Ah, Kong, It's so nice to have you back where you belong, even if it is in a witless and familiar picture that most recalls a low-rent Irwin Allen flick.
I've long been a fan of the King Kong films, warts and all. The original 1933 Kong adventure is a truly dazzling piece of cinema, I would argue among the finest pictures of the pre-Code era. The Dino De Laurentiis remake from 1976, while hardly a flawless film (somehow, I think the visual effects are less convincing here than they were four decades prior), is not without its pleasures, among them Jessica Lange's exquisite film debut. As for Peter Jackson's 2005 ginormous-budget effort, I think it's a epic that often exceeds the original in impact, even with its absurd length.
There have, of course, been other Kong films too, minor B-movies like Son of Kong and King Kong Lives, none of which were in the same class as those three pictures but at least had some value to those who find the gargantuan gorilla an irresistible charmer.
Kong himself looks more convincing than ever in his latest picture, Kong: Skull Island, and is surrounded this time around by a plethora of spine-tingling CGI monsters, including a spider with legs the length of palm trees and reptilian "Skullcrawlers" that devour humans like potato chips. Whenever the focus turns exclusively to these gnarly creatures, Kong: Skull Island is a lot of silly fun.
Much less compelling, I'm afraid, is virtually everything else in the picture. Like those aforementioned Irwin Allen disaster films, Kong: Skull Island takes one hell of an all-star cast and gives them absolutely nothing to do. Even Samuel L. Jackson, who valiantly tried to make movie magic out of Snakes on a Plane, looks bored.
The plot feels derivative from the get-go. Toward the close of the Vietnam War, a government agent (John Goodman) recruits a team of soldiers and scientists (among them, Jackson, Tom Hiddleston and Corey Hawkins) to explore an uncharted island in the Pacific known as..wait for it, wait for it...Skull Island! Their helicopters go in, drop explosives to determine if the island's ground is hollow and, to the great pleasure of the audience, Kong is quick to greet them and smack down the copters left and right. The survivors, among them a photojournalist (Brie Larson), wind up split into two groups, with each having very different plans moving forward.
Kong: Skull Island is a pretty grueling exercise when the big ape on campus isn't around. None of the actors seem to be having any fun, with the notable exception of John C. Reilly as an oddball former lieutenant who's been stranded on the island since WWII. Problem is, Reilly doesn't enter the picture until about the halfway point, so we're stuck for a while watching Hiddleston, Larson and Jackson sleepwalk their way through the dull, uninspired screenplay. Filmmaker Jordan Vogt-Roberts, whose The Kings of Summer was the toast of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, shows negligible directorial flair here, with a by-the-numbers vision reminiscent of Colin Trevorrow's on the recent Jurassic World.
Oh, and I am legit throwing my popcorn at the screen the next time a '70s-era picture plays "Bad Moon Rising" to remind us of the decade in which the film is set.