The last King Kong movie we got was Peter Jackson’s in 2005 so it was inevitable that we’d get a new reboot soon. This one is a prequel to what we know of Kong already, plus it’s in the same universe as the last Godzilla movie from 2014. Does this movie roar? Or whimper?
It’s the 1970s and the Vietnam War rages on. A conspiracy theorist (John Goodman) and his assistant (Corey Hawkins) manage to get a military escort to an uncharted island in the South Pacific. They recruit an expert tracker (Tom Hiddleston) and a photographer (Brie Larson) to help navigate this mysterious island. While there, they encounter a World War 2 soldier who has managed to survive (John C. Reilly). Samuel L. Jackson plays the commanding officer of a troop of soldiers who quickly aim to take down the king of this island, a giant ape named Kong.
This movie is all about spectacle and it delivers plenty of it.
Let’s start with the monsters, the real stars of this movie. Kong steals every scene he’s in, naturally, and has a perfect balance of powerful warrior and also empathetic protector. He’s not the only monster though, as our human characters encounter giant spiders, squids, insects, wildebeests, and even an ancient evil affectionately called “skull crawlers.” The design for all of these creatures is great, managing to twist our expectations and create some really interesting monsters. The visual effects are also pretty great, most of the time, with these monsters really popping off the screen.
So when we’re watching monsters fighting each other, there’s plenty to enjoy here.
I don’t blame the cast for the one dimensional characters. There aren’t any bad performances, just a general lack of depth. Surprisingly, the character given the most to do is John C. Reilly’s grizzled survivor, who gets a backstory and a satisfying resolution. Everyone else is not treated with the same courtesy.
If you catch Kong: Skull Island, stay after all the credits.
What doesn’t work?
Unfortunately, when the spectacle slows down, there’s not much here.
We have incredible talent here, some of the best of the best right now, and it’s all wasted. The priority is a cool movie and cool moments and cool visuals, not character. So when Tom Hiddleston’s character grabs a machete and turns into some sort of samurai, you have to just go with it. Brie Larson, who won an OSCAR FOR BEST ACTRESS, has only one character trait in this movie and that is that she takes pictures. Everything revolves around her taking these pictures, we never learn anything else about her. And that’s true across the board, everyone is one dimensional and flat.
Now the movie as a whole… Here’s the thing. One of my favorite movies is Jurassic Park. And this movie is exactly Jurassic Park. Structurally it’s nearly identical. I don’t want to spoil Kong for anyone but once you’ve seen it, I’d love to talk about how this is almost a shot for shot copycat. Samuel L. Jackson even says “Hold onto your butts” in this movie, which is his catchphrase from Jurassic Park. Now, to be fair, they did take moments from the second and third Jurassic Park movies as well, including when a monster eats technology that is then used to track it (in JP3, a cell phone with a distinctive ring).
So what does that mean? It all feels familiar, like a copy of something you love. I don’t mind when good ideas are borrowed and evolve and are made better, but here… it’s just copied. When our obnoxious bureaucrat is finally killed by monsters, it just reminds you of poor lawyer Gennaro getting plucked off the toilet by a T. Rex.
With a plot that feels copy and pasted and characters that are absolutely flat, the score for this movie drops dramatically.
So here’s the thing. This movie is cool. Vibrant colors, interesting monsters, plenty of action. Popcorn fun at the movies. But is it good? No. The characters are flat and uninteresting and the story is predictable and sometimes seems to be downright plagiarizing other well-known movies. If you can stomach that, you’ll enjoy this movie. It’s not great but it’s watchable for sure.