Kong: Skull Island is a reboot of the character and the second installment of Legendary’s “MonsterVerse” following 2014’s Godzilla. Instead of being set in the 1920s and featuring Kong going on a New York City rampage, this time we are in the final days of the Vietnam War, and a group of scientists and soldiers travel to a mysterious island where they find a certain giant monkey. The film stars an ensemble cast featuring Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Brie Larson and John C. Reilly and is directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts.
When the trailers for this came out I was intrigued, but like many people I was a bit skeptical because the tone seemed to be all over the place and a lot of the humor looked forced and out-of-place. But don’t worry, because after actually seeing the film I can tell you with full confidence: it’s much worse than anything we could have imagined.
Hollywood has been doing this trend lately where they give the reigns of a $150 million blockbuster franchise to an indie director and see what the results are. Overall the track record is pretty good, with Gareth Edwards going from Monsters to Godzilla and Colin Trevorrow making the transition from Safety Not Guaranteed to Jurassic World with good critical and financial results (ironically both men also then went on to be attached to Star Wars projects). Here it is clear that Jordan Vogt-Roberts is new to the big budget game, because he plays everything incredibly safe and extremely conventional.
If ever there was a blockbuster that was the definition of “studio picture” it’s this. Everything feels been there/done that, and even the scenes where Kong is Gronk-spiking helicopters manage to feel lifeless and almost completely devoid of joy. Slow-mo is overused to the point of eye-rolling and Vogt-Roberts doesn’t seem to give any character direction to his actors.
No one here seems like they’re having a good time while simultaneously everyone here is a war film/monster movie cliché. Brie Larson and Tom Hiddleston are two attractive humans and that’s about where our knowledge of their characters ends. They share one scene that is quite literally nothing but exposition dialogue, with them stating their job titles, motivations for traveling to Skull Island and where they stand on the Vietnam War. Jason Mitchell, fantastic in Straight Outta Compton, is straight outta a cartoon here, with every other line he recites being a whiny attempt at humor. Shea Whigham’s character is frustratingly bland, John Goodman just looks bored and Samuel L. Jackson angrily squints and growls the entire time as the cookie-cutter bad guy.
John C. Reilly stars as a man who has been trapped on the island for 30 years and he is by far the film’s weak link in the acting department. He had people worried in the trailers because of his seemingly misplaced jokes, and they’re somehow even worse here. Not only are almost none of his lines funny, but they’re delivered in such awkward and tonally-jarring ways that it almost becomes uncomfortable.
There are some minor saving graces in the film that stop it from being a complete disaster, including Larry Fong’s cinematography and the film’s soundtrack which is full of all the Vietnam-era clichés, but they’re minor distractions from an otherwise dull experience.
Kong: Skull Island is a summer blockbuster dropped in March, and hopefully it’s not a warning for what’s around the corner in two months. Say what you will about 2005’s King Kong or even 2014’s Godzilla but at least those films had somewhat relatable characters and plots that kept us engaged. Here, we don’t care about anyone (you don’t even remember half their names) and the plot is so contrived and standard that you’ll be bored out of your skull. Skull, Island, that is.