Kong: Skull Island has an impressive cast and some decent special effects – so, it’s a shame that the former often get lost within the latter. No, this is not your grandfather’s King Kong movie. Littered with special effects from nearly start to finish, the picture looks good and has a vibe slightly different from other pictures of this type – mostly due to the period in which it is set – but there’s too much going on at once on screen and much of it is digitally created.
The picture opens in 1973 and features President Richard Nixon’s announcement that the Vietnam War is being wound down. Two good laughs can be found during this scene – the fact that the number of protesters seen outside the White House during the scene is unlikely as the anti-war movement had all but thrown in the towel at this point and a quip by John Goodman that is directed right at the camera regarding his thoughts on how Washington will never likely be in as much turmoil as it was then. If he only knew.
Goodman’s scientist convinces a senator (a brief appearance by Richard Jenkins) to fund a trip to a remote island where strange things are apparently afoot. He rounds up a group of soldiers who are about to be shipped home from the war – led by Samuel L. Jackson’s Preston Packard (where do they come up with these names?), a commander who’s not quite ready to give up the fight – a tracker (Tom Hiddleston), photo journalist (Brie Larson) and several other scientists.
The group makes a crash landing on the aforementioned island, where they are greeted by an angry King Kong, who smashes up some of the group’s helicopters and incurs the wrath of Packard. Since this is a blockbuster movie, the characters are all separated and must find their way back to the rallying point to escape. In the meantime, Hiddleston and Larson stumble upon a village of natives, where a downed World War II pilot (John C. Reilly) has been living for years.
Outside the village lies danger at every turn – gigantic spiders and ants, nasty lizard-like beasts, massive creatures that look like mules and, of course, Kong, who is the island’s protector – in other words, he prevents the lizards from taking over. In terms of plot, the film is thin. As for period ambience, it’s not too bad – or, at least, it features a soundtrack with tunes by Creedence Clearwater Revival, Jefferson Airplane, The Stooges, The Hollies and others. Larson’s anti-war commentary fills in the rest.
Skull Island is, for the most part, a means of cashing in and an apparent attempt to revive the gigantic monster genre (I’m pretty sure there’s another Godzilla movie on the way, a King Kong vs. Godzilla picture and, who knows, perhaps Mothra will have his day in the sun as well). In other words, it’s not particularly high on inspiration, that is, unless you count the collection of dividends.
That being said, there’s some nice work from some of the cast – Jackson does his thing and some of the supporting players (Shea Whigham and Thomas Mann, for example) have some solid moments. But it’s Hiddleston who fares best, although his character is mostly a caricature. Regardless, he makes the case as an action movie leading man.
And the special effects, as I’ve mentioned, are good enough – however, there are just too many of them. If you’ve seen one digitally enhanced battle between gigantic creatures, you’ve seen them all. The actors mostly find themselves running from flying objects and monsters in pursuit. Dialogue is shouted – most of it is either “look out!” or “run!” It’s not a bad blockbuster – in fact, it earns points for its period backdrop and great casting – but it doesn’t exactly break the mold either.