With the recent rise in several studios trying to copy the success of Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe, it makes sense on paper to reboot a previous franchise that worked. Legendary Pictures’s MonsterVerse, hopes to bring the famous monsters made by the Japanese film company, Toho, back to the spotlight. This franchise got off to a bumpy start with the release of the disappointing 2014 reboot of “Godzilla” — directed by Gareth Edwards (“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”) — which suffered from having lifeless characters and a painfully slow paced narrative. “Kong: Skull Island” is the second installment to this franchise and hopes to be entertaining. However, “Kong: Skull Island” is both better and worse than Edwards’s “Godzilla.”
Set in 1973, “Kong: Skull Island” follows a group of scientists and soldiers who travel to an uncharted island, known as Skull Island, to map and explore the area. Upon arriving, they are attacked by a giant ape, King Kong, and are thus stranded. The surviving members must navigate their way through the island and try not to get eaten by the dangerous creatures of the island.
The film continues the strange trend of taking a director who made a critically well received indie film and give them a mega-blockbuster. This time, it’s Jordan Vogt-Roberts (“The Kings of Summer”) who got plucked from the indie world and he might have been the wrong choice. His over-stylized direction makes for a very obnoxious viewing experience comparable to a Michael Bay film. The abrupt editing and rapid pacing in this film is annoying as well, as it gives the audience no breathing room. Also, his directorial influence isn’t subtle as he tries to emulate “Jurassic Park” and “Apocalypse Now,” but ends up forgetting to be its own entity.
The biggest misstep was the size of Kong, it is impossible to take seriously. This was done so that King Kong would be big enough to fight Godzilla in a future face-off film, but his size comes across as absurd. Granted, it’s not like the story of “King Kong” was believable to begin with.
The film is overpopulated with performers who try to do the best with the bland material they were given. Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson play ‘70s characters that were considered cliche in the ‘70s. John C. Reilly is supposed to be the comedic relief/exposition delivery man of the film, but his performance doesn’t mesh well with the film’s tone. The only actor who has any true depth is Samuel L. Jackson as Lt. Packard. At the start of the film, his character is disappointed about leaving Vietnam as he feels like he never got to fully complete his job. On the island, he feels like he’s finally getting the war he missed out on. His character also has a Captain Ahab-esque relationship with Kong, which is shown in some impressive visuals with Packard staring up at Kong in fury as the world around him is in flames.
“Kong: Skull Island” marks strike two for this MonsterVerse, as it goes over the top with its action and gives little dimension to its characters. While the film could pass as a generic popcorn flick with a few entertaining monster fights, the film doesn’t honor the legacy of the iconic character. We can only hope that next year’s “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” won’t be strike three.