When you walk into a movie called “Kong: Skull Island,” you gotta know what to expect. You can’t walk out complaining, “That was a dumb plot and too much action.” It’s like exiting “La La Land” whining because you don’t like musicals.
Kong has been updated several times since his screen debut in 1933, when Fay Wray set the standard for damsel-in-distress screams. Every frightened female character since then has done a pale imitation, including Jessica Lange in 1976 (when she was named not “Dawn,” but “Dwan”) and Naomi Watts in 2005. In each instance, they existed purely to humanize the giant gorilla, who seemed to fall for them in some weird sort of inter-species romance that could never be consummated.
In the new version, which takes place in 1973, Brie Larson follows up her Oscar-winning role in “Room” to play a photojournalist who is given virtually nothing to do except to take pictures with a seemingly endless supply of rolls of film that she never has to change (remember, there were no digital cameras 40+ years ago). She rides along with some scientists and soldiers who travel to Skull Island, where they encounter Kong, who’s something like a hundred feet tall.
Samuel L. Jackson is the colonel in charge of the Army helicopter squad that, when they first spot Kong, naturally begins firing weapons at him because who is he to stand so tall on an island they didn’t even know existed until a few days ago? The whole shooting-at-Kong thing actually makes me laugh. Once it’s clear that their machine guns and chopper-launched-missiles aren’t hurting him — they only piss him off to the point where he knocks the helicopters out of the sky — why would you then take out your pistol and think that’s going to do anything?
John Goodman is the lead scientist who, unlike in previous Kong movies, isn’t planning on taming the beast and taking him back to New York so he can climb a skyscraper. He’s there to prove that there are pre-historic monsters living in giant caves under the Earth’s surface. It turns out he’s right — and Kong isn’t the only one. There are all sort of outsized creatures on Skull Island for both the humans and Kong to do battle with. All of this is done with some rather impressive CGI work, and the movie looks beautiful.
But things don’t really turn interesting until John C. Reilly appears midway through as Hank Marlow, a World War II vet who’s been stuck on Skull Island for 28 years. He lives with the humans who are native to the island, and has learned from them how not to get eaten by the humongous creatures that roam nearby.
Marlow is the only character with a sense of humor, which the movie desperately needs. What it doesn’t need is Larson, nor Tom Hiddleston, whose character similarly serves no actual purpose in driving the plot.
So, is “Kong: Skull Island” a complete bust? Not if you go in with the right level of expectations. Set them high for the monsters and action sequences but low for the storyline and characters and you might just walk out satisfied. You can also turn the movie into a drinking game — toss one back for every “Apocalypse Now” allusion the filmmakers have thrown in.
I give “Kong: Skull Island” a 6.5 out of 10.