When Kong: Skull Island was released earlier this year it received decent, if not stellar reviews. Sandwiched between the far superior Logan and the behemoth of Beauty and the Beast, the box office was rather tepid - a $60 million domestic opening for a movie with a $165 million production budget and a gaggle of big name actors is probably not what the studio had in mind. The film's director, Jordan Vogt-Roberts, even took some swings at the film in the Honest Trailer. Nevertheless, it went on to gross more than $560 million, putting it on even footing with Godzilla and proving that Warner Bros. monster flicks are shaping up to be reliable $500 million earners.
This is probably because the film knows what it wants to be and does that thing well. As a creature feature that celebrates the silly fun of giant monsters beating the shit out of each other, Kong: Skull Island is a rip-roaring success. I have read a few reviews lamenting the character development – that there is none, what there is is done badly, everyone is under-developed except Kong. There is merit to these criticisms, which is the fault of the creative team for packing this film with such a vast constellation of characters in the first place. It’s impossible to introduce that many movie stars, expendable nerds and a Colonel Kurtz-type (just to name a few) and give all of them enough time to make them feel real or interesting.
But that’s really not the point. In this film, those things are truly unimportant. Perhaps the leads could have been defined better and given more room to shine with their movie star charisma, but Kong is the real star of this show. I mean, it's a King Kong movie right? You don't come for the humans. The film is also quite successful in another critical area, which is the world-building it does and the way it makes it feel like you've stepped into a weird primordial piece of untouched Earth. The action sequences were well staged and considering the film aspires to nothing more than brainless spectacle, there are also a few really fantastic images (see above).
If you squint you might be able to make out some thematic symbolism about war and Vietnam, but honestly, if you come to a King Kong film with any expectation other than being credibly inserted into an exotic world where 30 foot spiders impale dudes through the face, then you are in the wrong fucking movie. Kong: Skull Island succeeds at being a monster movie, as did Godzilla, and it succeeds at its world-building. If the character development is under-cooked that’s OK with me.
True, the film has some difficulty escaping the baggage of its pedigree. But isn't that somehow a weird referendum on American society that we have imbued an 84-year-old film about a giant ape with such deep cultural meaning in the first place? Skull Island can't live up to its classic namesake, but it lives up to its promise of having monsters kill people and each other in entertainingly baroque fashion. What else can we ask of our creature features?