IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2017)

I am a huge King Kong fan and have enjoyed pretty much every King Kong movie ever made, with the exception of KING KONG LIVES (1986), which in spite of the presence of Linda Hamilton, was pretty awful.

That being said, I just don’t like KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2017).

Now, I know I’m in the minority here, as most folks are really high on this flick, but for me, it just doesn’t work.

The biggest culprit, as is so often the case, is the writing. The screenplay by Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, and Derek Connolly is a snooze. The dialogue is rather bad, and the characterizations pretty much nonexistent.

I saw KONG: SKULL ISLAND when it first came out in theaters. I didn’t like it then, but I thought I’d give it another go for the purposes of this column. I still don’t like it.

For starters, the film takes place in the 1970s for seemingly no other reason than to show off Vietnam era soldiers and choppers on Skull Island. While it may make for some moments of cool cinematography, it adds nothing to the story.

KONG: SKULL ISLAND also wastes the considerable talents of its impressive cast, which includes Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, John C. Reilly, and Shea Whigham.

Bill Randa (John Goodman) sets out to lead an expedition to Skull Island in search of… well, the movie doesn’t really make that clear. Remember the old days when Carl Denham just wanted to make a movie, and then changed his mind when he saw Kong? Why can’t we have clear, concise, and simple plot points like that anymore? Ah, the good old days, when film writing was king! Sorry, Kong. Yes, Kong. I realize in a column about a King Kong movie you’re the only one who should be mentioned as king. Anyway…

Getting back to my point about the writing and character motivations, heck, even Charles Grodin’s Fred Wilson had an agenda in the 1976 remake of KING KONG, as he was looking for oil. Like the rest of the script in KONG: SKULL ISLAND, Randa’s motives remain murky and undefined. He’s looking for a giant monster because…. mumble, mumble, mumble. Yeah, that’s it! That’s the reason! Which is a writer’s code for not really having a good reason in the first place! Grrr!!!

Anyway, Randa assembles his team, which includes a tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and a photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), as well as a military escort led by Prescott Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) who is still bristling over the results in Vietnam. As a result, when Kong quickly makes short work of some of his men, Packard declares war on the giant ape and sets out to kill him.

The bulk of KONG: SKULL ISLAND follows Randa and his merry band of explorers as they deal with various carnivorous creatures as well as Kong himself, which all sounds much better than it really is.

Again, the biggest culprit is the screenplay. We know so little about these characters it’s difficult to care at all about them. Compared to the 1933 KING KONG, where we had Carl Denham trying to make a movie, Ann Darrow abducted by Kong, and Jack Driscoll falling in love for the first time in his life with Ann, the folks in this story have nothing going on that is as interesting. Worse yet, the dialogue is awful.

The direction by Jordan Vogt-Roberts isn’t any better. KONG: SKULL ISLAND plays like KING KONG MEETS TOP GUN, as that’s the kind of depth you have in this flick.

Then there’s Kong himself. Kong has always been larger than life in his movies. Like Godzilla, Kong has a personality and a presence. In short, he’s a major character in his films. And even when he is at his most brutal, he still is sympathetic. The Kong in this movie struggles to have any personality whatsoever. He’s the most uncinematic Kong yet.

The special effects are okay. I’ve seen better, and I’ve seen worse. The creatures on Skull Island, while fairly original, never really wowed me. I think because, like the human characters, they’re stuck in a lifeless soulless movie.

Is KONG: SKULL ISLAND as bad as KING KONG LIVES? No. But that’s not saying very much.

If you want to experience the horrors of Skull Island, you’d best stick to the original KING KONG. That film’s Skull Island’s scenes remain as intense now as they were back in 1933. The events in KONG: SKULL ISLAND pale in comparison.

Some have called KONG: SKULL ISLAND “mindless entertainment.”

I call it just mindless.

—END—

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