Kong: Skull Island

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Why didn’t they call this movie Apocalypse, Now with Apes? Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts surely wanted to do a Vietnam picture instead of a monster flick. Now, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t also want to make his version of Jurassic Park. He does that, too. It’s a shame, because his previous movie (2013’s The Kings of Summer) was terrific. Aside from some interesting production design and cinematography (thanks to Larry Fong), there’s really nothing here.

There’s an opening scene that reminds me of something from Indiana Jones. We’re somewhere in the South Pacific, 1944. A Japanese and American pilot, both parachute on an island and get into some hand-to-hand combat. In the middle of their fight, King Kong shows up. Jump ahead to another war — it’s 1973, and Vietnam is ready to wrap up. Bill Rando (John Goodman, who phones it in) runs an organization called Monarch. They investigate — uh, monsters. I believe that’s it. I’m a bit fuzzy on the details. His meeting with a senator (Richard Jenkins) gets them to piggy back with a military outfit to Skull Island. It’s a place no human has been to. It’s the Bermuda Triangle of islands destroying planes, helicopters, and boats for decades.

Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), shown fighting in a bar after winning a big wad of cash in a pool game, is hired because of his skills as an expert tracker. It’s another scene that felt like something out of an Indiana Jones picture.

Lieutenant Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) is brought in because he’s one of those gung ho war types (think Robert Duvall loving the smell of napalm in Apocalypse Now). He’s of course, going to want to kill everyone in his troop, as well as the big, dirty ape. Even when the big gorilla shows he’s not the enemy, but actually a protector on the island.

Brie Larson, who was so terrific in Room, plays Mason Weaver. She’s an “anti-war” photographer. Her and Hiddleston have no chemistry together, and both of them seem to be going through the motions. Perhaps they realized early on just how bad this script is, and were just there for the paycheck.

In yet another Apocalypse comparison…there’s a character named Marlow (John C. Reilly). He’s like a mix of Dennis Hopper and Marlon Brando from that movie. He provides some comic relief (not just because he has a huge white beard that makes him look like David Letterman). Those types of jokes worked better in Raiders of the Lost Ark, but in a bad movie, a lot of them just don’t land. It also felt like this was a character from a completely different film. I kept thinking Will Ferrell was going to pop up from behind a rock and say “Hello there, big ape!”

Now, that doesn’t mean I didn’t laugh when he asks about putting a person on the moon.

Instead of making this feel like another Vietnam picture (how many times do we have to hear CCR?), they should’ve had more scenes that were nods to the early Kong pictures (Fay Wray and Jessica Lange ones, not Jack Black version). We do get a few moments; when Larson is saved from drowning and cradled in Kong’s hand, or when she gently touches his nose.

There’s a lost tribe, also out of Apocalypse. Hell, even the poster with the setting sun and helicopters is a rip off of Apocalypse. When they kept “borrowing” from all these other films, I started wondering when Samuel Jackson was going to scream, “I’m tired of this mother f***ing ape, on this mother f***ing island!”

There are two scenes in which Kong and Jackson stare each other down. How it wasn’t said in one of those moments is beyond me.

In the last Star Trek movie, the best moments were when the characters all split up. In this, they’re the worst moments, and that’s ⅔ of the movie. It’s so unfocused and uninteresting. Perhaps if I were 12, seeing a giant squid, huge spider, and birds that rip arms off people…would thrill me. Instead, I was more surprised at how the special effects (I saw it in IMAX and 3D) made things look fake and sometimes cartoonish. What also takes it into the cheesy B-movie category (which is crazy considering it cost $190 million to make), is the clunky dialogue and the idiotic decisions all the characters make.

Now, I mentioned Vietnam movies quitting with the CCR songs (and like Lebowski, I love Creedence)…my wife had asked me a few weeks ago why Vietnam movies always play The Chambers Brothers (Time Has Come Today). Yep. This movie did, along with the cliche song “White Rabbit” by Jefferson Airplane. I will give them credit for using Iggy and the Stooges “Down on the Street.” And just like in Apocalypse, we have helicopter pilots that have to blast music while attacking. Instead of Wagner, we get Black Sabbath’s “Paranoid.”

I thought a more clever approach would’ve been The Rolling Stones “Monkey Man.”

After they had landed and I saw a soldier put Ziggy Stardust on a portable record player, I thought to myself — this might be the most durable record player in war history!

This gets 1 ½ stars out of 5.