“Kong: Skull Island” Movie Review


     There are times when filmmakers realize the material they are working with requires them to abandon all logic and proceed on the notion to simply “Give them what they want.”  In the case of “Kong: Skull Island”,  director Jordan Vogt-Roberts makes no apologies for doing so, as his film is jam packed with audience pleasing spectacle and devoid of anything resembling plot, character development, or originality.  And though the visual aspects of the film are truly awe inspiring at times, there’s an underlying level of frustration plaguing the narrative when you think back to the meticulous storytelling of Peter Jackson’s 2005 film, “King Kong”,  and compare it to what comes down to another monster extravaganza in the mold of “Jurassic Park”, replacing dinosaurs with Kong and a host of dino like creatures.  In fact, screenwriters Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, and Derek Connolly go as far as to have Samuel L. Jackson utter his famous “Hold on to your butts” line as an obvious wink to exactly what kind of film the filmmakers want the audience to know  “Kong: Skull Island” is.  Perhaps the recent box office records set by “Jurassic World” in 2015 may have had something to do with that.

     Taking visual  and story cues on everything from “Apocalypse Now” to “Predator”, Vogt-Roberts has no doubt created a highly entertaining 118 minutes of action packed mayhem.  There’s very little time used for ratcheting up the suspense of when and where Kong may show up, as the filmmakers instead have chosen to saturate every scene with potentially dangerous scenarios in which legions of nasty creatures put our various protagonists into harms way.  The story takes place in 1973, just as the United States is preparing to exit the Vietnam war.  With satellite imagery arriving in its infancy stage, a government agent named Bill Randa (John Goodman) puts together a group of scientists for an expedition to a previously uncharted island and is said to be looking for various geological finds.   He solicits the help of Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), who is currently the commander of an Air Cavalry unit stationed in Vietnam, to provide a military escort to the island, which seems plausible given the unknowns of the mission and the ever present war time paranoia engrained in people’s minds.

     The first act provides a number of cutting room floor worthy scenes in which Randa recruits people in possession of various skills needed for the exploration of the island.  Some of them are obvious fodder and serve as timely meals for the various creatures the group encounters on the island, but others, including Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) and James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), seem as though they could’ve been left out and we wouldn’t have missed them at all.  It’s as if the production hired the casting department responsible for the “Fast and Furious” franchise and asked them to replicate a diverse cast that includes a black guy, a hispanic guy, and an Asian woman, but forgot they actually needed to write suitable roles for them as well.  As a result, many of the characters get lost in the shuffle or are reduced to meaningless contributions to the overall story.

     This becomes more obvious about half way through when the group encounters Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), a World War II pilot marooned on the island since 1944.  Reilly effectively steals each and every scene he is in, riffing his lines in an over the top comedic manner in much the same way the late Bill Paxton did as Private Hudson in “Aliens”.  And that comic relief couldn’t have come at a better time since the continuous action set pieces featuring massive and overpowering creatures begins to numb you in similar fashion to Michael Bay’s brainless “Transformers” sequels.  Reilly brings much needed life to the proceedings, especially considering the script fails to deliver a single notable line for 2015 Best Actress winner Brie Larson, or anything remotely interesting enough to allow Tom Hiddleston to resemble the charisma he has established by playing our favorite Marvel villain.  In fact, aside from Reilly, the only one who appears to be having any fun at all is Samuel L. Jackson, who doesn't necessarily break any new ground with his character, but certainly brings a welcome intensity as a staunch military man desperate to gain revenge on the monster responsible for killing his men.

     Where the script does excel is the nifty use of the aforementioned post Vietnam era setting and the freshly grizzled war veterans sent into unknown territory, yet again, for a mission with questionable motives behind it and thus leading them to a very cruel and ironic set of circumstances.  Maybe as it turns out, “Kong: Skull Island” has something to say after all.  Because the average movie goer has already seen so many Vietnam movies, these guys may seem a bit stereotypical as far as their “Kill them all, let God sort them out.” mentalities go, but there is also a very solemn feeling exhibited by these men once they realize the unit has found themselves in another no win situation on someone else’s turf.  In this case, that turf belongs to King Kong, who is beautifully rendered to the point that every hair on his body seems to be in full high definition focus.  After all, it is Kong, not the human characters, who is the real star of the film and Vogt-Roberts ensures his leading man is given plenty of screen time to show off the technical wizardry responsible for his CGI creation.  Enough to be seen as the most thoroughly developed character in the entire movie, as he prepares to embark on his role as one of the cornerstones of the latest “Cinematic Universe” which began with 2014’s “Godzilla” and is sure to pit the two iconic monsters against each other in the not so distant future. GRADE: B-