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Review: ‘Kong: Skull Island’ uses its massive budget to generate more groans than excitement

Stupidity is a tough thing to manage in Hollywood. The era when pure camp was allowed into the multiplex is over. Instead, “dark” reboots currently rule the silver screen. In 2009, J.J. Abrams revived “Star Trek” with a young cast and serious overtones. Earlier, “The Dark Knight” proved that Batman could still rake in huge box office returns with a more grounded take on the Caped Crusader. Even series meant for children, like “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and “Power Rangers,” aren’t immune to the reboot factory line. 

For our review of the latest ‘Star Trek’ installment, click here.

In 2014, Legendary Pictures applied this formula to “Godzilla” and managed to produce an entertaining and visually stunning blockbuster that still appealed to the series’ fans. That film grossed more than $500 million worldwide, and led to Legendary greenlighting a series of monster films based on both Godzilla and King Kong. The plan, according to the company, was to build a cinematic universe of monsters, similar to Marvel’s efforts with superheroes over the last decade.

The latest result is “Kong: Skull Island,” a bloated, cartoonish blockbuster that feels like it was rushed off an assembly line at the last minute. The film is supposed to be an origin story for the titular ape, but is so inept that audiences will be lucky to have any attachment to what they are watching. Instead, sophomore director Jordan Vogt-Roberts sacrifices coherence for style at every turn. This is a big-budget disaster as wasteful of its onscreen talent as it is unnecessary. 

The story follows British leading man Tom Hiddleston as a former Special Forces officer living in Southeast Asia. The year is 1973, and the end of the Vietnam War is fast approaching. Hiddleston is hired as a security escort for a surveying expedition headed by conspiracy-obsessed government agent Bill Randa (John Goodman). Randa also recruits a helicopter squadron led by the hard-nosed Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel Jackson). A war photographer (Brie Larson) tags along in an attempt to expose what she believes to be an undercover military mission. Their destination: a mysterious island surrounded on all sides by a swirling storm system, home of the world’s largest ape. What could possibly go wrong?

It’s a decent set-up with an A-list cast and it leaves the director plenty of opportunities for visual extravagance. But Vogt-Roberts, drunk off of the film’s $180 million budget, treats the island like his personal toy box. The results are headache and groan-inducing. The film’s plotting jumps between cartoonish and serious with no consistency. Action sequences are overcut; attempts at humor fall flat. And the film portrays Kong as a vicious monstrosity, a strange choice considering the monster’s empathetic nature in past films. Nothing works.

Check out our thoughts on “Godzilla” and other monster movies here.

“Skull Island” piggybacks off of past “Kong” efforts (Peter Jackson’s 2005 epic was the last film to feature the ape) in order to find some reliable beats for its story. The party encounters natives and a variety of humongous creatures with regularity. But there are so few attempts to simply marvel at the beauty of the world that the most outlandish elements act as mere distractions. Vogt-Roberts stages the action for maximum theatricality. Nuance is thrown to the wind, frequently in the dumbest possible ways. The film is simply all over the place.

“Kong: Skull Island” is far worse than it should be. That’s saying quite a lot, considering it is a film about a giant monkey fighting giant lizards. There have been successful reboots in the past, but this one is too unfocused to make any claims to quality. For the sake of moviegoers, this Kong deserves to left alone.

Follow Dana on Twitter: @AlstonDalston

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Dana Alston

Dana Alston

Dana Alston is an Associate Arts & Culture Editor from San Jose, CA. He writes about film, music, and television. Paul Thomas Anderson is his one true god.

You can follow his meme-endorsed social media ramblings @AlstonDalston on Twitter or Letterboxd, or shoot him some eloquent hate mail at [email protected]