The growing evidence that there are few good original ideas in Hollywood continues with the latest tale of man vs. ape: “Kong: Skull Island.” The latest hairy tale lacks both the special effects awe that made the 1933 version so groundbreaking and the raw action that made Peter Jackson’s 2005 offering so exciting.
“Kong: Skull Island” is like being served a dish of vanilla ice cream after eating fancy sundaes. There’s nothing that wrong with vanilla ice cream, but there’s little about it that’s exciting.
Writers Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein and Derek Connolly’s uninspired script unfolds at the end of the Vietnam War. This time period selection has nothing to do with making a political statement but is based on how the technology to map the world from space was just becoming available. This is how they explain that a giant island at the center of a never-ending storm that’s 100 miles across could go undetected for so long.
The time period does allow Samuel L. Jackson to play a military leader who so loves war he’s ready to lead his men on one more mission after a ceasefire is declared in Vietnam. He’s so in love with the smell of napalm in the morning that the movie could have been called “Apocalypse Again: Skull Island.”
Jackson’s character – like so many in the film – is a rehash of players from almost every ’50s B-grade horror film. He represents the military man who feels so much bravado about himself that even when he comes face-to-face with a giant ape, all he does is puff out his chest and forge ahead.
There’s also the aging group leader (John Goodman) who goes on this dangerous trek as a way of proving the claims he’s made all his life about giant creatures are true. There’s a company man who even when being ripped to pieces won’t let go of his briefcase. Toss in the dashing adventurer (Tom Hiddleston), the spunky female (Brie Larson) and the looney old-timer (John C. Reilly), and this movie has a cavalcade of stereotypes.
There’s also plenty of supporting players who are obviously only on the mission to get crushed, chomped or clobbered by Kong. If this were a “Star Trek” movie, they would have been wearing red shirts (a sign of expendable crewmen in the franchise).
The best performance comes from Larson, who moves away from the helpless victim role and plays a very capable member of the group. The women in these kind of films in the past have been relegated to screaming and keeping their makeup perfect despite all of the turmoil.
Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts keeps the movie going at a steady clip and tosses in the big fight scenes where needed. But even the best battle between Kong and a lizard-like creature doesn’t come close to the fight sequence in the 2005 “King Kong” where the giant ape fought giant dinosaurs while caught up in a tangle of vines.
The action in “Kong: Skull Island” is simply vanilla. It’s just enough to keep an audience from being bored but never provides that memorable moment. It doesn’t help that the action slows to a crawl in the middle when the group comes across the residents of the island who talk less than the participants at a mime convention.
Even with this pause, there’s nothing embarrassingly wrong with “Kong: Skull Island.” The problem is there’s nothing excitingly right either. Its primary purpose is to set up a battle between Kong and Godzilla, as the producers of “Kong: Skull Island” were behind the 2014 “Godzilla” movie.
That’s another idea that’s been done before.
Kong: Skull Island
Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John C. Reilly, John Goodman, Corey Hawkins.
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Rated PG-13 (language, sci-fi scenes, action)
Opens: Friday, March 10