Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John Goodman, Jing Tian, Toby Kebbell, John Ortiz, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Shea Whigham, Thomas Mann, Terry Notary, John C. Reilly, Eugene Cordero, Richard Jenkins, Miyavi.
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for brief strong language.)
Running Time: 118 Minutes
Release Date: March 10, 2017
Legendary Entertainment and Warner Bros.
Written by: Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, and Derek Connolly (screenplay); John Gatins and Dan Gilroy (story); based on the film “King Kong”, written by James Ashmore Creelman and Ruth Rose, from an idea created by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack.
Though I squirmed more than I care to admit because CRAWLY THINGS… a part of me has to admit that I did kinda, sorta like the devil-could-care bombast of Kong: Skull Island. In some ways, it’s a classic old cinematic monster movie, all gussied up for a 2017 audience. In other ways, this thing is just bonkers – a bizarre, strange-tasting goulash of 1970’s war cinema with obtuse and empty rhetoric, campy acting, odd moments of humor, rather jarring violence, and actors sputtering off in all different directions.
In short, Kong: Skull Island is an absolute mess and I think it likes it that way. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts‘ second feature, following his 2013 indie dramedy The Kings of Summer, feels like the kind of movie one would make if someone who made short films and longer films for his friends and parents was given $190 million and limitless use of the visual effects machine. As you might expect, Vogt-Roberts is having the time of his life with this movie. And that’s great!
Whether this is a “good” movie or not, I’m not so sure. A stellar cast gets the ball rolling when they travel to Kong’s home after government operative Bill Randa (John Goodman) convinces a dispassionate senator (Richard Jenkins) that an uncharted island needs exploring. His assistant, geologist Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins), wants to conduct seismic bomb tests there (just don’t ask…) and Col. Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) agrees to commit his helicopter squadron to One. Last. Mission. in assisting the research team travel to the hidden location.
The time is 1973. The Vietnam War has come to an end. The squadron on their way home. Richard Nixon is a bobblehead doll in the throes of Watergate. These are the jokes, folks. Also, did they even have bobblehead dolls in 1973?
I digress. A number of people are tossed into the expedition. There’s James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), a “tracker” who was former MI6 and now works as something of a “finder of things.” Wartime photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) stumbles into the fray and brings along her trusty black-and-white, point-and-click camera. There’s the female biologist who begins to fall for the geologist (Jing Tian), and a ragtag mix of military pilots and soldiers who receive no real screen time to create any kind of character. They are recognizable actors saying cliched lines, dodging beasties, carrying weapons and trying to not become fertilizer for the Skull Island ecosystem.
Skull Island is a nasty, awful, horrible place. Largely because it has spiders taller than trees, ants that make a horrible whistling sound, and…just…let’s talk about something else.
Oh, right…there’s also Kong. And because Vogt-Roberts does what you and I might do when told you have $190 million to make a monster movie, he turns the ape 100 FEET TALL! And he rules the island, keeping the brutal Skull Crawler raptor/lizard monster-things at bay and other grotesque beasts away, which lurk in forests, around cliffs, and even in the water.
That octopus y’all. I mean…whaaaaaattttt?!?!
As the group of soldiers, scientists, and whatever John Goodman is, find themselves attacked by Kong upon arrival, some are split apart, and others are separated on different sides of the island. We get some plot twists, a couple reveals and scenes where characters pontificate about nothing really in particular. We are apprised that this film has a rather tenuous connection to 2014’s Godzilla reboot, kickstarting the Warner Bros. MonsterVerse (sigh…). And for all of you wondering if Brie Larson is here to become the Fay Wray or Naomi Watts in this film, well, Kong has some beautiful, piercing red eyes and a gentle touch.
At times, Kong: Skull Island is entertaining and visually impressive; or at least when I could stand to look because SPIDERS TALLER THAN TREES!!! The motion-capture work is stunning, with motion-capture actors Terry Notary and Toby Kebbell sharing in the process of breathing life into the legendary beast.
However, everything is just haphazardly constructed and scattershot. While Vogt-Roberts recreates and modernizes moments from previous King Kong films, he also tosses in homages to films like Apocalypse Now and Platoon. He seems to have found an old K-Tel “Hits of the 70’s” album for the soundtrack, and John C. Reilly arrives at the midway point as a man living on the island, befriending restless natives, with a curious story and a personality that is insane and awesome and strange, with a performance you should probably see to truly believe.
Honestly, I have no idea what to make of all of this. Kong: Skull Island has moments which feel epic and sweeping like Jurassic Park, and other scenes which feel like they belong in an Airplane!-style spoof of monster movies. Sadly, Vogt-Roberts may tell this story with great enthusiasm and unquenchable zeal, but he hasn’t really created a “good” movie. Long stretches of this movie are boring and predictable and a pivotal CGI-fight scene between Kong and a nasty looking Skull Crawler just drags on and on and on.
To be fair, I would imagine that Jordan Vogt-Roberts thought that was super (expletive) awesome you guys!
Truly, I am ambivalent here. Other than those stupid spiders and flying bird/dinosaur/bloodthirsty meat-eating things which now haunt my dreams, I spent 118 minutes (and a post-credits scene) wondering whether we truly need another cinematic universe to spend money on. Apparently we do, so if this becomes a hit and we get the rumored Godzilla vs. Kong film in 2020, I’ll be there hoping the movie is a success.
Just never make me go back to Skull Island. There’s some bad things there. Bad, bad things.
SHOULD I SEE IT?
- Monster movies in 2017 still draw interest and with a terrific cast and a tried-and-true cinematic property like Kong at the heart of the film, Skull Island should draw a rabid fanbase.
- Perhaps the film’s mix of goofy humor, creature violence, and visual effects will not strike you as messy or uneven, but just a cinematic amusement park you can easily enjoy.
- Vogt-Roberts’ enthusiasm is obvious and may strike a chord with younger audiences as a result.
- Not for the squeamish, even with its PG-13 rating. Although it is clever how this movie gets away with some of the violence it gets away with.
- Tries to be a fantastical sci-fi adventure, a amusement park-style movie thrill ride, with some political allegory tossed in for good measure. The lack of focus hurts things.
- If you are tired of having to keep up with the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the DC Extended Universe, and the fact that all Pixar movies now seemingly link together, here comes the Warner Bros. MonsterVerse.