16/03/17, Kong: Skull Island
Confessions first: I like exotic, monster movies, even if the good ones rarely come around. I really liked the Jurassic Park films, including the most recent one, Jurassic World. I enjoyed the 1990s Godzilla with Matthew Broderick. And when I was very young, I was besotted with Conan Doyle's The Lost World (the Ladybird children's version with cassette), going so far as to convert the spare room next to my bedroom into a time machine so I could travel back in time and have the kind of adventures you see in Kong: Skull Island. Is it just me that loves the idea of some part of the world, with a Victorian/Edwardian vibe, still unexplored, full of wildlife the likes of which would blow your mind? The great action directors all seem to share this sentimental fantasy: Spielberg, Cameron, and Jackson, have all produced films of fairy tale lands with monsters, and done them well.
How sad then, to be so underwhelmed by Kong: Skull Island. It starts excitingly, as a team prepare to push through a wall of spectacular, permanent cloud to get to an island before the Russians do. The cast, at this stage, has so much promise; Brie Larson and Tom Hiddlestone look the part as slightly cynical, slightly excited witnesses to a military-run operation. John Goodman is his usual charismatic self, Samuel L Jackson is all simmering, slow-burn anger. The monsters come thick and fast and are convincing. Peripheral characters start to get killed off. Tick, tick, tick, go the boxes. Then adding something different, John C Reilly appears – an actor I've never cared for – and is genuinely funny, he has all the best lines in the film.
But the film never gets beyond these stages, in terms of development. The story becomes one of survival, and for Jackson's military character, revenge against Kong, but it's done without the kind of details a Spielberg or a Jackson would sprinkle over it. In fact it becomes sterile; Hiddlestone's and Larson's handsome survivors are never more than this, while the village of natives are a wasted opportunity, introduced and then forgotten about until the very end. We're told by Reilly's character that he's been stuck in this storm-surrounded land for 28 years, and yet apparently, while living with the villagers, they don't really say much. Or indeed, anything.
The film, in fact, is full of oversights like this, things that would have made the film more engaging and interesting, a fleshing out of the reality of being stuck in a beautiful, lethal world with these beautiful (and lethal?) villagers. Why didn't Reilly's character have a relationship with one of the beautiful-looking villagers? 28 years of no communication, or touch, or affection, and he's slightly quirky?I don't want to criticise this film too much. I don't want to mention the performance of Jing Tian, the Chinese actress who was so bad in The Great Wall that she seemed, in the words of a critic, half a second off the pace; I don't want to mention that she recycles it here. But I wonder if this film was kept deliberately shallow for the international audiences, a popcorn flick to get bums on seats, an exotic bit of escapism where by the end, you're indifferent and ready to leave.