Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Though it may not feel fully inspired so much as competently pre-visualized, Kong: Skull Island fits snugly into the growing canon of reboots that exist within ever-expanding movie universes. That’s a first sentence to a positive review that perhaps reads a bit more cynically than intended. Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts and written by a bunch of dudes (Dan Gilroy and Max Borenstein and Derek Connolly with a story credited to John Gatins), this umpteenth version of the King Kong story pulls from every available pop-culture source in building a fun creature feature. Much of the credit goes to the breathtaking effects and brisk pace, which distract from some lofty line readings and silly plot devices.
In 1973, Bill Randa (John Goodman), with the help of the much-smarter Brooks (Corey Hawkins), rounds up a team of soldiers and specialized civilians to explore a newly discovered island for scientific reasons. Or so he says. The secrets do not last long. The titular beast (credited to Toby Kebbell, who plays dual roles here) is front and center from the first minute, offering an alternate take to Gareth Edwards’ less-is-more strategy in his Godzilla picture from a few years back.
Ostensibly, Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson are the leads, playing a battle-ready navigator and a left-leaning “anti-war” photographer, respectively. Make no mistake: these two people are incredibly attractive and cinematographer Larry Fong spares no expense in accentuating their beautiful-ness. Unfortunately, there’s not much chemistry between the two, and both are saddled with some of the film’s worst lines; conversations about how dangerous places are also the most beautiful and war is hell are needless when we’re presented with these ideas in a convincingly visual manner. For the most part, Hiddleston and Larson are underused and unimpressive. But don’t fret, because Samuel L. Jackson is in there, too, knowing exactly the kind of film this is, chewing scenery as Lt. Col. Packard, a Captain Ahab-esque leader obsessed with taking down Kong and re-discovering the purpose of his military life, shaken by the recent failure of Vietnam.
Often, the humans don’t stack up against Kong and the scary, varied monsters that scour the island. But then it’s clear that Roberts is more concerned with constructing solid B-movie entertainment at an A-movie budget line than he is with character development. And that’s just fine. At two hours, Kong: Skull Island is shorter and faster than most of the blockbusters we get these days, and quite a bit funnier. This second point is mostly thanks to John C. Reilly, who plays a WWII soldier stranded on the island nearly thirty years prior. Reilly is in top form, injecting humor and pathos where needed, stealing scenes left and right from whoever else is on the screen.
Above all else, this film plays well as satisfying fluff. There are bombastic Kong roars and vicious fights to go with detailed, often frightening creature designs, as well as the occasional jump scare and an impressive sense of scope. In this digital world that allows for Kong to be as big as a building and believably so, Roberts is smart to pull out all the stops. And if some of the story and character motivation gets left in the dust, so be it.
Kong: Skull Island opens on Friday, March 10.
Latest posts from The Film Stage