They should have called this film Kong meets John C. Reilly.
Set in the 1970’s, Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts‘ Kong: Skull Island follows an expedition to an uncharted island where monsters lurk and the natives worship a giant gorilla named Kong (Toby Kebbell). The expedition is launched by Bill Randa (John Goodman), who heads the government agency Monarch, which investigates oddities. Randa believes that monsters walk the planet and he wants to prove it. He and his partner, Brooks (Corey Hawkins), are given a military escort to Skull Island. The escort is led by Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), who is smarting from America’s loss in Vietnam. They are joined by a former British agent and survivalist, James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), and a photographer, Mason Weaver (Brie Larson). Randa’s expedition piggybacks on a geological survey heading to the island and headed by Victor Nieves (John Ortiz). Basically, once they get to the island, Kong sees them as invaders and responds accordingly, killing many soldiers. This transforms Packard into a full-on Colonel Kurtz, who becomes obsessed with destroying Kong. While on the island, the expedition comes across a long-missing pilot, Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), who is also the best part of the film. Marlow explains that Kong protects the island from something even worse and if Packard is allowed to succeed, the entire world could be in danger.
With Gareth Edwards‘ Godzilla, the biggest complaints were that there wasn’t enough of the titular monster and worse, the audience was stuck with an uncharismatic lead character played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson. With Kong: Skull Island, it’s the exact opposite. As soon as the characters arrive at the island, Kong is in your face and instead of one terrible protagonist, there are way too many characters to even pick out a single lead. Is it Goodman’s Randa? Hiddleston’s Conrad? Kong himself? The film is stuffed to bursting with characters, but they are so under-developed, it’s difficult to care about a single one of them. Basically, it’s the Rogue One problem all over again. The only character you care about and the only aspect of this film that is consistently great is John C. Reilly. He’s fantastic in this film and hilarious. That’s the problem with films like this as well as the Transformers movies – the title characters become supporting props in their own films in order to focus on less interesting human characters. And honestly, this film is completely unnecessary as the studio works to jam a bunch of monsters into a “cinematic universe,” which will continue with a Kong vs. Godzilla movie in the near future. The Marvel Cinematic Universe works because it focuses on characters that audiences want to see interact with one another. Kong vs. Godzilla will be a spectacle to be sure, but it’s really pitting two forces of nature against each other. These are not characters, they are props—action figures for the directors to play with. There is no reason to construct a bunch of movies trying to build up to this. Just make a Godzilla vs. King Kong movie and be done with it. So, this “cinematic universe” feels very forced.
Otherwise, Kong: Skull Island is pretty fun for the first two acts, but the third act turns from a big, dumb, fun movie into something utterly stupid. There’s a big difference. In the former, you laugh with the movie, with the latter, you’re laughing at it. Some of the wrinkles in the plot late in the film became completely unbelievable, and that’s saying a lot in a movie featuring a building-sized gorilla. Vogt-Roberts does a nice job with a lot of the imagery, getting a lot of really beautiful shots throughout, but even those start to get corny, especially when two giant bird-type creatures tear a guy apart in front of a nice sunset. So, the film looks nice throughout, but beyond the visuals and the novelty of Kong himself—Kebbell’s motion capture work here is great—there’s not much to this film. There’s good action and I mostly enjoyed the actors playing the soldiers—Jason Mitchell and Thomas Mann especially—but as I said, the third act gets really stupid.
Overall, Kong: Skull Island starts out as a dumb, fun film, but soon gets watered down with an increasingly ridiculous plot and a truckload of characters with little to no development. This is 100% a C-level movie, but Reilly’s involvement bumps it up a bit.