One of these days, some film distributor such as Mill Creek or some other spot that gathers up movies and presents them as multi-disc packages will get hold of Kong: Skull Island and re-release it with the subtitle “No, Sam Jackson… You’re NOT Gonna Get That Big Ape!”. The film is indeed a piece of work in that you certainly get your money’s worth provided you go in with your brain turned off as expected with the usual blockbuster. On the other hand, following the plot too closely will have your eyeballs rolling around in your head like greasy marbles.
This new Kong is an attempt at Legendary Pictures and Warner Brothers unifying its Godzilla and King Kong franchises with a few films that will seemingly culminate in a big ol’ Kong vs Godzilla flick a few years from now. Yeah, well… good luck with that. This film isn’t perfect at all and while it’s a mess of ideas that work for the short attention span crowd, the overall impact is one where you wish Ray Harryhausen was still alive and animating just to keep the scale more manageable and fun.
The film takes place in 1973, so yep, there’s a Vietnam war angle that gets kicked around as well as plenty of 60’s and 70’s radio tunes blasting when required. When two scientist types successfully lobby their way into an exploration mission to the mysterious, undiscovered Skull Island, they end up hiring a tracker (Tom Hiddleston) and getting a military escort of choppers led by Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson). There’s also Brie Larson as a photographer out to get a few perfect shots and a bunch of other actors just meant to be chomped and stomped at varying points.
Kong doesn’t take more than 40 or so minutes to appear and boy, howdy – does he make a killer entrance. As the choppers are dropping seismic charges, ol’ Kongy goes ape and knocks them all out of the sky. The survivors, split into two groups and a third man stranded alone, need to figure out how to survive what else the island has to offer. Naturally, Packard’s head is only on getting revenge for his dead soldiers (Ahab and Khan have nothing on this guy), so his focus is entirely on killing Kong dead. However, the second group ends up discovering silent but armed native (? It’s hard to say) island dwellers as well as a long-downed World War II pilot (John C. Reilly) who ends up stealing the film from everyone just by being out of his mind while somehow being the most logical guy in the film.
Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts does fine work overall with what he has to work with. But Kong’s ridiculously large stature makes for a somewhat overly comical effect. He’s so damn big that you’ll be foolish to even consider anything like actual physics during his swatting down of the choppers. Yes, once the evil skull-faced beasties pop up, his size comes in handy. But for the most part, he’s pretty unstoppable even when he’s very briefly stopped by Preston’s ultimate plan… which as expected, doesn’t go so well for Preston and a few more of his men.
Then again, most of the men who get killed post-chopper takedown are done in by stuff like gigantic spiders, body-ripping flying beasties and a few other hazards. Kong himself gets to battle a massive cephalopod and the island hints at deadlier creatures in, above and around it. Among things that feel very underdeveloped are the natives on the island (it seems their silence is merely a means to not have the actors portraying them learn a funky language) as well as John Goodman’s character (whose are ends comically but cruelly).
The CG work is pretty decent overall, but as usual with films like these, the physics are all screwy and people who survive most of the stuff that happens shouldn’t. Of course the over-oomphasis of power in CG-heavy films is nothing new. But it sure gets draining in a film where the main character is so damned large that overkill is the only way to travel. But hey, you’re guaranteed a good time if you like this sort of thing and yep, I’m sure those next couple of WB-produced kaiju flicks will be bombastic crowd-pleasers. That said, how big is too big for your giant monster fetish? We’re at the point where mountain-sized is just the start and I can’t imagine human actors doing more than collecting an easy check for a few weeks of yelling in front of a green screen.
We’ll see, though… we’ll see…
Score: C+ (75%)