“Hey, where are you going, there’s more King Kong,” pleaded a man in a satin Cubs jacket who kept mumbling to himself during the “Kong: Skull Island” screening I attended Friday.
“Why? Does Godzilla show up after the credits or something?”
“No, the man outside told me to stay and watch. They talk about Kong some more,” he said.
I kept walking but as it turned out the man was correct in a fashion. There is a little stinger after the credits connecting “Kong: Skull Island” with Gareth Edwards’ underwhelming “Godzilla” reboot. Not that I feel like I missed out on anything.
“Kong” isn’t exactly the kind of movie that leaves you wanting more. By the time the credits start rolling you won’t be asking, “What’s going to happen next?” as much as you’ll ask, “Where’s my coat?”
On the plus side, “Kong” is an improvement over 2014’s “Godzilla” in that it doesn’t needlessly tease out its monster battles, has a sense of humor about itself and, relatively speaking, successfully uses its title creature as a symbol for a greater, real-life tragedy. Arguably, the symbolism found in “Kong” is of the heavy-handed variety, but at least there’s a larger point to the parallels director Jordan Vogt-Roberts draws between King Kong and the Vietnam war, unlike the shallow, mostly unexamined connections Edwards was trying to draw between Godzilla and the Fukushima disaster.
“Kong” even starts well with cryptozoologist John Goodman begging weary senator Richard Jenkins to allow him and his team to covertly piggyback on top of a mapping expedition to mysteriously uncharted Skull Island. Once Jenkins agrees, “Kong” slips into character actor overdrive as we’re introduced to Goodman’s colleagues. There’s Tom Hiddleston as a glowering Indiana Jones analogue, Brie Larson as a wide-eyed photographer, “Straight Outta Compton’s” Corey Hawkins as Goodman’s bookish assistant and Samuel L. Jackson basically playing Samuel L. Jackson as an army colonel. Throw in a ton of great period details from 1973 as well as John C. Reilly as a comic-relief WWII pilot who’s been stranded on Skull Island for almost 30 years and you would think you would have all of the necessary ingredients for an amazing action movie.
You would be wrong.
Once Goodman and company arrive on Skull Island, “Kong” falls apart. After a surprisingly visceral sequence in which Kong brutally takes out most of the members of Goodman’s mission, the expedition crew breaks up into two factions: those who believe Kong was only protecting his home from perceived interlopers and those who believe he’s nothing more than a destructive monster.
This only serves to underline the main problem with giant monster movies: the human element. To be fair, unlike Edwards’ “Godzilla” which cast stiff actors in uninteresting roles and then proceeded to spend too much time with them, “Kong” casts talented actors in interesting roles.
Unfortunately, “Kong” also has way too many characters and not enough time to develop them. In fact, the characters’ sole function in this movie is to serve as a brief intermission between giant monster battles. You feel nothing whenever the cast is eaten or stepped on. There aren’t any real stakes because we neither know nor care who these characters are. This isn’t just a problem I have with “Kong” but giant monster movies in general.
Why the pretense?
Why the needless feint toward storytelling?
Why can’t we get a giant monster movie that only stars giant monsters?
If humans need to be in these movies, cast recognizable celebrities in gory cameo roles. Maybe Mothra drops a building on Josh Gad? That’s something we can all get behind, right?
By no means a bad movie, “Kong: Skull Island” is an unremarkable one. Its startling action set-pieces are routinely undermined by indifferent storytelling and palsied attempts at Joe Dante-inspired silliness. Like Vogt-Roberts’ previous film the generic indie comedy “The Kings of Summer,” “Kong: Skull Island” will be forgotten long before Easter rolls around.
Mike Sullivan is a movie reviewer for Weekender. Movie reviews appear weekly in Weekender.
‘Kong: Skull Island’
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Hiddleston, John Goodman, John C. Reilly, Brie Larson
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Weekender Rating: WWV
Length: 120 minutes