KONG: SKULL ISLAND
Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, Corey Hawkins, John C.
Reilly, John Goodman
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Audio: DTS HD MA 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 118 Minutes
Release Date: July 18, 2017
“Is that a monkey?”
Throughout the history of King Kong, there’s a pattern…a memorable first film, and a forgettable second.
The original classic was followed by Son of Kong, which was only mediocre. The already mediocre 1970s remake was followed by the awful King Kong Lives.
When Peter Jackson remade the film fresh for the new millennium, he did so with energy, love and pure high-octane filmmaking that made his version one of the best films of its year, in my opinion. But sadly, the lackluster sequels continue. Kong: Skull Island lacks heart, brains and fun.
I admit, when I saw the original trailer for the film, I perked up. I thought it looked like this might be a movie to break the ignoble pattern. I was definitely looking forward to checking it out, primed to enjoy it on its own merits without any comparisons to Jackson’s modern masterpiece.
Well, I’ll continue in that vein, because no comparisons are warranted or needed. In fact, Kong: Skull Island didn’t even make me think of Mr. Jackson’s movie at all. It made me think of those cheesy cult films on SyFy. Yes, when a star-studded, large-budgeted production makes you think of Sharknado, that almost says it all.
This film takes place in the final days of the Vietnam War, when businessman Bill Randa (Goodman) seeks Senate approval to go to a strange uncharted island that seems to be surrounded by storms.
He takes an expensive tracker named James Conrad (Hiddleston), some army guys led by Preston Packard (Jackson), his assistant Houston Brooks (Hawkins), and an anti-war journalist Mason Weaver (Larson). None of them knows the real purpose of the mission: Randa has reason to believe this is a land of monsters.
It turns out to be true enough as the military helicopters are suddenly face to face with Kong, who dispatches a number of them without much trouble. The survivors regroup, with Packard now bent on hunting down Kong and killing him as payback for his fallen men.
However, not all is as it seems…when they stumble across some natives and a stranded World War II pilot named Hank Marlow (Reilly), more of the story comes to life: Kong is not the villain, but the protector of the land against some vile, lizard-like creatures who live underground, and who have been woken by the invading adventurers.
And that’s pretty much it…what else to say? Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts has obviously seen Apocalypse Now too many times, as his whole island approach is like a wet dream set to Coppola’s landmark film. Everything is stolen, from the shots of the approaching choppers to the slow-motion whoosh whoosh whoosh of the blades, to the big reel-to-reel tape recorder blasting music…one soldier even looks like Lt. Kilgore as they approach.
To compound the lack of originality, the movie actually ends with Vera Lynn singing “We’ll Meet Again”. Dr. Strangelove, anyone?
In between, everything is absurd and dull. The antagonist creatures are bad CGI. They look rushed through or crafted by first year students. They’re basically half finished concoctions with two legs, long bodies and no memorable features, other than they move like raptors from Jurassic Park.
Kong doesn’t work either. He walks like a human, and is much bigger than previous versions, but lacks any other semblance of humanity or sympathy that usually makes his stories work. We’re supposed to root for him here simply because the screenplay said so.
And though populated with talented actors, this film is also poorly acted, though I may blame the screenplay first. I wondered what the hell Conrad was even there for; he was pretty worthless as a top tracker. Samuel Jackson was mostly there to glare…seriously…how many close-ups of his furious eyes were necessary? And Reilly is always a good addition, but making a veteran lost for 30 years into a goofy comic supporting act was not a good idea.
As far as action, I could swear one or two moves were actually lifted from Sharknado. I could be wrong, but if not, that’s a pretty low bar to set for yourself as an action director. Not to mention, for using such a large piece of history as the Vietnam War, nobody associated with this film seemed to have a clue about it. I guess they thought watching Apocalypse Now 50 times was enough.
In the end, there’s just nothing workable, enjoyable or memorable about this picture. It will go down as yet another failed follow-up to a more successful predecessor.
Film quality aside, there’s nothing wrong with this high definition transfer from Warner. The visuals are spectacular, with solid details, natural looking colors, and vivid representation of action with no blurring or artifacting. Nicely done.
Likewise, the uncompressed surround track is powerful and well-balanced. Lots of dynamic range, lots of use of all satellite speakers, and clearly rendered dialogue and music throughout.
The disc includes a director’s commentary, some deleted scenes, plus three featurettes on the making of the film, plus a DVD and digital copy of the movie.
Kong: Skull Island may not be the worst ever follow-up to a King Kong movie, but it’s not a laudable list to be on regardless. The Blu-ray is terrific. The film, not so much.