"Kong: Skull Island" can't seem to decide whether it wants to be an actionadventure, an anti-waranti-establishment political statement, a paean to preceding King Kong films with occasional nods to other movies, or an integral component of a franchise about very large monsters. Unfortunately, the film often fails to find a suitable balance between these competing objectives, to the detriment of the story.
For example, the camera used by Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) is prominently shown in quite a few shots. It looks quite sophisticated, with the chrome and glass rangefinder over the lens -' unless one knows anything about cameras and photography, in which case you might wonder why she is using a rangefinder with such a slow lens in museum condition that obviously hasn't been knocked around in the jungles of Viet Nam. Turns out, the camera is a Leica M2, a moderately priced consumer model introduced in 1952 -' not a camera a war photographer or even an anti-war photographer would have been likely to use twenty years later. The lens is F3.5, which means it captures less than half as much light (relative to the size of the medium) as an iPhone 5. If you've ever tried to take a picture with your cell phone at night or in a dark restaurant without flash, your pictures were probably as intelligible as her nighttime shots. Why the M2, instead of the then current M5 or a Nikon F2? Probably because it looks cool and unusual and nobody bothered to wonder what type of camera a professional photographer would have chosen. Or maybe they wanted her to look more like a female Everyman than a war correspondent. Similarly, the sidearm used by Preston (Samuel L. Jackson) is a consumer model Colt M1902 which was never adopted by the army. There are dozens of other anachronisms, including Weaver's film.
In an early aerial battle scene, Kong snatches and knocks helicopters out of the air. Kong reportedly stands 104 feet tall. Helicopters ordinarily fly at 1,000 feet above whatever is below them. I've never studied aerial combat, but I think that if I were fighting a big ape, that I would fly high enough that it couldn't reach up and grab me out of the sky.
Early shots show six helicopters on the deck of the Athena. Two more are in a cargo bay, but their rotors are collapsed and it would probably take quite a while to prepare them for flight. But when they fly to Skull Island, there are an unlucky thirteen helicopters in flight formation. Why so many helicopters? First, so the director can get a shot that's evocative of a similar shot in "Apocalypse Now." Second, to have more carnage in the ensuing battle scene. Third, to have enough survivors (red shirts) for ensuing fight scenes. But this creates a number of problems with the script. The obvious lack of continuity shatters the audience's willful suspension of disbelief. The failure of thirteen experienced pilots, who survived countless combat missions in Viet Nam under Preston's no-nonsense command, to figure out that maybe they shouldn't be flying so close to the ground makes them and Preston seem inept.
Preston doesn't have a good motive to pursue Kong. His job is to protect the geological team. Kong is a force of nature. Preston's vendetta seems a bit like attacking a tornado because it killed your family. Ultimately, he must decide between mindless pursuit of Kong and fulfilling his mission. He's depicted as possibly demented, possibly as an allegory for America's involvement in Viet Nam, but it weakens the dramatic argument. The opposing viewpoint doesn't seem strong, as it doesn't need to overcome a compelling argument.
Later, they stop and say something like: We've got only twelve hours to get from point A to point B, a distance that would ordinarily take twenty hours to travel even without the unfamiliar terrain and fearsome creatures trying to eat us, so we don't have a second to spare, but before we go, let's take time to discuss ethics, ecology and the lessons of the Nuremberg trials. By this time, the characters lack credibility, so their discussion seems sophomoric.
The movie makes numerous political statements about warfare, self-determination, xenophobia, private property -' a veritable smörgåsbord of liberal political concepts. It's critical of America's efforts to impose its political ideology on other nations. And yet, Kong could be viewed in an analogous role, imposing his rule to repress the skull crawlers and support the indigenous people. At one point, a character states, "If you take away a species's natural competition, they'll proliferate out of control." This was probably a reference to ecological diversity, but my first thought was of Syria (Skull Island), where deposing Gaddafi (Kong) resulted in a proliferation of Daesh (skull crawlers) and large casualties among refugees, but also large numbers spilling over borders.
The movie has many excellent elements. Exotic locations, a talented cast, awesome cinematography, convincing styling, costumes & props (although numerous anachronisms detract). The shots are refreshingly steady with an absence of those annoying jiggly-cam shots. It would excel as mindless entertainment if it didn't take itself so seriously or if it showed enough respect for the audience to take them seriously when presenting its political messages.
Review by Gino Cox from the Internet Movie Database.