MonsterVerse fans, rejoice: Skull Island is a blast and a terrific addition to the franchise. While I think the last thing anyone expected after Godzilla vs. Kong was an anime-styled animated series on Netflix, the show manages to impress with its characters, humor, and action, even if it does take a while for it to find its footing and be consistently solid.
Skull Island follows two teenagers named Charlie (Nicolas Cantu) and Mike (Darren Barnet) who find themselves stranded on an island after their ship gets attacked by an eldritch sea monster. However, they very quickly discover this is no ordinary island, but one filled with terrifying monsters they never knew existed. With the help of some other stranded people they meet along the way like Annie (Mae Whitman), they must work together in order to survive.
When it comes to first impressions, Skull Island nails it with a pilot that has your attention in a chokehold from beginning to end. It’s funny, looks great, establishes its characters well, has exciting action scenes, and boasts impressive animation and art direction, despite how apparent the budget limits are. The animation isn’t as seamless as it could be, but that doesn’t stop the show from being creative with its cinematography what with the impressive tracking and arc shot from the first episode alone.
Unfortunately, the next three episodes lose a lot of the steam generated by the pilot, as they suffer from an untoward amount of repetitiveness. There’s still the odd fun moment here and there, but it’s mostly just characters attempting to survive against violent creatures.
While the creatures do look great, watching these characters try to escape monster after monster does get tiresome. It also means the characters themselves don’t get much of a chance to be interesting, since most of the time, they’re (understandably) scared and panicking.
The second half of the show, however, is when things really pick up again. The visuals are stellar, no scene feels like filler, the pace is slow and suspenseful — and fast and thrilling — when it needs to be, and the characters are allowed to be interesting again. Their relationships are better explored and they make intriguing decisions other than just trying to escape. Best of all, Kong is given a lot more screen time. With how little screen time he got in the first half, I was beginning to wonder how big of a role he’d play in the season.
The last episode, especially, is stupendous. It’s easily the best episode, as it refuses to let you look anywhere else but the screen during its runtime. Filled with gripping action from start to finish, Skull Island’s season one finale proves it’s just as stunning with adieus as it is with introductions. This is the finale you want with this kind of show, one that leaves you feeling both fulfilled and desperate for more, immediately wanting the second season as soon as possible.
An added bonus is just how funny this show can be sometimes, and funny in a way that fits the context too. Something I’ve noticed lately with action movies and shows is that they often add jokes that don’t make sense for either the character or the scene, as if to make sure they still have the audience’s attention. One example is in Marvel’s Hawkeye, when Clint asks Kate why she finds someone suspicious and Kate bizarrely says, “Yesterday, he offered me a butterscotch.”
Skull Island isn’t completely free from those instances, but for the most part, the show’s humor lands really well and doesn’t feel distracting. It certainly helps that three of the main characters are teenagers, which means the sarcastic and wisecracker talk feels natural, like when Charlie’s dad tells him to calm down and take a walk when they’re still on the ship and Charlie says, “Walk? Walk where? We are in the middle of the South Pacific!”
Speaking of Mike and Charlie, the human characters of this show are surprisingly likable. As the show is called Skull Island, many are probably only tuning in for the monsters. Still, I think a lot of people are going to be pleasantly surprised at how invested they’ll be in the humans, caring about what happens to them and whether or not they’ll be able to make it out alive.
The voice performances are all superb, with Mae Whitman as Annie being an obvious standout. If you don’t know Whitman, you’ll probably recognize some of the characters she voices like Katara from Avatar: The Last Airbender and Amity from The Owl House. She’s just as fantastic as expected here, giving Annie her headstrong personality while also nailing the more dramatic scenes with the character.
Nicolas Cantu as Charlie and Darren Barnet as Mike do great voice work too, so much so that these characters wouldn’t be half as likable had they been voiced by anyone else. Cantu, especially, deserves big credit since he’s voicing the protagonist, and he makes our sarcastic scared teen hero fun to be around and easy to root for.
Skull Island is a fantastically fun time, and while its first half suffers from multiple weak points, the show as a whole is a mostly thrilling, exciting, atmospheric adventure that’ll have you feeling like you’re in Skull Island yourself. With such a great finale, Skull Island sets itself up for even bigger adventures and will have audiences impatiently waiting for what’s next.
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With fun characters, gripping action, and splendid visuals, Skull Island is a highly energized rollercoaster ride that earns its hefty title as well as its place in the MonsterVerse.
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