‘I’ ON CULTURE
Kong: Skull Island is a big-budget B movie, filled with huge special effects and held down by a bad script. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts clearly wanted a great Kong vs. a “Worse Monster” flick and somehow seemed to forget the part about having the humans do something, anything, that might really be interesting. If you want a mindless couple of hours of monsters battling, with humans more or less being in the way, this one’s for you.
Scientist Bill Randa (John Goodman) wants to fully explore Skull Island, mostly hidden by weird weather. After all, it’s 1973 and the United States is winding down its disaster of a war in Vietnam and has a lot of soldiers available. Why not send a few to check out the strange island?
So they send a group of soldiers under James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), a dedicated survivalist, and Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), a semi-crazed colonel, to investigate. And, of course, because you need the woman to match up to Kong, there is an anti-war news photographer, Mason Weaver (Brie Larson).
They arrive at the island in helicopters that are quickly batted down by Kong (the special-effects work on the giant ape is exceptional). Perhaps in a nod to Vietnam, instead of backing off, the helicopters keep trying and get batted down so the whole group is now on the island.
There they meet Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), who has been around since he got shot down there during World War II and is more than a bit of a weirdo. Soon after, they discover why the native villagers worship the great ape. As it turns out, there is some sort of a gate that goes to a place that holds dinosaur-like animals. After that, the movie becomes Kong vs. the dinos, with the people essentially commenting.
The movie’s creators overwork the Vietnam metaphor. King Kong, Viet Kong. One of the characters is named Conrad and another Marlow (shades of Heart of Darkness, which was gone over brilliantly in Apocalypse Now). And that leads to most of the human characters becoming caricatures. Conrad is a ditherer; Packard, a battle-happy wacko. There is supposed to be some sort of a romance between Weaver and Conrad, but it barely registers. This is not a people movie.
Of course, this cheats the actors. All of them have demonstrated great acting chops, and here there is almost nothing. Goodman does a good job at the start of the film just in his working the gears of government to get the team sent. Hiddleston works hard in a thankless role. He is supposed to be the sensitive one.
Jackson gets to be a wise guy. Larson gets a chance to mouth off anti-war lines that will increase her popularity in Hollywood. Reilly does his usual wacky best. But characterization is not the real point.
This is (probably) the fourth version of the film. The first, most famous one, is more than 80 years old. The second one, in 1976, is best remembered for being the start of Jessica Lange’s career because it was so bad. Peter Jackson’s version in 2006 was great. And all of them had their best scenes when Kong got to the big city and we could contrast the differences.
This film never got him off the island because it was far too busy doing its Vietnam metaphor. Many actors died in blazing battles; a lot of crazy comments were made; and almost all of that was waiting for the real Kong fighting to begin. The soldiers were quick to fire at almost everything, another chance to zap the soldiery. The humans wound up in two groups: those sympathetic to Kong and those just wanting to kill him. The humans fought with each other enough to disrupt the plot.
Because of all of that, the human-Kong interaction was pushed back a bit and not at the film’s center, which greatly weakened it. Frankly, if it had been just Kong vs. the humans, I might have supported the big guy.
This is, as noted at the top, a blockbuster B movie. None of the actors involved will be proud of it; they did it for the paycheck. But it provides a nice couple of hours of mindless entertainment. If you like this kind of movie, it is reasonably decent, although it does not come close to the Peter Jackson remake.