Review: ‘Kong: Skull Island’

dfn-kong_skull_island-300For the fourth major variation on a familiar cinematic legend, Kong: Skull Island is good, dumb fun.

Opening with a brief prologue that takes place in 1944, the movie fleetingly introduces the gigantic beast known as Kong before fast-forwarding to 1973. Scientists Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) visit Senator Willis (Richard Jenkins) to secure funding and a military escort to visit an uncharted island in the Pacific Ocean.

Randa, Brooks and their colleague San (Tian Jing) are soon accompanied by a military unit led by Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), whose most notable soldiers include the nonplussed Cole (Shea Whigham), the excitable Mills (Jason Mitchell), and the resolute Chapman (Toby Kebbell). The unit is joined by battle-tested civilian photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) and experienced tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), the latter hired for a princely sum by Randa and Brooks.

Flying to the island through thick storms and dark clouds in a fleet of helicopters, the explorers begin dropping charges to test a theory put forth by Randa and Brooks — something about the island’s surface and what may lie below it — and before anyone knows what’s happening, an angry, roaring Kong shows up, prompting the antsy soldiers to make the unwise decision to fly right at him.

Kong, no doubt thankful that he doesn’t have to chase them down, makes quick work of all the pesky helicopters and many of the nameless soldiers. Thus ends Act I of the three-act Kong: Skull Island.

Four writers are credited for the movie — story by John Gatins, screenplay by Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly — and the premise holds out the possibility of a strikingly different experience. But the execution falls short; for example, the humor that is scattered throughout Act I, for example, arrives at timely intervals yet lacks true wit.

The military men, who have been serving in Vietnam for years and should be happy to have survived and eager to get home, are neither; they’re just itching for another fight, one that they can somehow “win,” unlike the exhausting war that they’re “lost.” The same is true for the tracker, the photographer, and the scientists; they’re distinguished by their professions, not by their personalities.
The movie is overstuffed with so many characters that they’re all reduced to stereotypes, and the actors are mostly defeated by the requirements of the monster scenario; they know they are mere fodder for the elaborate action sequences, nearly all enhanced by visual effects to accommodate the gigantic Kong.

Kong is such a huge, dominant character that it’s impossible to conceive of defeating him, at least from the standpoint of rational human behavior; it’s like staring at a 10-story building and imagining that you can take it down by shouting at it.

Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, who previously made the appealing indie The Kings of Summer, as well as helming a number of television episodes, brings all the personality of a traffic cop to the proceedings, perhaps overwhelmed by the scale of the production. On this type of movie, keeping to the budget and the schedule are apparently of higher priority than anything else, resulting in a movie that makes little impact despite the thunderous effects.

The film opens in theaters throughout Dallas on Friday, March 10.

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