Kong: Skull Island is basically a prolonged glare-off between the gigantic ape and Samuel L. Jackson as Lieutenant Colonel Packard. Multiple close-ups of Kong’s and Jackson’s eyes are meant to spotlight the animosity between Jackson as the leader of a military unit assigned to help explore the uncharted island and the island’s protector. Instead, these close-ups serve only to add unintentionally comic moments to this latest take on King Kong.
Kong: Skull Island follows a team of scientists, tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), an anti-war photographer named Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), and the military unit charged with protecting them from whatever potentially dangerous creatures may dwell on the island. The group encounters Kong almost immediately after entering the island’s airspace. The scientists, for some bizarre reason, set off explosive charges within minutes of arrival, damaging the island and alerting Kong to their presence. The unwanted visitors don’t even have time to land as Kong launches into action, swatting helicopters out of the sky like so many annoying little gnats.
The fact Kong didn’t initiate this attack on his soldiers, and in fact was only defending his island, is completely lost on Lt. Col. Packard. Packard immediately determines Kong is a threat and taking down the giant ape becomes Packard’s sole mission. Obsessed with killing Kong, Packard ignores the harm his people have done to the island, brushes off Conrad and Weaver’s pleas to reconsider his course of action, and focuses on the inevitable showdown between man and ape.
Unfortunately, Kong as the innocent hero is little more than a side note in this reboot of the King Kong mythology and he disappears from the screen for much too long. The running time is instead filled with James, Mason, and the scientists led by Bill Randa (John Goodman) attempting to make it back to the rendezvous point to be rescued. Along the way they meet Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), a WWII pilot stranded for decades on the island who’s adapted to the way of life, gets along well with the natives, and understands the importance of King Kong to the island’s survival.
There’s a smattering of creepy creatures that provide a few jump scares and that keep the island’s unlucky visitors fleeing for their lives. Kong munches on a giant squid, the gang fights off a massive, towering arachnid, and there are plenty of scenes with Kong: Skull Island’s version of Jurassic Park’s Velociraptors, terrifying two-legged enormous lizard-like creatures with flesh-ripping claws. Kong is regrettably left off the screen in favor of generic, forgettable humans who, for the most part, get what they deserve at the hands of the massive ape or one of his enemies.
The performances are fine, but the CG creatures are the real stars of Kong: Skull Island. Kong is impressively rendered and unlike most past King Kong films, his scale in comparison to his environment doesn’t change. Kong’s imposing and of course he’s the one we’re rooting for throughout, even though the script doesn’t do much in the way of setting him up as the hero. Ultimately, this attempt to revive the King Kong story on the screen falls short as the result of dull characters and a titular figure who’s slighted both in screen time and in character development.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for brief strong language
Running Time: 120 minutes
Release Date: March 10, 2017
Directed By: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Written By: Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, and Derek Connolly