Kong: Skull Island

Kong: Skull Island ★★

I can't remember the last time I saw so many talented actors so woefully miscast as I did in KONG: SKULL ISLAND. It's hard to blame them, when director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (who had some success as an independent filmmaker in THE KINGS OF SUMMER) seems so completely out of his element, creating a big budget franchise spectacle in search of a tone, never quite deciding what it wants to be.

SKULL ISLAND reboots the story by setting it in the 1970's at the end of the Vietnam war. A crackpot scientist (John Goodman) talks a senator into bankrolling a military operation on an uncharted island (which, in a truly ridiculous plot point, is somehow surrounded by a never-ending hurricane) in order to prove that monsters exist. Giant monsters are one thing, but perpetual motionless hurricanes might be a bridge too far. Along with a photographer (Brie Larson), a mercenary (Tom Hiddleston), and a grizzled army lieutenant desperate for the war to continue (Samuel L. Jackson), the group head off to the island under the guise of a geological survey, only to discover much more than they bargained for when their helicopters are attacked by the biggest Kong the movies have ever seen. Stranded in the inhospitable jungle, they must trek across the island to the pre-arranged extraction point, or risk being stranded on the island forever. Along the way they meet a kooky old soldier (John C. Reilly) who has been stranded on the island since WWII. He tells them that Kong is really the protector of the island, keeping a host of even more terrifying creatures at bay, creatures whose territory lies between them, and their only ticket home.

KONG exists mainly as a set-up for an eventual showdown with Godzilla, after the success of Legendary's 2014 reboot of the iconic Japanese monster. SKULL ISLAND is not nearly the movie that Gareth Edwards' GODZILLA was, however. It's hampered by a truly inane screenplay that lurches back and forth between Vietnam-era adventure film and lame-brained comedy. It lacks the sense of mystery and adventure of the original 1933 KING KONG, and the epic sweep and grandeur of Peter Jackson's 2005 remake (the less said about John Guillermin's 1976 remake, the better). What we are left with is a silly dumbing down of the Kong mythos, complete with a moronic sense of a humor and a complete misuse of its talented cast. It certainly looks great - the special effects are outstanding, and Vogt-Roberts' attempts to recreate the look of APOCALYPSE NOW is mostly successful. Unfortunately, it all adds up to very little. It mistakes goofy banter for a sense of fun, often undercutting its own tension and inherent suspense. Kong always works best as a tragic figure. And while he's certainly misunderstood in SKULL ISLAND, he's a much less interesting character when he's not the victim of humanity's arrogance. Godzilla is the result of human arrogance - Kong is a victim of it. GODZILLA understood that, even if he's ultimately a hero in this new Americanized version. Kong, on the other hand, lacks any of the traits that made him so extraordinary. The film almost seems more like JURASSIC PARK III than APOCALYPSE NOW, which is not the film you want to be emulating for your prehistoric adventure movie. One hopes that future Kong films, and the teased showdown with Godzilla, will bring him to more thrilling life. But his newest outing is a wildly uneven mess of a film that leaves us wanting more in the worst possible way.

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