‘Skull Island’ Review: This Kong-Sized Story Retreads Familiar Territory

'Skull Island' may lose itself in the monster-of-the-week dilemma, but it doesn't stray from finding its emotional core in the MonsterVerse.

Thanks to Godzilla Vs. Kong, Legendary’s MonsterVerse has expanded in recent years, bringing the two iconic creatures to the big screen. Another upcoming film, Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, will continue the story, promising the return of the two titular kaiju. However, Legendary is also taking its time in developing this universe’s rich history with another instalment to the franchise. This time, the studio brings a new animated series, Skull Island, to further enrich the lore behind King Kong and his treacherous locale.

The survival tale of Skull Island follows a group of survivors who find themselves trapped on the titular island after rescuing a young girl, Annie (Mae Whitman), from the ocean. The series centers around Charlie (Nicholas Cantu) and Mike (Darren Barnet), two teenage friends who become separated from Charlie’s father, Cap (Benjamin Bratt). Along the way, the duo encounter and escape the island’s most dangerous creatures while Cap finds himself venturing with another group led by Irene (Betty Gilpin). While these stories take separate paths, they both find themselves entwined in the MonsterVerse’s larger narrative.

Skull Island (L to R) Nicolas Cantu as Charlie and Darren Barnet as Mike in Skull Island. Cr. COURTESY OF NETFLIX © 2023

As its biggest positive, Skull Island utilizes its main cast to the fullest, providing some great emotional chemistry. Charlie and Mike’s ‘brotherly’ bond throughout the show certainly holds show as it allows some of the show’s best comedic moments while allowing the two to further develop themselves as individuals. With the addition of Annie and her large pet Dog, the show creates a certain vigorous charm not previously seen in this franchise. As a highlight, there are certain scenes between Charlie and Dog later in the show that were definitely funny to watch given their own personal arcs. Thanks to the great vocal performances by Nicholas Cantu, Darren Barnet, and Mae Whitman, these characters were all a joy to watch.

In terms of the relationships between the adults, the show slowly takes its times to flesh out these characters. Cap’s relationship with Irene doesn’t necessarily go personally deep, but as their motivations become much more clearer, it allows these two characters to have a stronger emotional depth. As the story reveals more details, Cap and Irene share this emotional bond that has its own sweetness and only adds to the powerful characterization from the main cast. However, the only issue I’ve had with this is that their backgrounds are built upon simple premises and motivations, which can predictably change.

In addition, Skull Island continues to emphasize kaiju-on-kaiju-on-human action all while emanating the thrilling suspense from previous films like 2014’s Godzilla and 2017’s Kong: Skull Island. This is seen in the first few episodes, where our main characters find themselves entrapped by an unknown threat hidden behind the dark of the seas. The subtle-turned-quick-paced action surrounds itself with the actions of Charlie, Mike, and Annie and her Dog as their dangerous ventures range from being chased through jungles by giant alligators to being surrounded by a group of large spiders in a cavern.

Often, there are tonal shifts to reflect the situation that the main cast goes through. The show can quickly go from being a quiet thriller into being a high-stakes escape all at once. Some comedic quips are dropped here and there to lighten the mood, but luckily, the show never overplays itself and it allows the intensity to keep itself up. In general, the show revels in utilizing the island’s fauna as a driving force for action all while making these on-the-spot changes that maintain a good flow all throughout.

Skull Island (L to R) Betty Gilpin as Irene, Phil LaMarr as Sam and Benjamin Bratt as Cap in Skull Island. Cr. COURTESY OF NETFLIX © 2023

Unfortunately, Skull Island can’t fight its way out of its issues. For one, it can feel like the show can rely too much on the usual monster-of-the-week story. While this primarily occurs within Charlie and Mike’s story, it often becomes repetitive over time as the duo find themselves in these situations more often. This element usually serves as the catalyst for most of the episodes in the show, though the show can overdo this in between the moments of calm. It can take away from creating a stronger story, which the show could have created with focusing less on showcasing new threats.

In a way, Skull Island can often feel like its some of its other predecessors. Both the show and Kong: Skull Island follow a similar formula: a group of humans find themselves on the island (trapped or otherwise) and must find a way to escape after discovering the monsters within. The show also utilizes elements from the movie to move its story forward like Annie, who manages to share a familiar bond with Dog much like Jia and Kong from Godzilla vs. Kong. Though surprisingly, the show dives deeper into exploring Kong’s relationship with humanity, albeit constrained to the tail end of the show.

Furthermore, while the show can revel in emotional characterization, it feels like the show misses out on expanding its side cast. The show positions some of its side characters to mainly be plot devices rather than their own character. However, the show does take some opportunity to create some emotional depth with these characters even if they are slight passing moments. These moments hold their own specialty in humanizing the side cast as they allow some of the show’s expressionisms to shine. If there were more moments like these, Skull Island would’ve definitely pulled me in more.

Skull Island. Benjamin Bratt as Cap in Skull Island. Cr. COURTESY OF NETFLIX © 2023

Skull Island wants to become a story that enhances the lore behind Kong and the MonsterVerse, but it can feel like it retreads familiar territory. However, it utilizes its main cast to the best of its ability, providing a lot of fun moments with the cast while creating some great characterization. Given where the series ends off, it looks like the show wants to receive another season to further explore where Charlie, Mike, and Annie go next. Hopefully, it can succeed in creating an engaging story while continuing to explore where these characters, kaiju or not, go next.


Skull Island releases globally on Netflix today.

Christopher Gallardo

Christopher Gallardo

Hi, my name's Chris and I write things at The Hollywood Handle. I like to write and learn about the animation world, play video games, and yes, go outside. A big Marvel, DC, and Star Wars fan/comic reader (indie too!) and occasional cinephile.
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