Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: yes, Kong: Skull Island is heavily inspired by Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. While mixing King Kong with the 1970’s classic sounds like an inventive twist on paper, other than the film’s period setting, soundtrack, and a slew of highly-referential shots, Kong falls into a bipolar daze between an average monster flick and an anti-war Vietnam film, plus enough fiery explosions that would galvanize Michael Bay into a furry thunder.
Kong: Skull Island is the second film in what is now dubbed the MonsterVerse following 2014’s passable Godzilla remake. The year is 1973 and after decades of trying to convince the government to send an expedition to the mysterious Skull Island, John Goodman finally gets the go ahead. After enlisting field expert Tom Hiddleston and photographer Brie Larson, they set off with military escort Samuel L. Jackson and immediately begin bombing the island for a geological survey – an action that sparks the wrath of none other than King Kong (Terry Notary).
Why didn’t I mention any character names other than the titular monkey, you ask? Because cardboard cutouts have more fiber than this walking band of cliches: Tom Hiddleston – the outdoor adventurer with the superhuman ability to sense direction and win bar fights through the power of bad editing; Brie Larson – the flawless, anti-war feminist whose most “interesting” moments are photo taking montages (oh wait, did I say flawless? Well, she inconsequentially drops a phone in an early scene so I guess that makes her delightfully quirky but still a good, strong role model!); Samuel L. Jackson – the war hungry, speechifying Captain Ahab whose intense stare is the character’s most defining trait; and John Goodman – the bug-eyed nut who’s only needed to kick off this hackneyed journey into the heart of mediocrity. The rest are either solely there to be monster chow or fill diversity quotas.
Only John C. Reilly, playing a marooned WWII fighter pilot, shows any signs of human life. He elicits the film’s best laughs and, by the end, is the only character we end up actually caring about. Of course, the argument here is that the only draw to a King Kong film should be King Kong but the beloved ape has little build up and pedestrian payoff (especially compared to original 1933 classic or even, dare I say it, Peter Jackson’s overlong 2005 remake). Kong is only present to fight the occasional monster and take down helicopters, showing precious few traits of the character that has earned his near-century long admiration. Here, his most defining attributes are a massive upgrade in size (so he could fight Godzilla in a future film) and striking grandiose poses against an orange-blazing sun.
Overall, Kong: Skull Island is over-stylized, badly edited, and poorly written. As a popcorn flick, it does have a few entertaining moments and Kong’s climactic monster brawl at the end is admittedly fun, but the journey getting their is an arduous one. With Disney‘s much anticipated Beauty and the Beast remake coming out next week, perhaps the old 1933 assertion will come true and Beauty will kill this beast at the box-office.