Like Robocop, Jaws, The Wizard of Oz, and Starship Troopers, you can continue to add King Kong (1933) to the list of great movies whose magic cannot be repeated no matter how many sequels, prequels, reboots, remakes or re-imaginings are attempted. Using a screenplay credited to three writers and $185 million, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts hurls kitchen sink after kitchen sink at the screen, and still comes up waaaay short.
To be fair Kong: Skull Island is an improvement over its 6 sequel/remake predecessors, most especially Peter Jackson’s reprehensibly overblown and breathtakingly stupid 2005 remake – a movie so hideous, so pompous, so astonishingly full of itself, that about 40 minutes in I ripped the disc out of the player, broke it in half, and attempted to slit my own throat. I want to build a town called SuckOnItAndDie and make Peter Jackson mayor.
Kong: Skull Island is not awful, it is just … lacking. There is no sense of wonder, no sense of adventure, no tension whatsoever, and not a single memorable character, action scene or moment.
What we have here is an origin story/remake of the insanely rewatchable 1933 original, which, for my money, is still the greatest adventure film ever made. Taking the place of mercenary filmmaker Carl Denham (played to perfection and originated by Robert Armstrong) is John Goodman’s government agent Bill Randa. The year is 1973, Nixon has just won the Vietnam War (which the Democrats will later lose), and our new-fangled satellites have discovered an uncharted island in the Pacific that up until now has remained hidden within the eye of a perpetual hurricane.
It is on this Skull Island that Landa believes his lifelong quest to prove the existence of monsters, of a place where “science and myth meet,” will finally be redeemed.
For help, Landa puts together a team that includes former-British agent James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and the unstable and embittered Lt. Col. Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), who commands the military helicopter squadron necessary to get to the island. For eye candy, there’s Mason Weaver (Brie Larson – who looks great in a tank top). She’s introduced to us as an anti-war photographer, one of those Hollywood left-wing tells that take all the surprise out of the coming story.
Along with more than a dozen generic characters that will obviously be used for monster-bait, there’s the Comedic Relief Black Guy who can’t overcome the script, and to sell tickets in China, there’s… Well, you get the point.
Not long after an event-filled arrival on the island, Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly) shows up. He has been stranded there since WWII and his job is that of Mr. QuirkyExposition.
What follows is a pretty good idea, poorly executed; an attempt to mix Apocalypse Now with Jurassic Park along with a side-order of a Vietnam-era soundtrack we have all heard a million times before.
Jefferson Airplane – check.
Creedence – what do you think?
I am totally fine with including big themes in monster movies – even left-wing themes against Western imperialism and the American military. But why ape (if you’ll pardon the expression) in look, feel, soundtrack, and even carbon-copied camera shots, a masterpiece like Apocalypse Now?
John C. Reilly is no Dennis Hopper.
Because of all this the story manages to be both silly and heavy-handed, which could easily be forgiven if the action and adventure hit the mark, but it misses almost completely.
We’re supposed to be watching a prequel to 2014’s superbly-superb Godzilla, a movie so good I’ve already seen it 5 times. Instead, although it actually is not as good, Skull Island feels more like 2014’s Into the Storm, a B-grade disaster flick loaded with cartoonish CGI that never bores but also never thrills or grabs.
By the time you exit the theater, you’ve already forgotten why you were there.