To save you some time – both in needing to read the rest of this review and seeing the movie – let me say straight up that there is very little to recommend the latest take on the King Kong mythology, yet another big screen incarnation of a character who first appeared some 80 years ago. A cynical, poorly executed piece of cinematic codswallop, Kong: Skull Island lacks originality and is devoid of any characters we might care enough about to remain interested in their plight. You want Kong to kill them all and you just wish he would do it quickly so that you can get the hell out of the cinema. Not only is this film a monumental waste of money (although it if makes a shitload at the box office, the studio won’t see it that way) because the $180 million budget could have been put to much better use funding 100 good movies. It’s not just that this Kong story has been done so many times before – a group arrive on Skull Island, are confronted by Kong and a variety of other creatures and have to fight for survival – it’s the fact that director Jordan Vogt-Roberts has so blatantly ripped off Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam War masterpiece Apocalypse Now that makes the whole piece so galling.
First, we need a reason to visit the island. In both the 1933 original and Peter Jackson’s not-so-inspired 2005 remake, the landing party is a film crew seeking an exotic location, whilst in the 1976 version it is an exploration for petroleum that is the lure of Skull Island. This time around, the pretext is a geological survey of the island that brings a motley bunch comprising some of Hollywood’s biggest names and it is almost impossible to fathom why (other than the lure of big bucks) any of them would want to be a part of this schlock. To see the likes of Brie Larson here (as photographer Mason Weaver) is actually quite distressing because this supremely talented actress doesn’t deserve such an indignity in the wake of her incredible performances in Short Term 12 and Room. Likewise, John Goodman, John C. Reilly, Tom Hiddleston and Samuel L. Jackson are forever going to be asking themselves how the heck they got involved in something that is so reprehensibly redundant. At least, Jackson, Goodman and Reilly seem to realise the mess they have got themselves into and don’t seem to be taking any of it very seriously, which only makes the earnestness of Hiddleston and Larson all the more hard to swallow given the dreadful dialogue they are burdened with.
Set in 1973 as the Vietnam War is winding down, Jackson is the leader of a military squadron charged with escorting the expedition party to the island. There is nothing remotely subtle in Vogt-Roberts’ copying of one of the greatest war films ever made, from the formation of the helicopters sweeping over the jungle, to the flames erupting from the seismic charges being dropped on the island (to determine if the ground is hollow), to the emergence of Reilly’s Marlow, an air force pilot who crashed on the island 27 years earlier who is an amalgam of Marlon Brando’s Colonel Kurtz and Dennis Hopper’s photojournalist from Apocalypse Now and who, like Kurtz, is living as a figure of reverence amongst the natives. From the music to the use of colour, to the setting and the story parallels, so much has been ripped directly from Coppola’s classic that the lack of originality here is staggering. Heck, even Hiddleston’s character shares a surname with Joseph Conrad, the author who penned Heart of Darkness, the novel from which Coppola adapted his film, but all of that could be forgiven if Vogt-Roberts had used it as the inspiration for something worthwhile.
The script written by Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein and Derek Connolly is truly dire –“Mason Weaver is a woman” – and there are moments that defy logic, such as the helicopters being plucked out of the sky by Kong when the carnage and death could have easily been avoided by simply flying higher. Furthermore, the timeline makes no sense because in both the original 1933 film and Jackson’s remake (also set in the 1930’s), Kong is taken from the island, yet here we are some 40+ years later and Kong is still there. At least put something together that make sense in the context of it coming after the first story. This is dumb filmmaking on a grand scale and whilst there may have been a genuine intention to pay homage to Apocalypse Now, the result is an insipid, uninspired mess. To be fair, Vogt-Roberts isn’t the first filmmaker to underwhelm in their efforts to bring Kong back to life on the big screen, but Kong: Skull Island is best avoided at all costs.