I was only 7 when the 2005 “King Kong” came out, and the massive Kong image on the posters, lobby displays and magazine covers shook me a bit. In fact, to this day, whenever I see a picture of that Kong, I still get a little bit of a jolt. A dozen years later, Kong is back. However, “Kong: Skull Island” is a revamping – not a remake of any of the previous versions. And, happily for me at least, the new Kong has a softer look. And he’s leaner – and maybe not meaner.
It’s 1973. The Vietnam War is ending, and two representatives from a largely secret government division called Monarch are granted permission to head to a mysterious island in the Pacific to investigate strange happenings. They get a military escort – led by Colonel Packard (played by Samuel L. Jackson), who’s excited to have one more mission before having to return home. Some scientists, a photojournalist and a ace tracker join the expedition. Very quickly into their visit – Kong joins them as well. Those who survive Kong’s initial attack must figure out how to get-off the island and how, or if, they should kill the incredible monster.
While “Kong: Skull Island” is star-studded, it’s a mixed bag when it comes to performances. Tom Hiddleston, as Air Captain James, and Brie Larson, as the camera-handy Mason, are too soft-spoken and far from compelling leads. Jackson brings his usual dose of high energy (and colorful vocabulary) as the military leader obsessed with winning, but his shtick is getting old. John Goodman, as the head of the expedition, goes through the motions.
There is a standout in the cast (besides The Big Ape, who’s tremendous) and that’s John C. Reilly, who plays Hank, a WWII pilot who’s been living on the island since being shot down 28 years ago. He’s without a doubt the most interesting and likable character of the bunch. Aside from Reilly and the Kong fighting sequences, which are epic in scale and incredibly impressive to watch, everything else about “Skull Island” feels way too feels ordinary. The script is flat and unimaginative, missing any creative spark that’s key in modern-day, big-budget action movies. Just because it’s set in the 70’s doesn’t mean the narrative has to seem 40 years old.
Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts constantly uses slow-motion, random blasts of color in the scenery, and stylized editing – but none of it works here. We do get to meet more creatures than the mighty Kong – but their only purpose is to be obstacles for the humans (and time-fillers for the audience) before the inevitable final showdown…well, of this installment, at least.
Warner Bros. is setting the stage for their “Godzilla vs. Kong” movie in three years, which will follow “Godzilla 2” in 2019. The studio is trying to build a blockbuster classic movie-monsters franchise. Kong is clearly up for the task – but this film proves that most of the humans behind the scenes and in front of the camera are not.
On The Official LCJ Report Card, “Kong: Skull Island” gets a C.
Running Time: 120 min.