In addition to all the rehashing Hollywood is doing these days, it has become very fond of something called the Cinematic Universe, thanks, no doubt, to Marvel’s seemingly esoteric business model. It wants every property and franchise to interconnect and speak to each other, sometimes discarding relatively new iterations in an attempt to wipe the slate clean and begin again. Remember Andrew Garfield as Spider-Man? I don’t, and that was just 2 years ago. Remember Christian Bale as Batman? Wait, Christian who? And now you’re telling me they’re doing another King Kong movie? What was wrong with the old one?
Nothing, of course. It just didn’t fit in with the plan. So here comes Kong: Skull Island, the brand new adventure that’s supposed to up the ante, raise the stakes and deliver on its promise to usher in a new Shared Universe with Godzilla. And if its marketing campaign is anything to go by, it should be a wild, thoroughly satisfying ride. But let me just say – it’s really, really not. This is a dumb old movie, quite possibly the Jurassic World of 2017.
It’s rather remarkable how little actually happens here, despite all the larger-than-life creepy crawlies the CGI puts on display. The great beast is revealed way too early, killing all suspense. We still get soldiers calling Kong a monkey (wasn’t this settled in kindergarten?). There is an entire scene devoted to Kong tearing a giant squid to pieces, y’know, because he can. There is literally a standoff between Kong and Samuel L. Jackson as a horde of exploding helicopters rains down around them. And the cast. My word. Not for a long while have I witnessed such an expansive cast do absolutely nothing in an action movie.
Tom Hiddleston plays James Conrad, a tracker basically hired to sift through some sand and look off ominously into the distance, while Jackson’s army colonel Preston Packard huffs and puffs and tries to bring the ape down with toothpicks. John Goodman and Corey Hawkins play the scientists responsible for bringing everyone to the island in the first place. There are a bunch of soldiers under Preston’s command, including Toby Kebbell, who – I’m not kidding – is given screen time that amounts to about four syllables. Brie Larson’s “photojournalist” does nothing but take pointless pictures and wear skin-tight tops. And, of course, there’s your token Asian presence, pencilled in by Jing Tian, who’s not even important enough for an introduction. Fifty points if you can tell me her name and what she does.
Kong, therefore, can’t rely on its human characters for any kind of support. The entire film is essentially a two-hour setup for the future and a needless reminder of the past, with Goodman babbling on about how the Earth actually belongs to prehistoric creatures and will become the stage for a mammoth showdown. Didn’t we hear all this in Godzilla (2014)?
What it does do well is deliver a few impressive action sequences – but then how many modern blockbusters don’t? Scenes in which Kong fends off numerous overgrown lizards are edited with urgency and pump some blood into the movie’s otherwise limp veins, but even they seem like hollow echoes of Peter Jackson’s King Kong (2005), a vastly superior giant gorilla picture.
What we end up with is a reboot (or a sequel, or a remake, or whatever it wants to be) that succeeds only on a superficial level, by shifting the timeframe of the story from the 1930s to the 1970s and doing away with the film crew and the damsel in distress. On a deeper front, Kong: Skull Island is one big mess, offering a pointless human element, some inadvertently laughable moments, and a genuinely underwhelming experience. 1933 Kong must be turning in his grave.