Kong: Skull Island
“It’s a relief to watch a silly action movie without worrying about misogyny or cringeworthy racism.”
Title: Kong: Skull Island (2017)
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts 👨🏼🇺🇸
Writers: Dan Gilroy 👨🏼🇺🇸, Max Borenstein 👨🏼🇺🇸, Derek Connolly 👨🏼🇺🇸, and John Gatins 👨🏼🇺🇸
Reviewed by Li 👩🏻🇺🇸
Fun popcorn movie but super forgettable. I’ll give them points for keeping my attention for two hours, and there were definitely some laugh-out-loud moments from the silly, unabashedly CGI action scenes, but Kong: Skull Island doesn’t do anything that hasn’t been done before.
Does it pass the Bechdel Test? NO
Kong: Skull Island is an ‘All Dudes and a Lady’ movie—the unfortunate club of Hollywood films that feature ensembles full of men and one token woman whose only purpose, more often than not, is to provide eye candy and sexual tension. Luckily, Brie Larson’s character of photojournalist Mason Weaver avoids that pitfall, instead seeing serious screen time and respectable character development. Unfortunately, female representation drops off after that.
We technically have a second woman: San, as played by Chinese actress Jing Tian. However, San barely has more than two lines and in a groan-worthy decision, is slapped into a scene that portrays a nascent romance with Houston Brooks, the Other Person of Color on the research team. It’s completely unnecessary and it feels like a misguided effort to pander, although to whom I couldn’t begin to guess. Mostly, you’re just surprised when Jing Tian appears at all as she photo bombs her own scenes—it’s that easy to forget she’s in this movie.
Kong: Skull Island does a decent job on racial diversity, especially when considering their all-white roster of creators. Perhaps their slightly more inclusive group of producers injected some guidance; of the two executive producers credited on IMDB, Edward Cheng is of East Asian descent.
Of the core group of 15 stranded Americans, the breakdown is as follows:
8 white individuals in a variety of roles (7 male, 1 female)
3 black men in a variety of roles: Preston, played by Samuel L. Jackson, is a war-hungry villain (womp). Houston, played by Corey Hawkins, is a brilliant, awkward, and endearing nerd. Mills, played by Jason Mitchell, is a macho soldier. All a bit stereotyped, but it says more about the level of sophistication of the script than it does the writers’ decision-making.
2 East Asians: Kong: Skull Island really doesn’t know what to do with its East Asians and portrays them both as painfully foreign and exotic. San, played by Chinese actress Jing Tian, has a minor part as a quiet, pretty nerd. Her “flower vase” role breaks no stereotypes. Gunpei dies long before the landing party arrives and plays a sort of mascot to John C. Reilly’s character, Marlow. In a truly strange, laugh-out-loud scene, Tom Hiddleston runs through a cloud of poisonous gas, hacking away at monsters with the late Gunpei’s katana.
1 Southeast Asian or part-Asian male: Reles, played by self-proclaimed “Asian-ish” Eugene Cordero who appears to be at least part Filipino, is a capable soldier but with a conscience. I enjoyed seeing an Asian male in an overtly masculine and positive role, speaking without an accent. The difference between Asian-Americans and foreign Asians is vast, and I liked seeing the contrast here in Kong: Skull Island.
1 Hispanic: Nieves, played by Puerto-Rican John Ortiz, has a minor role and displays some cowardly tendencies.
To note, I was a bit apprehensive when the film first introduced the natives of the island, complete with tribal body paint; however, as the film progressed they received more backstory and so avoided the stereotype of being primitive, unredeeming “savages”.
Mediaversity Grade: C+ 3.50/5
Kong: Skull Island does pretty well on inclusion; they mostly fell short due to simplistic writing, which never lends itself well to complex characters. The only real miss would be how the film can’t figure out how to target its East Asian audience—Jing Tian is a rote pander to the Chinese market, while the appropriation of the late Gunpei’s katana sword by John C. Reilly and Tom Hiddleston is weird and unnecessary.
All in all, Kong: Skull Island is a fun movie and a good effort in not starting a Twitter war. For me, it’s always a relief to watch a silly action movie without worrying about misogyny or cringeworthy racism, two pitfalls Kong: Skull Island manages to avoid, if narrowly.
Make some popcorn and rent it on VOD for an indecisive movie night—it will not disappoint.