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REVIEW: Is ‘Kong: Skull Island’ OK for kids & teens?

March 10th, 2017 / By: Michael Foust / comments

REVIEW: Is ‘Kong: Skull Island’ OK for kids & teens?

Bill Randa is a middle-aged, Indiana Jones wannabe in 1973 America who has discovered a new island on satellite images—and he desperately wants to explore it.

The mysterious South Pacific island has been surrounded for centuries by a perpetual storm system that swallows ships and planes, giving it a Bermuda Triangle-like aura that makes those around Randa hesitant to follow him.    

Randa has the guts and the gusto, but now he needs government assistance to get there. Fortunately for him, he has a wild card to play with Congress: a Soviet satellite is set to take pictures over the island in a few days. If there’s anything special on the island—say, the cure for cancer—it would be wise for the Americans to get there first.

Congress finally gives him the military escort he needs, but what he finds is something that not even the Russians would have wanted.

Kong: Skull Island (PG-13) opens in theaters this weekend, giving us the sixth English-language King Kong movie and the first since 2005. It is a reboot of the franchise and is part of Legendary's “MonsterVerse” franchise, which also included the 2014 film Godzilla and will conclude in a few years with Godzilla vs. Kong.

It stars John Goodman as Randa; Corey Hawkins (24: Legacy) as Randa’s sidekick, Houston Brooks; Brie Larson (Room) as Mason Weaver, an anti-war photographer; Tom Hiddleston (The Avengers) as James Conrad, a hired man for the expedition; and Samuel L. Jackson as Preston Packard, a U.S. Army lieutenant colonel who leads the helicopter crew that transports the group to the island.     

Like the classic 1933 black-and-white version (which is better), Kong: Skull Island features a gorilla-like monster that is misunderstood and thought, wrongly, to be an immediate threat to humanity. Set at the close of the Vietnam War, the newest film begins with helicopters dropping bombs on the supposedly uninhabited island so as to measure seismic responses—an action that draws the ire of an angry Kong, who leaps out of the jungle and destroys a few helicopters.

Packard then orders the remaining helicopters to fire at Kong, which results in a few more deaths and all of the choppers being grounded.

Kong walks away, and the remaining survivors quickly split into two camps: 1) those who want to get revenge and kill King Kong, and, 2) those who believe they were wrong to come to the island and who just want to leave.

They soon learn that King Kong isn’t the only other-worldly creature on this island.

So, is Kong: Skull Island OK for kids and teens, or even adults? Let’s examine that question …

The Good

Warning: spoilers ahead!

Skull Island relies way too much on CGI effects, but it does include a decent plot that kept me interested. Like any monster movie, we all know that someone is going to get eaten, but who?  

Themes of sacrifice and doing what is right are also present, as is a strong—even biblically based—message about the environment (more on that below).

Period films always attract me, and this one is no different. We get to experience all of the stuff the ‘70s brought us: crazy clothes, unforgettable music and indestructible rotary phones.

The Bad

Any King Kong movie is going to be violent, but Kong: Skull Island is over the top. A giant spider kills a man by jabbing a leg into his mouth. Kong fights a huge octopus and tears it apart, tentacle by tentacle (and then eats it). A giant lizard-like monster splits out a bloody human skull, and then kills a few more people. Huge birds carry off a man and tear off his arm. Kong battles an even bigger lizard, eventually pulling out its tongue and organs.

On a gross scale of 1-10, this film is an 11. There’s lots of shooting, lots of blood, lots of death. And everything (including the creatures) looks very real—something to keep in mind for families. Sadly, Hollywood has forgotten the art of implication, which is one thing that made Alfred Hitchcock films so scary. In today’s films, gore rules.

Skull Island also is peppered with more than 30 coarse words: h--- (9), d--n (6), s--t (6), a-- (2), SOB (2), f-word (2), misuse of God (2), ba----d (1), b--ch (1). A couple of anatomical terms also are included. 

There is no sexuality, although Randa enters a Bangkok establishment at the beginning that appears to be a combination of a bar and a brothel. A couple of women are seen, but nothing is explicit.

The Worldview

On the surface, Skull Island would seem to hold only an unbiblical worldview. We’re told that the island is the “land where God did not finish creation,” and we later hear that “this planet doesn't belong to us” because “ancient species owned this earth long before mankind.” The expedition party even encounters a tribe that has animist beliefs and views Kong as god.

But a few members of the party hold environmental beliefs that square with a biblical worldview. They (correctly) argue that it was wrong to bomb the island for scientific beliefs. They (correctly) assert that King Kong is an essential part of an ecosystem that relies on him to keep it in balance. And they (correctly) say that Kong did what any animal would have done if it were attacked. How does this apply to the Christian, real-world context? God made us caretakers of the earth (Gen. 1:28) and we are to be good stewards. Of course, how we apply this concept isn’t black and white on every issue, but Skull Island does a nice job of raising the topic.

The Verdict: OK For Kids & Teens?

My oldest kids are 9 and 5, and Kong: Skull Island is far too violent and scary for them. As for this being or not being teen-appropriate, that will depend on a family’s level of comfort with language and violence. I know this much: I won’t be watching it again.

Discussion Questions

Should the helicopters have fired at Kong? Which character did you side with in the film? Should Kong have been killed? Does environmentalism and animal rights fit within a Christian worldview? What did you like most about the movie? What bothered you the most? Does movie violence shape our outlook on the world? (If so, how?)

Entertainment rating: 2.5 out of 5. Family-friendly rating: 2.5 out of 5.

Kong: Skull Island is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for brief strong language.