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What Critics Are Saying About Kong: Skull Island

There's a lot more than a $190 million budget riding on Kong: Skull Island. With Marvel and DC continuing their one-sided battle for supremacy in the superhero stakes and Universal getting ready to re-launch their classic monsters franchise this summer, Legendary Pictures have been quietly going about setting up their own cinematic universe. The company teamed up with Warner Bros. in 2015 to create a world shared by King Kong, Godzilla and an "ecosystem of other giant super-species." The two mythical beasts are slated to meet in 2020 for Godzilla vs. Kong, though all of that depends on one thing—the reaction to Kong: Skull Island.

Will Jordan Vogt-Roberts' film kickstart a franchise that will be with us for years to come, or will it fall flat on its face and force the planned battle of the super-beasts to be postponed? Here's what the critics are saying about it.

Entertainment Weekly

Entertainment Weekly's Chris Nashawaty opened his review by bemoaning some of Kong's past cinematic incarnations, complaining that the famous movie monster had been "treated pretty shabbily by Hollywood" ever since his critically acclaimed debut in 1933. As far as Nashawaty is concerned, that most certainly isn't the case here. He gave Skull Island a B- rating, taking a stance that has become unfashionable among reviewers in recent years and praising the filmmakers for taking a CGI heavy-approach. "We didn't come to Kong: Skull Island for the characters (well-developed or otherwise), we came for the damn dirty ape." Nashawaty wrote. "And director Jordan Vogt-Roberts and Industrial Light and Magic's Kong is a CGI showstopper... The poor misunderstood guy seems destined to keep proving to humankind that he comes in peace."

Toronto Sun

Writing for the Toronto Sun, Jim Slotek started his review by expressing his encouragement at Legendary/Warner Bros.' plans to make King Kong and Godzilla do battle before going on to compare their respective solo features. "I actually liked Kong: Skull Island more than [the 2014 reboot of] Godzilla, for the simplicity of its plot. To wit: overconfident humans invade Kong's domain and pay the consequences." Simplicity remained the theme of Slotek's review, with the writer calling the dialogue prosaic and goofy as well as questioning the originality of Samuel Jackson's revenge arc, though he did so while recognizing that this was all part of a plan that ultimately paid off. "This is a monster movie for the nine-year-old kid in all of us, and the filmmakers take it as un-seriously as that suggests... And if it all seems at times to be pointless sound and fury, well, yeah. That's the point."

The Hollywood Reporter

Hollywood Reporter chief critic Todd McCarthy summed up his feelings in three simple words: "Kong rules again." The former Variety staffer compared the picture to a regular King Kong flick mixed with Jurassic Park: The Lost World and spiked with a dash of Apocalypse Now (a reference to the many sunset shots that director Jordan Vogt-Roberts utilizes to great effect), and the cocktail went down very smoothly. According to McCarthy, Skull Island is perfectly paced when compared to Peter Jackson's "bloated" 2005 effort Kong, finding the balance that the Lord of the Rings helmer couldn't. "This highly entertaining return of one of the cinema's most enduring giant beasts moves like crazy—the film feels more like 90 minutes than two hours—and achieves an ideal balance between wild action, throwaway humor, genre refreshment and, perhaps most impressively, a nonchalant awareness of its own modest importance in the bigger scheme of things."

Variety

Reviewing duties for Kong: Skull Island fell to Owen Gleiberman, who took over as the trade's chief critic in 2016. He drew comparisons to the "messy and unimaginative piece of thunder-lizard junk" that is Jurassic Park: The Lost World in his review, admitting that he pretty much expected the same thing from Kong: Skull Island. "The surprise is that Skull Island isn't just 10 times as good as Jurassic World; it's a rousing and smartly crafted primordial-beastie spectacular." He went on to praise the performances of the entire cast (with a special nod to the "terrifically dry" John C. Reilly) and offered the highest of compliments to the movie itself. "In its jungle-stranded B-movie way, Kong: Skull Island may come closer in spirit to the wide-eyed amazement of the original than either of those remakes. That's because it's more casually willing to be its own thing."

