It’s a new take on King Kong with great action and a story that doesn’t quite hold up.
Is it worth $15 (3D)? Yes
At moments, “Kong: Skull Island” showcases spectacular action filmmaking, ripe with energy, style, and splendor – it’s a blast. At other times, it’s spectacularly dumb, infuriating even. It makes you wonder why so many millions would be spent on visual effects when the storytelling needs so much work.
This is not your father’s (or grandfather’s) “King Kong.” It’s a new spin on the giant ape, made to capitalize on our thirst for wham-bang explosive entertainment (not knockin’ it – I have the thirst too!). After this, Warner Bros. has “Godzilla: King of Monsters” planned for 2019, which will lead into a King Kong vs. Godzilla showdown in 2020. Given the studio’s recent struggles with the DC Comics Extended Universe (“Batman v. Superman”), it needs fans to catch on to “Skull Island” in a big way. But after the so-so “Godzilla” (2014) and now this mediocrity, why would they?
The story comes together easily enough: Explorers Bill (John Goodman) and his assistant Houston (Corey Hawkins) get money from a belabored senator (Richard Jenkins, sadly wasted here) for an expedition to a newly discovered island in the South Pacific. It’s 1973, so bad haircuts and suits are plentiful. They assemble a team: Mason (Brie Larson) is the photographer, James (Tom Hiddleston) is the tracker, and a military contingent led by Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) provides the transportation. Main figures to know from the platoon: Cole (Shea Whigham), Mills (Jason Mitchell), and Chapman (Toby Kebbell, who also provides the motion capture performance for Kong). After they arrive they find Hank (John C. Reilly), who’s been there a while and yet is completely ignored at key moments.
Bill knows the island is dangerous – “it’s a place where myth and science meet,” he says – and doesn’t tell anyone, so yes, he’s that guy. But this is forgivable because we paid money to see a giant ape wreak havoc, and we know humans must get to the island for that to happen. This leads to some great action sequences, especially the helicopter arrival that’s set to the tune of Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid.”
When the second half of director Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ movie hits, however, the tune changes. A plot contrivance sends humans in the wrong direction, and it’s infuriating. Also, Packard not being able to get away from his bitter war mentality unnecessarily adds another antagonist, as if a giant ape and creatures lovingly called “Skullcrawlers” aren’t enough. It’s a woeful narrative flaw in a movie that needs to keep its focus man vs. nature, not man vs. nature vs. man.
“Kong: Skull Island” is a big movie for many reasons, and for the reason audiences care about most it’s just good enough to be satisfying. It has style, and it even attempts at times to feel like a Vietnam War movie, which is more than many movies of this ilk can claim. If you go, see it in IMAX 3D – the sound is better, it’ll look fantastic, and you might just say “wow” enough to forgive its flaws.
Did you know?
1) Both Corey Hawkins (Dr. Dre) and Jason Mitchell (Eazy-E) were in “Straight Outta Compton” (2015). 2) Stay for the after credits scene, which teases more than just Godzilla and King Kong!