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Kong: Skull Island Movie Review

The best thing I have to say about Kong: Skull Island is that after watching it, I don’t ever want to ever hear anyone call Peter Jackson’s King Kong a slog, or claim the 2014 Godzilla movie didn’t focus enough on the monster. Compared to Kong: Skull Island, even at their worst, both look like masterworks in comparison.
The movie is set against the closing days of the Vietnam War, with a crew of scientists and soldiers being sent to a previously uncharted island, dubbed Skull Island, for what is on the surface, a LANDSAT research project. Upon arrival though, they’re attacked by a giant gorilla known by the locals as Kong, and are forced to make their way across the island to the extraction point by foot. Along the way though, they’ll be forced to face far more monsters than Kong, and some of them quite human…

The first issue with Kong: Skull Island is that it’s a slog, coming in at under two hours, yet it had me checking the time nearly constantly. Part of the reason why is most of the movie focuses on people walking through the jungle and talking, with a plot and dialog that feels like it was pieced from three very different scripts. Kong: Skull Island can’t seem to decide if it wants to be a monster movie, an homage to Vietnam War movies, or a slapstick comedy, and as a result, it fails completely at all three. This is a movie that had four or five screenwriters and it shows.
The other reason why is that it’s just dull. A movie about a group of people forced to fend for themselves on an island of monsters shouldn’t be a bore, but it is. The few times it managed to get any response from me at all came in form of some cheap looking jump scares, and a climax that actually had me groaning for a number of reasons, the biggest being utterly breaking the suspension of disbelief. For a journey to an uncharted island, there is absolutely no new ground tread by Kong: Skull Island, and the notes it hits all turn sour.

If only the plot and tone was the only thing that was a mess. Sadly, if anything, the characters are even worse.
Say what you will about the choice of the 2014 Godzilla movie’s choice of viewpoint character, at least it HAD a single viewpoint character with goals and an arc over the film. Kong: Skull Island has close to twenty characters fighting for screen time, who all manage to be forgettable to the point I can’t name a single one of them. They’re another prime example of the mishmash of tone for the film too – you have Tom Hiddleston playing John Rambo of the SAS and Samuel L. Jackson going Colonel Kurtz one minute, before John C. Reilly shows up wielding a katana and cracking jokes, asking if the Cubs have won a World Series yet. It’s jarring.
Other cast members include Brie Larson as yet another Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who is only there to serve as monster bait and a love interest, and the dumbest group of cliche movie soldiers this side of Battleship. You know it’s bad when I, a US Army veteran and an award-winning  journalist, am literally drumming my seat rest, waiting for the monsters to pick these schmucks off like scabs.

You’d think at least some monsters and giant gorilla chowing down on some unlikable chumps might make for some fun, but you’d be wrong. We really only get two long scenes with King Kong, one towards the beginning that you’ve already seen close to its entirety in the trailers, and a few brief scenes aside, you won’t see him again until the third act, which again, is groan-worthy to the extreme. For all the complaints about the 2014 Godzilla movie about Godzilla having less than 20 minutes of screentime, what moments he had felt epic and larger than life. King Kong may have even less screen time in Kong: Skull Island, and every time he’s on screen, you feel like you’re looking at a bad special effect.
This is a movie that somehow cost just as much as Peter Jackson’s King Kong, a movie that to this day has some of the best visual effects ever put to screen, and yet it looks so much lazier and so much worse. Kong: Skull Island has precious little to show for all the money spent – lots of shots of jungle, some awful-looking lizard monsters, and a very underwhelming King Kong. Worst of the bunch is a scene where Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson are looking over a cliff at night, and somehow Kong, a gorilla the size of a cruise ship sneaks up on them, looks at them briefly, and then again walks into the mist. Again, this is a movie about a giant ape ruling an island of monsters, and somehow it still utterly breaks the suspension of disbelief on multiple occasions.

Say what you will about the 2014 Godzilla movie, but it was superbly directed, and as I correctly claimed, Gareth Edwards was deservedly approached with job offers after opening weekend, and if Rogue One is any sign of things, he has a long career ahead of him. In comparison, I very much doubt the director of Kong: Skull Island, Jordan Vogt-Roberts, should expect any phone calls come monday. His last directing gig was a Nick Offerman stand-up special, and he is clearly out of his depth helming a nearly $200 million tentpole blockbuster.

There is literally only one great scene in the movie, and it’s the post-credit scene tying the film in with the new Godzilla franchise. It’s not worth paying full ticket price to see it.
For all the legitimate criticism that could be made about Peter Jackson’s King Kong movie, at least it was a clear labor of love from the director, and to this day, is a visual marvel. The original King Kong helped give rise to the monster movie as a genre. Kong: Skull Island on the other hand, is a catastrophically messy, ultimately threadbare attempt at franchise building, and little more.

I’ve high hopes for the future of the MonsterVerse, but Kong: Skull Island is a monstrous misstep. Don’t let Kong: Skull Island make a monkey out of you – skip it.

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