REVIEW: “Kong: Skull Island” could use more monkey business

The Art of Nerding Out

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Here are a few things I want you to think about while you’re watching “Kong: Skull Island”

  • The current filmmaking climate that finds Hollywood studios courting Chinese audiences almost as vigorously as American moviegoers.
  • The thought process that led Bree Larson from starring in the Oscar-nominated “Room” to this flick.
  • How unfair it is that Toby Kebble keeps getting stuck in lackluster remakes. (“Fant4stic”, “Ben Hur” and now this.)
  • How unfair it is that Tom Hiddleston looks like Tom Hiddleston and you look like, well, you.
  • How John Goodman lost the amount of weight he appears to have lost leading into this movie. He looks svelte.

You’re gonna need plenty to keep your mind busy, because if you don’t keep your brain engaged, you may fall asleep before “Kong” gets good. This is a movie with a killer finish preceded by an almost two-hour long slog of uninteresting scenes.

“Kong” restarts the King Kong mythos by sending scientist Bill Randa (Goodman) on an expedition of the mysterious titular island alongside tracker James Conrad (Hiddleston), photojournalist Mason Weaver (Larson) and a military support group led by Col. Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and Cap. Chapman (Kebble). They cross paths with Kong (Terry Notary), who tells them to get off his lawn in the most violent way possible.

What follows is a jungle trek, with Conrad and Mason leading one group to a place where they can be safely picked up and Packard leading his men on a rescue mission. It’s man against nature and man is at a serious disadvantage.

Whenever there’s monster action onscreen, “Kong: Skull Island” is a lot of fun. But these kind of movies follow a well-worn formula, and part of that formula involves sticking the audience with the human characters. And the problem here is that the characters aren’t well-developed enough to be interesting. We learn more about Kong’s backstory than we do about the rest of the characters combined and Conrad and Mason are so lacking in depth, they might as well be paper dolls.

This is compounded by the fact the characters aren’t given much interesting to say. They spout a lot of exposition and scream in fear quite a bit, and that does the job. John C. Reilly’s wacky castaway has some good moments, a few laughs. The rest of the writing is of the most shoe-leathery persuasion.

Even with Reilly in the cast, the laughs aren’t exactly frequent. In fact, the biggest laugh I got out of “Kong” was a result of something I don’t think I was supposed to be laughing at. And scenes that are supposed to draw wonder and awe solicit a mere “Meh. That was kinda cool.”

But if you can get through all that, the end of the movie is pretty spectacular. It may be made even more spectacular by the fact that there’s been so little to raise your pulse leading up to it. It’s not anything you haven’t seen before in better movies (“Pacific Rim”, Peter Jackson’s “King Kong”). But it’s still very cool, and should be seen on the big screen.

“Kong: Skull Island” is just awesome enough during its run time that it’s worth sitting through. But only just barely. Let’s hope future “Kong” movies feature more giant ape action and far fewer human wandering around the jungle.

3 Indy Fedoras out of 5

MPAA Rating: PG-13

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