on to them, so when they do face dangerous situations, movie-goers will actually care.

Given their lack of motivations, development, and authentic interactions, the characters are nothing more than cannon fodder for the monsters in the film. Because the script does not try to sprinkle the film with relatable character developments, viewers will not care when they get eaten, crushed, or amputated by the creatures on the island. The characters do not matter. They are expendable because the script makes them so.

The fast-paced editing can, at times, hinder the movie’s attempts at pathos. Scenes seem cut off before viewers can latch onto a character. By the middle of the film, you are just randomly checking on some characters. This is a byproduct of the film’s choppy editing. Fast-paced shots work for the movie’s action scenes, but when it is time to focus on the characters, it prevents the audience from latching on to characters and particular scenes.

The humor is the leading culprit of some of the film’s most cringe-worthy moments. At times when our characters are giving some exposition for the audience, humor is shoehorned into the scene, ruining the tone and destroying any emotional attachment that the scene is trying to evoke. Unlike Marvel films, which are known for successfully sprinkling its big action scenes with humor, Kong does not master this technique; it is one of many movies who have tried and failed to create a harmonious relationship between suspenseful action and humor.

Some of the attempted humor sparked a few laughs, but with most being so out of left field, I theorize that the characters might have been improved if the majority of the “comedic” moments were discarded from the script. The jokes did not organically weave into the script and it comes across glaringly obvious.

Another glaring issue is the film’s attempts at immersing the audience into the 1970s. The immersion comes off as forced by constantly playing music from that decade—despite being on a carnivore-infested island. Despite, the constant reminder of the 70s, it did not feel like that decade. By the fifth song, this cultural immersion started to become bothersome. Instead of being culturally intuitive, “Kong” at times felt like a stylishly visual montage or a music video.

The music was also responsible for ruining some emotional scenes. Instead of beginning a new scene with silence or dialogue, a jarring burst of 70s music plays, destroying the tone of the previous scene.

“Kong: Skull Island” is obviously flawed. It has uneven storytelling. It treats the majority of its characters as disposable food. You probably will not care about any of the people running for their lives and being indiscriminately killed off. That is not to say that “Kong: Skull Island” is not a fun film, because it is. The revival of the king of monsters exceeded our violent expectations. The creatures were beautiful—and ruthless—in their own right. “Kong: Skull Island” will make any fear the merciless Mother Nature.

“Kong: Skull Island” is definitely worth watching at least once with a group of monster-hungry movie friends. However, the film is not worth watching in its entirety.