King Kong will forever be a blot on Peter Jackson’s filmography. I will be watching that movie this week and I’m not looking forward to it. King Kong‘s pacing never falls into sync, nor does the movie ever become about King Kong, which is probably the most fatal of all the flaws that movie has.
Where King Kong dramatically fails at presenting King Kong as this monstrosity to be feared, Kong: Skull Island commits the opposite cardinal flaw: character writing.
If you want to see a good old-fashioned monster movie, Kong: Skull Island is for you. We have a monster tearing stuff apart and beating things senseless at will with no collateral damage to be concerned about. You can watch this film completely unabated. That also means there is no tension here, which is a rather monster-sized problem for a monster movie. A behemoth is certainly threatening on size alone, but the suspension of those killing strokes is the difference between a good and great movie, a distinction that director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, swinging the baton in only his third concerto, doesn’t have the experience to recognize.
Watching Kong smash things and find creative ways to shoot helicopters out of the sky is certainly interesting. Watching an ape punch other monsters in the face will certainly lead to giddy rounds of applause and shocked exclamations of “NO, HE DIDN’T” from the crowd, but watching Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, John Goodman, Samuel L. Jackson and John C. Reilly get together for a character lineup as depressing as the Browns depth chart is ultimately a mortal wound.
Brie Larson won the Academy Award for Best Actress in 2015, yet the script gives her nothing to work with. The intimidating presence that is John Goodman is given a few introductory scenes to rev up the engine that is the plot before falling into the shadows, never to peek out again. Tom Hiddleston is underused to an absurd proportion, leaving only Jackson and Reilly to instill some sort of human presence through their charisma alone.
Vogt-Roberts made his name via Kings of Summer, a coming-of-age tale predicated by human interaction. Kong: Skull Island is the exact opposite of that, and not in a positive way. It makes you wonder if the writer of Kings of Summer, Chris Galletta, deserved the credit.
I’ve held on to this review a while, longer than I had planned to, but it has allowed me to ponder what I’ve seen a while longer and the more I think about it, the more I realize there’s no human connection here. Jackson’s version had human connection to the point of overdramatization and eventually became a disorganized piano, with keys switched all over the board that no one could play a coherent tune on it, only select phrases via luck. Vogt-Roberts, with a finely tuned organ, has, essentially, slammed on the keys like a raging toddler, producing such a weak plot line that he then got up from the organ, went up to a chalkboard and wrote, in crayon (just because), “KONG SMASH THINGS.” Again, if you want a stereotypical monster movie, the theaters have one for you, but if you’re looking for a great Kong movie, this isn’t it. It’s quite a ways away from that.
If it wasn’t for the masterpiece that was Logan (I want to watch it a second time before writing a review, but if you haven’t seen it yet, strongly encouraged), it would appear 2017 is the year of the non-existent character. By that, I mean star-studded casts assembled with the visage of potential but are actually more of an obscene gesture to people who pay to see this content. It’s rude and, more importantly, at least to me, blatantly negligent.
This is why I’m grateful for Kong here, just as I’ve been thankful for Godzilla in plenty of movies and the rather large distraction he provides to the apparent anarchy around him. 2014’s Godzilla had a pull over its audience begotten by command and tease. It had the ominous wind, the pounding of the unseen drums and the horror that Bryan Cranston’s dialogue can provide. It had the pulse-pounding fear and the violin strings. Hell, it had a score that did something for the film. Watch the trailer and remember what this film offered audiences. Kong doesn’t have any of it.
The tone is more, “Action movie for seven-year-olds! Rawr, Slam, Clunk” than “This could be the end of life as we know it.” There’s not much drama here to bring us to the realization of this discovery. I mean, we just found a skyscraper-sized ape. There’s one character in the movie saying, “Wait. Are we really not gonna talk about what just happened?” The line is in there for comedic relief, but it’s a legitimate question for a moviegoer who wanted a true experience. Completely unintentionally, the writers poked a hole in the fabric.
And look, that fabric is pretty much shredded by the end. There aren’t any consequences. There’s no love lost for even one character, though at least Jackson and Reilly are given something to work with. They are by far the most worthwhile personalities here. It’s just a movie that you could get away with watching once and never seeing again. Besides, it’s not like there are any characters asking for you to come back.
Once again, if you’re new to my blog, I’ve always ranked movies on a scale of 0-100 (I don’t know why, I just always have). Here’s the grading scale.
80-89 It was a pretty good movie and definitely one worth seeing, but it doesn’t quite scratch my top ten percentile. (Olympus Has Fallen, The Cable Guy, The Cabin in the Woods, Tears of the Sun, Edge of Tomorrow)
50-59 This movie isn’t intolerable but it’s not blowing my mind either. I’m trying really hard to get some sort of enjoyment out of this. (The Great Wall, Robin Hood, Underworld, The Do-Over, X-Men: Apocalypse)
40-49 This movie is just mediocre. It’s not doing anything other than the bare minimal, so morbidly boring that sometimes I’m actually angry I watched this. (Underworld: Evolution, Batman & Robin, Bloodsport, War, The Ridiculous 6)
30-39 Definitely worse than mediocre, the 30′s ironically define the 1930′s, full of depression, lack of accomplishments, poverty and just so dumb. (Most Likely to Die, Independence Day: Resurgence, The Crow: City of Angels, Centurion, Planet of the Apes)
0-19 Watching this movie resulted in one or more of the following: seizure, loss of brain cells, falling asleep/unconsciousness, feel you wasted your time/day, accomplished nothing for you, left the movie knowing less about it then you did going into it, constantly asking yourself why you came to see this movie, or near-death experience. In short, staring at a wall was just as entertaining as watching this movie. This movie deserved a sticker or a label that said, “WARNING: EXTREME AMOUNT OF SUCKAGE.” (The Coed and the Zombie Stoner, The Forbidden Dimensions, Cyborg, Outcast, Sabotage)
My score for Kong: Skull Island: 79.
Kong: Skull Island is an improvement from Jackson’s version. The action sequences are entertaining, the visuals competent though not overreaching and the zoo of creatures we run into is enough to keep some fascination along for the ride, but once that adrenaline wears off when you leave the theater, you realize there wasn’t a character you could care about. You also realize that it doesn’t have a dramatic gut punch, something that just feels needed in a movie with a monster of that proportion.