Kong is Huge on Empty Spectacle

Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts

Starring Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, John C. Reilly

Released March 10th, 2017

Rated PG-13


Bill Randa, senior official in the not-so-secret government cryptozoological organization Monarch, knows there is something big on Skull Island. He wants to bring proof back to civilization. Randa (John Goodman) assembles a team to go to the hidden island, under the pretense of surveying the unexplored location. It’s the 1970s, so they can’t just use Google Maps.

Randa’s team includes British mercenary James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), Army Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), Army Major Jack Chapman (Toby Kebbell), Monarch biologist San Lin (Jing Tian) and Photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson).

Each team member has a different reason for going to the island. For Packard, it’s a mission; for Conrad, it’s the money; and Weaver describes herself as an “anti-war photographer.” She intends to expose the real reason for the mission, although I doubt she expects giant monsters.

(L-R) Hiddleston, Larson and Reilly in KONG: SKULL ISLAND.

Skull Island is chock-full of creatures you might call MUTOs or Kaiju. Hank Marlow calls them Skull Crawlers, because it sounds cool. Marlow (John C. Reilly) is a World War 2 Lieutenant who has been stranded on Skull Island for more than 25 years. In that time he’s hung on to most of his sanity, with dreams of returning home to enjoy a hotdog and beer while watching his beloved Chicago Cubs on TV.

Our crew meets Marlow after they encounter the king of Skull Island, one Mr. Kong. Kong (motion captured by Terry Notary) is a tree towering giant ape who makes short work of the invading helicopters, killing several of Colonel Packard’s men. This does not sit well with Packard, who is immediately overcome with thoughts of revenge.

While Packard declares war on Kong, the rest of the mismatched crew just want to get off of the island alive. This proves difficult as overgrown spiders, octopi, and of course Skull Crawlers stand in their way. The anime-influenced Crawlers are two-armed creatures that prove to be worthy adversaries of King Kong. They’ve already wiped out his family. Now Kong is the last of his kind, worshipped by the natives that took Marlow in.

As Marlow, John C. Reilly is a fun kind of crazy. His performance almost single-handedly saves the movie from being overly-serious and he remains the main reason to see Kong: Skull Island. Tom Hiddleston seems out of his element, not sure what to do with his underwritten character. Brie Larson shares a few moments with Kong, but overall her character doesn’t add much to the proceedings. I could say the same for most of the cast.

Kong: Skull Island is another monster-movie-as-war-film, in the same vein as Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla. In addition to the inclusion of the not-so-secret government cryptozoological organization Monarch, there is a post-credits scene that further connects Kong: Skull Island to the recently rebooted Godzilla universe. I’ll leave it to you to decide if this is exciting.

Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts marries Vietnam-era imagery and music to the epic scale of his film, which dazzles before you realize the story is undercooked. There’s not much of a movie here; no real characters or motivations to discover. Even Kong lacks personality besides being angry. Kong: Skull Island is a film without anyone to root for, a spectacle that believes spectacle is enough.