[Rating: Minor Rock Fist Up]
Kong: Skull Island is the very definition of Hollywood’s over reliance on special effects. It’s a dumb, mindless, CGi orgy of monster madness that pales in comparison to 2014’s reboot of Godzilla.
But you know what? It’s still a hell of a lot of fun.
It’s 1973 and the war in Vietnam is ending, but some soldiers aren’t ready to stop fighting. Good thing John Goodman (surprisingly useless here) and Corey Hawkins (Straight Outta Compton, new dude on 24: Legacy) are trying to make a last ditch effort to explore Skull Island, because there may or may not be monsters living on it and America has to get there first, dammit! Or something like that.
Meet Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Packard, who is leading the military escort to the island, because…why not? Ya gotta have some fire power if you’re ever to encounter oversized gorillas, or dinosaurs, right? Don’t worry, this is over the top, dropping F-bombs Sam L. Jackson, so he’s fun, for a while, until it gets tiring to hear him yell every line of dialogue.
To add some pretty faces and thespian credibility to the cast, we get Tom Hiddleston, playing an Indiana Jones type explorer dude and Brie Larson as an anti-war photographer, who literally does nothing but pose and look cool while trying to take photos during the madness.
Of course, I don’t want to “ruin the plot”…but monster explorers, military escort, and pretty actors arrive at scary island to find monsters, the biggest of which is Kong, who natives see as the island protector. But Packard sees Kong as the ultimate enemy and a chance to finish what he couldn’t in ‘Nam. And of course, the good guys can’t let Kong die, right?
To say the characters are one-dimensional would be giving the screenwriter too much credit. It seemed like there was series of cool shots on storyboards rather than an actual script. You probably could have replaced all of the actors with cardboard cutouts and really not noticed any lack of personality. Nothing against SLJ, Loki and the future Captain Marvel (Brie Larson is joining the Avengers), they’re just not given anything interesting to work with.
Really, the only live action person who makes things more interesting when he’s on screen is John C. Reilly, as a WWII pilot who has been stranded on the island for nearly 30 years. His giddiness to see people is coupled with his incredulous belief that none of them are leaving the island alive. He adds a perfect dose of desperately needed humor in a movie that already isn’t taking itself very seriously.
Some where along the way, the filmmakers convinced themselves they were recreating Apocalypse Now. Outside of the fever dream inspired imagery, the all too obvious ‘Nam soundtrack, and Hiddleston’s character being named Conrad, that’s about where the comparisons end.
But this is a goddamn monster movie. Who cares about the characters, right? Kong, the monkey, is fun, even if he lacks the intimacy delivered by Andy Serkis in Peter Jackson’s King Kong. The action is spectacular, but after a while it’s a little mind numbing. Without something or someone to emotionally identify with, watching Kong beat the shit out of his fellow CGi mates is fucking exhausting.
Granted, this version of Kong is merely a 2 hour trailer setup for the main event down the road (be sure to stay after the credits for the real nerdgasm) Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts make it abundantly clear that this isn’t a more nuanced reboot a la Godzilla. This shit is in your face, down your throat, and take not prisoners, without much of a concern that you remember anything after the fact other than Kong can kick some serious ass.
Honestly though, all this crap aside, it’s fun. Kong Skull Island is the perfect mental escape if you are in need of some CGi spectacle before the summer officially kicks off. Unfortunately, it’s a harsh reminder how quickly it can be forgotten that it is possible to make a monster movie, with real characters, and establish emotional connections with them — and watch some Kaiju fuck shit up. It’s possible, just maybe too much to ask for repeated success.