Gareth Edwards kicked off Legendary's MonsterVerse with 2014’s reboot of Godzilla, and while I wasn’t impressed with the film as a whole I did enjoy the action and reimagined version of Godzilla. Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ Kong: Skull Island attempts to do the same with King Kong but stumbles out of the gate and never fully recovers. Kong himself may be impressive, but the film is dolefully lackluster.
It’s the year 1973, and satellite imagery has found the last uncharted island remaining in the world. Bill Randa (John Goodman) of the government organization Monarch decides to send a scouting expedition to the island for scientific research. They are joined by a military escort led by Army Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), hunter-tracker and former British Captain James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), and anti-war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson). Their science expedition quickly turns into a fight for survival as the group almost immediately comes face to face with Kong, a 100 foot-tall ape who is not pleased with intruders on his island. What’s even more terrifying, however, is that Kong is not the one they need to be afraid of.
One of the things that Kong: Skull Island does better than Godzilla is that it doesn’t tease audiences when it comes to showing Kong. He appears briefly in the opening scene and then makes a glorious full entrance almost immediately after the expedition arrives on the island. There are no quick cutaways shots that only show a portion of him or having to wait until the final third of the film before you see him in his full glory. He shows up right away and is absolutely impressive.
Unfortunately that’s where my praises of the film stop. I found myself bored throughout most of the film. Practically all of the characters are these one dimensional sketches of people and are not interesting at all. They are mainly used as disposable fodder for Kong and the island’s other oversized monsters as they just run from one action set piece to another. Every once in awhile someone will die, and then they move on. The only character I found remotely entertaining was John C. Reilly’s Hank Marlow, a WWII soldier who became stranded after his plane crashed on the island. He’s the comic relief of the film and does manage to have some great one liners.
The action scenes are fine, and while they look great from a technical standpoint I couldn’t help but wonder, “That’s it?” Kong: Skull Island suffers from having its most entertaining moments in all the trailers so there’s little that actually surprised me during the film. There are a couple of cool fight scenes, but nothing truly memorable, at least in any good sense of the term. At one point, Tom Hiddleston puts on a gas mask, grabs a Samurai sword from John C. Reilly, and runs through a cloud of green poisonous gas as he slices these flying creatures while doing his best impression of Leonidas from 300. It’s unbelievably cheesy.
That would have been fine if Kong: Skull Island fully embraced its monster movie origins as an over-the-top b-movie. Instead it’s stuck in this weird limbo somewhere between that and a dark and gritty monster version of Apocalypse Now meets Full Metal Jacket. It just doesn’t work.
Legendary has a daunting task ahead with its MonsterVerse. They’ve done a good job at redesigning both Godzilla and King Kong, but they’ve struggled when it comes to telling interesting stories with them. I’m still excited to see them face off in Godzilla vs. Kong in a couple of years, however. I just hope they manage to get it all together by then.