Hollywood has been trying to make a successful modern franchise out of King Kong for decades, and in its latest attempt, Warner Bros. veers from the origin story of the classic 1933 movie to deliver a highly stylised action blockbuster called “Kong: Skull Island.” And boy, does it not work.
When the trailer for “Skull Island” hit the internet, you may have been grabbed, like me, by its fun vibe that mixed an “Apocalypse Now” lost-in-the-jungle tone with CGI-fuelled action of a pissed-off Kong, plus a sword-swinging John C. Reilly as the comic relief. Unfortunately, that’s the whole movie right there in a nutshell.
And if that’s all you want from the $US20 or so you’ll spend at the multiplex to see this movie, then Warner Bros. has done its job, but frankly, this had the potential to be more than another dull reboot with its moments of entertainment. It’s a bummer that’s all it is.
Directed by up-and-comer Jordan Vogt-Roberts, who kicks off the movie with a dramatic entrance to Skull Island circa World War II, the movie then fast-forwards to 1973 at the tail end of the Vietnam War. John Goodman and Corey Hawkins (“Straight Outta Compton,” “24: Legacy”) play scientists who are granted a military escort to a mysterious island (you guessed it, Skull Island) to investigate what’s on it before the Russians do.
Samuel L. Jackson plays the Army colonel of the team that flies everyone to Skull Island, Tom Hiddleston is a former British Special Forces member who comes along as a tracker, and Brie Larson is the war photojournalist who has had enough of being in “the s—” of Vietnam and tags along to see what they find on the island.
But by the time their helicopters fly into Skull Island, the movie is off the tracks.
Jackson’s long-winded story about Icarus that he just decides to spout when his team is in a brutal thunderstorm to get to the island is the first sign that things are going to get rough. (Before that, Jackson says one his most famous lines from another movie. I won’t spoil it for you.)
Though we get a good dose of Kong right when we hit the island, and some really creative shots of the destruction he dishes out on the helicopters, we are then left with the less tempting meat of the movie: The two factions of the team post-Kong attack (Hiddleston, Larson, Hawkins on one side; Jackson, Goodman, Jason Mitchell, and Shea Whigham on the other) try to meet at a rendezvous point.
Yes, there are some great fight scenes with the other creatures on Skull Island, like a gigantic spider with legs that look like bamboo trunks and pterodactyl-like birds (all homages to creatures from B-movies of the 1960s). But as much as I’m sure Vogt-Roberts and screenwriters Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, and Derek Connolly tried, there is zero reason to care at all about the human characters.
Hiddleston and Larson don’t have any chemistry, and Hiddleston does absolutely nothing to be a hero in this movie, outside of taking Reilly’s sword and chopping up some birds with a gas mask on.
And perhaps that’s the whole point. Kong is supposed to be the one we care about most. We learn through Reilly’s character, who has been on the island for decades, that Kong is the protector of all on the island from the vicious “skull crushers.” But as we’ve learned from the failures of past Kong movies, there needs to be more to the story than just a vicious ape.
Jackson tries to fill that void with his character, a man broken by the US leaving Vietnam and now taking it out on Kong. And though he has his moments, as with Reilly, it’s not enough.
From the flat ending to endless needle drops of every popular 1970s song and one extremely lame death scene, what starts out as a potentially fun and cliche-less way to do an action movie turns into another watered-down origin story of a franchise.
Maybe it will get better when Kong fights Godzilla in the next movie.
“Kong: Skull Island” opens in theatres March 10.
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