There are two obvious comparisons to draw from Jordan Vogt-Robert’s Kong: Skull Island, the latest reimagining of the monster movie icon, and that’s Gareth Edward’s Godzilla (2014) and Peter Jackson’s King Kong (2005). The former film being the first of likely many entries in an expanded Marvel-esque universe of which Skull Island now occupies, the latter being the other most recent remake of the 1933 classic original. Having now just seen Skull Island, I must admit to having difficulty sitting through it without reminding myself of the two aforementioned films and how vastly superior they are to this one. Those were films with a distinct creative and artistic vision, with a strong devotion to celebrating the genre and legacy of films that inspired them, and that were big and loud and destructive, yes, but had more to say about their featured star and the nature of the world they inhabit. Whether the comparison between Skull Island and those films is fair or not, it’s impossible to avoid; in lieu of that distinct vision is little more than camp and empty spectacle.
Which isn’t to say that there isn’t plenty of fun to be had here. Unlike Godzilla, the beast himself occupies the screen for what felt like 50% of the movie’s runtime, a decision made likely in response to the hefty criticism waged against Godzilla’s peculiar lack of lizard giant. I’ve always been partial to the “Spielberg school” of suspense and build-up when it comes to the introduction of these breathing arbiters of chaos and destruction, but King Kong is without question the most interesting component of this film, and that he’s in a lot of it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The action is rampant and mostly engaging, and once the cast actually arrives on Skull Island a dull moment is rarely to be had. The cast of supporting players – chief among them Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, and John C. Reilly – do exactly what’s expected of them and are a welcomed presence throughout much of the hysterics. Save for maybe Reilly, there isn’t an actual character any actor attempts to play, but their natural charisma and screen-presence is enough to carry their scenes through some really bland dialogue.
Speaking of nothing characters, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the lifeless cardboard cutouts of human beings “leads” Tom Hiddleston and Oscar-winner Brie Larson halfheartedly attempt to play. That they’re beautiful, beloved movie-stars should’ve been enough to sell them as interesting people at the very least, but the combination of a limited relevance to the story, unconvincing chemistry, and zero worthwhile motive or backstory can’t even amount to that. It’s the lack of work put into developing an interesting story or fresh insight into the world of Kong where Skull Island falls short of being little more than an average creature-feature, which is disappointing considering how many iterations of the iconic primate we’ve now seen. Much like the film itself, King Kong is cool to look at and fun to watch destroy things, but there’s little more to grasp beyond that; in an era in which other, better versions of this character and his adjacent foes exist, that isn’t good enough.
Rating: **1/2 out of five
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, John C. Reilly
Runtime: 118 minutes