With whom would you want to be stranded on a tropical island? Definitely not any of the characters in Kong: Skull Island, human or otherwise.
There’s not much rooting interest within this effects-driven saga that positions itself as an origin story about the massive ape, but really is just another excuse to revive the venerable movie monster for another big-budget confrontation with some hapless Homo sapiens.
In this case, it’s a 1973 expedition led by an eccentric scientist (John Goodman) and his young apprentice (Corey Hawkins) to an uncharted island in the South Pacific. Although not forthright with their suspicions, they secure government funding and a military escort from an irascible colonel (Samuel L. Jackson) and his young charges.
Also lured into the unknown are a disenfranchised former soldier (Tom Hiddleston) and a war photographer (Brie Larson). When they arrive on the island via choppers, it doesn’t take long to meet the title character. Kong’s intimidating initial encounter with the intruders whittles the group down to a handful with divergent motives, bickering about what they’re up against while awaiting rescue.
They later encounter a fellow American outcast (John C. Reilly) who’s remarkably well-adjusted and good-natured considering he’s been practically alone for decades. He paints a more sympathetic portrait of Kong as a sort of gentle giant, and points instead to the dangers from other inhabitants, such as oversized insects, lizards, and water buffalo.
Along with the stylish direction from Jordan Vogt-Roberts (The Kings of Summer), Kong is brought to vivid life through some impressive creature effects, as he’s menacing both in appearance and through his familiar roar.
Plus, with its Vietnam War backdrop, Kong: Skull Island tries to keep itself grounded in true-life historical events, including a half-hearted subtext concerning political discord and wartime discontent.
Yet those efforts are compromised by the insufficient character development in a formulaic screenplay that bears some thematic resemblance to Jurassic Park. It hints at an exploration of the conflict between the value of ecological discovery and the detriment of human intrusion into nature, but instead merely engages in narrative stall tactics prior to a final showdown filled with mayhem and destruction.
There’s some comic relief and some mild tension along the way. However, amid the contrivances and anachronisms, the characters conveniently lack common sense. “This is a bad idea,” is brought up more than once, although nobody heeds the advice.