Kernel Rating (out of 5): (2.5 out of 5)
MPAA Rating: PG-13 Length: 120 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 13+. This monster flick about King Kong is in the B-movie style, with lots of violence and various gross-out scenes: Kong tears apart helicopters, killing various people; huge spiders, insects, and other monsters attack the humans, eating and regurgitating them; there are scenes with monster blood, vomit, and guts. Some cursing; some light flirting and romantic tension between a couple of characters, and the suggestion of prostitution with a few scenes set in brothels.
It’s the bloodthirstiness of man vs. the primal qualities of nature in ‘Kong: Skull Island,’ which has some grossly impressive visuals but mostly feels derivative in both plot and style. This is same old, same old creature feature stuff.
By Roxana Hadadi
“Kong: Skull Island” really wants to be taken seriously. Set against the backdrop of World War II and the Vietnam War, the movie has vaguely formed ideas about man vs. nature, and it wraps them up in enough pop culture references to make your head spin: nods to “Heart of Darkness,” “Apocalypse Now,” and “Patton.” Younger viewers won’t pick up any of it, but their parents, guardians, and older audiences will rapidly realize how familiar this all feels—and how uncreative.
All those nods to other things underline how little “Kong: Skull Island” has to say for itself. Underneath all the giant monster blood and guts, there’s little substance. The slimy viscera, despite the filmmakers’ best intentions, stands alone and without impact.
The film is mostly set in 1977, after President Nixon has announced U.S. withdrawal from the Vietnam War, with various groups coming together to explore an uncharted island in the Pacific Ocean. The ragtag team includes a science arm, with mission leader Randa (John Goodman, of “10 Cloverfield Lane”) and recent Yale graduate Brooks (Corey Hawkins, of “Romeo and Juliet”); tracker and former British Special Forces man Conrad (Tom Hiddleston, of “Muppets Most Wanted”); photographer Mason (Brie Larson, of “The Spectacular Now”); and a military escort led by decorated war veteran and helicopter pilot Packard (Samuel L. Jackson, of “xXX: Return of Xander Cage”).
The goal is to fly to an island practically untouched by modern civilization and that Randa thinks houses giant monsters—but he doesn’t tell the team that, of course. They think this is a regular mapping mission, although that notion obviously disappears when they get to the island and promptly see the unbelievably large, impossible-to-comprehend Kong, who tears apart their helicopters and scatters the remaining survivors to various corners of the island.
The people left (who, curiously, are also the recognizable faces of the cast; what luck!) have three days to get to a pickup point for rescue, but will they live that long? After the initial attack from Kong, the mission changes: While Randa’s priorities for proving Kong’s existence remain personal, now Packard is consumed by a need for revenge, too, to avenge his men who died at Kong’s hands. In the meantime, on another part of the island, Conrad and Mason accidentally cross paths with another survivor, who teaches them about a great conflict happening there for years between Kong and the other, more threatening monsters. Kong isn’t the threat, says World War II fighter pilot Marlow (John C. Reilly, of “Sing”)—he’s the “king” protecting his people, and now they’ve made him angry.
The two storylines of “Skull Island” progress as you would expect. There’s the military angle, with Packard as a short-sighted, violence-loving man who sees no purpose in his life that isn’t killing and who follows orders to the point of illogic, like when he says “We didn’t lose the war, we abandoned it.” On the flip side are Conrad and Mason, the latter who introduces herself as an “anti-war photographer,” and who are shaken by the primal nature of the island and the reality that they shouldn’t be there at all. They’re on the side of “this planet doesn’t belong to us,” but that doesn’t mean they want to destroy it, and the fact that they aren’t maniacal, sexist, controlling jerks like Packard or lying, selfish jerks like Randa tips the plot in their flavor. Otherwise, they’re pretty boring, too.
It’s all heavy-handed, really, but at least some of it is enjoyable: There’s a certain amount of glee you’ll get from watching Conrad, in a gas mask, slash his way through a flock of pterodactyl-like birds in a cloud of poison gas, splashing blue blood everywhere as he dismembers them with a samurai sword. The animals of the island are increasingly bizarre and memorable, like a humongous squid from which Kong pulls tentacles to snack on sashimi-style. And Reilly brings a good amount of inappropriate humor, like when he brightly tells the soldiers, “We’re all gonna die together out here!”
But mostly “Kong: Skull Island” flounders in tone and style, too often relying on clichéd elements for its storytelling. The 3D conversion isn’t great, so various scenes are blurry and out of focus. And the message about man’s lack of humanity when faced with the primal cruelties of nature has been done time and time again, mostly recently in the (superior) remake of “Godzilla,” which this film will reportedly crossover with at some point in the future. Hollywood recycles ideas all the time, but the ones redone in “Kong: Skull Island” just don’t set themselves apart.
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