I defy anyone to find 90 second of continuous dialogue in Kong: Skull Island that make even a tiny bit of logical sense. For that matter, I defy anyone to find 90 seconds of continuous dialogue. The filmmakers seem so unsure of their storytelling abilities, that they inject explosions as often as possible to mask the total absence of ideas or reason.
We’ve seen bad movies like this before, overloaded with scene after scene of pointless, repetitive and confusing action set pieces — usually we call them “Transformer movies” — but somehow it feels much more offensive when done under the brand of King Kong.
Skull Island does a huge disservice to the Kong legacy, which got its start with 1933’s essential original film and lovingly updated in Peter Jackson’s faithful but ambitious 2005 remake. Both of these films were divided into three acts: The Heart of Darkness-esque journey to the island; the aboriginal monster adventure once they get there, and the cross-species love story and tragedy of Kong’s demise in NYC. This film bears no resemblance to its source material at all, and the muddled result is nonsense. It’s neither prequel, sequel nor remake; indeed, it does not appear to exist in a world where prior Kong lived.
The prologue takes place in 1944, near the end of WWII, when an American and a Japanese pilot both crash-land on Skull Island, the first outsiders to encounter the land that time forgot. (There’ no indication they know of the events of 1933, which should have been known to them, which erases the original from the film’s timeline.) Cut to 30 years later, and the U.S. is involved in Vietnam. A kooky fringe scientist (John Goodman) gets military funding to investigate the newly-discovered Skull Island, and a group of Army commandos (led by Samuel L. Jackson) and civilians (Tom Hiddleston joins Goodman & Co.) delivery them to the atoll where nothing goes well.
Of course nothing goes well: The soldiers are lied to (why?), the scientists appear to not be interested in actual science (why drop incendiary device instead of landing) and Kong — now about the size of the Empire State Building — destroys the invaders in an over-long attack sequence that is impossible to follow. (How many helicopters are there? How many men die? And how does a strapping 20-year-old soldier expire on impact while a morbidly obese 65-year-old Goodman gets off with barely a scratch?)
If you sensed that director Jordan Vogt-Roberts had the least amount of affection for Kong, or the characters, you might overlook some of the confusing carnage, but he’s clearly got a hard-on only for the special effects, which he wields like a toddler with a Tommy gun. This is pretty derivate war movie detritus at its best, like those rip-off Rambo movies of the 1970s, where the film may be in color but everything else is in black-and-white.
Even the screenplay’s lame efforts to enrobe the plot with the aura of legitimacy — HiddlestonHeart of dumbe’s character is named Conrad and John C. Reilly’s is Marlow, in a clear evocation of Apocalypse Now (the poster art connects the dots for anyone too dim to pick up on the allusions) — backfire, as this effort is half-hearted at best, and merely reminds you what a fiasco this is; it’s never a good idea to remind audiences of better films.
Hiddleston appears to be a charisma-free zone, whose body acts like a black hole of personality, dragging all enthusiasm into its gravity well and condensing it into an inky, micron-sized molecule of concentrated boring. He makes everything around him look bad.
The lone exception is Reilly, as the surviving flyboy from 1944 finally given a shot at getting off the island. His wacky comic energy (the role was originally intended for Michael Keaton, and you can feel Beeltejuice’s hands all over it) entertains when everything else does not… which is mostly all the time.
Post-credits, there’s an add-on scene (which you can probably figure out if you pay attention to the credits, which give Tokyo’s Toho Studios their due) where you finally realize why the filmmaker shat all over the Kong brand: It’s in service to a new Cinematic Universe to leverage properties into one mega-movie that goes on forever. It doesn’t matter whether the ape survives until the end — Warner Bros. killed him in the conception.
Begins previews tomorrow night in wide release.