Since the gigantic success of Godzilla in May 2014, audiences around the world were hungry for more monster movies starring larger-than-life beasts. Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures (the studio and production company behind the movie starring the King of the Monsters) obliged and announced Kong: Skull Island a few months later during San Diego Comic-Con. The new monster movie is more of a re-telling of the iconic 1933 film King Kong than a sequel, prequel, or strict remake, but director Jordan Vogt-Roberts injects new life into Kong. It’s refreshing and fun, but doesn’t leave a lasting impression.
The film follows government agent Bill Randa (John Goodman) and seismologist Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins), a pair of “crackpots” who believe a newly-discovered island might unlock the mysteries of modern science and medicine. They embark on a government-funded mission with a military escort led by Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) to find what’s on Skull Island during the tail end of the Vietnam War.
The pair also recruits Captain James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), a tough-guy mercenary and expert tracker, while anti-war photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) is assigned to document the science mission. Although this rag tag group believes they can handle the journey, they quickly find out that they have a big problem on their hands. As the team helicopters onto the island through inclement weather (in a very exciting action set piece), they soon find some calm just before they land. But little do they know, they upset and have awakened Kong, a giant gorilla who protects the island from invaders.
While Kong: Skull Island has a lot of big thrills and well-put-together action sequences, it lacks the vision to be completely crowd pleasing. It’s hard to care about these characters when they are thinly-painted and broad. It’s a shame because Kong: Skull Island features an all-star cast of actors who are full of charm and personality, but they rarely find an opportunity to show it. For the most part, the cast does a fine job with the material, but it’s never elevated to match the wonderful action pieces or breathtaking cinematography and camera work.
The only shining stars are Samuel L. Jackson, as an army Lieutenant Colonel who feels burned by the way America got out of the Vietnam War and finds a new target for his anger in Kong, and John C. Reilly, as an American Air Force pilot who has been stranded since crash landing on Skull Island during World War II. Jackson provides the film with a reluctant villain, while Reilly gives it some personality and comedy. But out of a cast that features John Goodman, Tom Hiddleston, and Brie Larson, that’s really not enough to keep it moving from scene-to-scene.
Kong: Skull Island is a very serviceable popcorn movie for March, but it could’ve been more memorable and lasting. I found myself forgetting most of the movie once I stepped into the lobby to leave the theater after it was over. Kong, himself, is quite an accomplishment of CGI and motion capture (he is performed by Terry Notary from the Planet of the Apes prequel trilogy), but it’s not nearly enough to keep viewers invested. Enough of this monkey business, Kong might be the King of Skull Island, but he’s not the king of story engagement and character work.