The Village Voice

"For a movie in which a major character's death is discovered when a giant lizard-monster vomits out his skull, Kong: Skull Island is a surprisingly breezy affair," begins Bilge Ebiri in his review for the Village Voice, an in-depth piece in which the filmmaker-turned-journalist lauded the picture as a "charming, insistent trifle, a monster movie that's unafraid to be cruel while also mining the genre's inherent silliness." While he did call out the filmmakers for failing to fully develop several father-son narratives ticking along in the background, he was ultimately of the opinion that the movie boasts enough surprises for the small things not to matter. Ebiri went as far as likening the cinematic experience to that of the original. "People die in creatively graphic ways, and the spectacle of brawling beasts in beautiful, forbidding settings is at times as captivating as it probably was in 1933, when audiences first gaped at Ernest B. Schoedsack and Merian C. Cooper's original King Kong."

Forbes

The headline for Scott Mendelson's glowing review reads "King Kong Kicks Butt In This Gorgeous Pulp Adventure." The Forbes critic distanced himself from the majority of other film reviewers by insisting that Kong: Skull Island actually works regardless of its top-of-the-line CGI effects, not because of them. "The picture is a briskly paced and character-driven adventure that just happens to be a big-budget monster mash and part of a would-be cinematic universe... While the film is technically a prequel to the Gareth Edwards' Godzilla, it stands entirely on its own in terms of content and visual style." In terms of the cast, Mendelson gave particular props to the "superb" John Goodman who portrays the senior official in charge of the expedition to the titular island, and to the "scene-stealing" John C. Reilly, who plays a WWII vet that has been stranded there for 28 years.

IGN

IGN's Alex Welch interviewed Kong: Skull Island's director in the run up to the film's release, and told the website that "Your first thought when you see him towering over you should be that this is a god." According to Welch, Jordan Vogt-Roberts achieved exactly that, praising the way the Detroit-born helmer re-imagined the legendary ape for a new generation with "an adrenaline-fueled montage of carnage and destruction that King Kong fans have likely been waiting their whole lives to see." From there, the thrills come thick and fast, so much so that Welch likens the whole experience to a white-knuckle ride. "There are moments when it feels more like an amusement park ride than a traditional monster movie origin story, taking full advantage of the set piece and stylistic opportunities available—it's a thrill ride for people ready to kick off 2017 with a big bang."

Den of Geek

Unlike critics who bemoaned the lack of an intimate relationship between Kong: Skull Island's eponymous ape and his female human visitor (more on that shortly), Den of Geek's Don Kaye felt that this latest re-telling of Kong's story actually benefits from having the inter-species romance watered down. In his review, Kaye praised Brie Larson for allowing her character (a war photojournalist and peace activist) to "feel for the big ape while refreshingly avoiding most of the 'beauty and the beast' trappings of previous Kong movies." Male counterpart Tom Hiddleston also came in for praise here, said to have brought a "nice mercenary attitude and formidable physical prowess" to the role of disillusioned British pilot James Conrad; however, Kaye called the fact that the human characters, story and the overall pacing are all handled well "a pleasant bonus. Above all, the movie is fun."

Time Out

While he praised the spectacular effects work on show in Kong: Skull Island for being very "easy to follow," Time Out's Joshua Rothkopf wasn't as taken by the "gleeful, look-at-me-ma garishness." He compared large chunks of the film to a typical Vietnam War picture that breaks out "every glorious cliché in the book, from slo-mo helicopters against a huge red sun to an endless stream of grungy rock nuggets by Creedence Clearwater Revival." Rothkopf's chief criticism? Vogt-Roberts' film can't escape the giant shadow of the original, in part because it fails to develop the relationship that 1933 Kong shared with leading lady Fay Wray. "You still hope for that classic psychosexual tension between woman and ape; it's a disappointment that [Brie] Larson only rides the hairy paw once—and she hardly seems in thrall of the experience."

The Guardian

The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw has been reviewing films for the British newspaper since 1999, and in that time he's given a select number of scathing one-star reviews. Kong: Skull Island is a surprise new member of that undesirable group, dubbed a "fantastically muddled and exasperatingly dull quasi-update of the King Kong story" by the veteran writer, who called Vogt-Roberts' version of the giant ape one "deprived of his kingship and his mystery." Bradshaw's chief complaint was the focus (or lack of it) on the titular monster, who he feels plays second fiddle to the island he inhabits, full of the reptilian creatures called skullcrawlers. "The dramatic presence of Kong himself is muddled. The film tries to make him the island's noble-savage deity, the hairy good guy, as opposed to the huge baddie lizards who are scuttling around the place but are kept in check by the mighty Kong."