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Kong : Skull Island - A Review


Estimated Reading Time : 5 minutes 02 seconds

My Rating : 1 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation : Avoid it at all costs.

Kong : Skull Island, written by Dan Gilroy (among others) and directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, is a story set in 1973 at the end of the Vietnam war, where a group of scientists and a U.S. Army helicopter squadron fresh off their tour of Vietnam, head to the mysterious Skull Island to do geological research. The film stars Brie Larson, Tom Hiddleston, John Goodman, Samuel L. Jackson and Corey Hawkins.

I enjoy monster movies, I readily admit that. Hell, I am such a nerd that I even waited in line to see Toho's Shin Godzilla last year. But holy monkey balls, I did not enjoy Kong: Skull Island, not even a little bit. Good gracious is this thing a disaster area. Going to the zoo and watching monkeys throw poop at one another, and at me, would be considerably more entertaining than this garbage.

I get what director Vogt-Roberts was trying to do, I really do, but he fails miserably. Roberts is sort of paying homage to Apocalypse Now and trying to make a political statement about monsters in our world and the unintended consequences of our actions (one of the earliest lines in the film is "Washington will never be as screwed up as it is now -1973" wink-wink)…but all of that stuff gets pulled under by the tsunami of sewage that is Kong: Skull Island.

The story is relentlessly idiotic, the acting atrocious and the monsters…Kong being the exception, are laughable. This movie is so poorly written, directed and acted it is miraculous. It is difficult to articulate how much I loathed this film. In comparison to other Kong movies, Kong: Skull Island makes King Kong (1976) with Jessica Lange and Jeff Bridges look like Gone with the Wind, and it makes Peter Jackson's 2005 King Kong look like Chinatown

Brie Larson stars as Mason Weaver, a photo-journalist who tags along for the expedition, and I know that she has exactly one more Best Actress Oscar than I do and everything but,  except for her award winning performance in Room, she has been mind numbingly awful in everything she does (oh wait…I take that back...she was good in Short Term 12). I know that acting in terrible movies is an extremely difficult thing to do…but still, the question begs to be asked…is Brie Larson a shitty actress? If you watch her work in Kong and in Trainwreck, the answer is an uncomfortable yes. All Larson seems to do is recite her lines in as wooden and robotic a way as possible and then occasionally flash her million dollar smile. Brie Larson is very good at being charming and beautiful, but it is dawning on me that she isn't very good at acting. 

Larson isn't alone on the shitty acting train…John Goodman, who is consistently a shitty actor, turns in an eye-rollingly bad performance as Bill Randa, the mastermind behind the expedition. Goodman can be relied upon to diminish whatever project he is working on, and the fact that he has had such a long career remains one of the great mysteries of our time.

Samuel L. Jackson is embarrassingly awful as Lt. Col. Packard, shamelessly mailing in his performance. You can almost see the dollar signs in his eyes as he hams it up in his confrontation with Kong. Jackson has become little more than a caricature of himself, which is a shame since he has the ability to do magnificent work on occasion…this wasn't one of those occasions.

Tom Hiddleston is painfully out of place as James Conrad (a clever nod to Heart of Darkness, the inspiration for Apocalypse Now), a former SAS hunter-tracker with a past. Hiddleston's starched Britishness apparently makes him incapable of sweating, or feeling any emotion at all. Hiddleston is a fine actor, but Kong: Skull Island is like a vortex where skill and craft get sucked into another dimension and no talent can survive.

Corey Hawkins gives a truly cringe-worthy performance as Houston Brooks, a bookish scientist who theorizes about a hollow earth. It is ironic that Hawkins, who got his big break playing Dr. Dre in the over rated Straight Outta Compton, would play someone espousing the hollow earth theory because he is an entirely hollow actor. He gives such an atrociously abysmal performance in Kong that I was genuinely embarrassed for him.

The only actor who does solid work in this entire shitshow is John C. Reilly, who is spectacularly good. Reilly's character is a tribute to Dennis Hopper's photo-journalist in Apocalypse Now. To Reilly's credit, he never winks at the camera or breaks, he stays committed, which is what separates him from the rest of the artistic freeloaders in the cast. Reilly shows what a great actor can do with a terrible script in a horrible movie. Larson, Goodman and Jackson would be wise to learn from him.

As for Kong, he is impressive, but not $12.50 impressive. He is a big ape…we've seen it all before. The film ignores the beauty and the beast appeal of previous Kong incarnations most of the time, but then, inexplicably tries to give Larson and Kong a love connection about 2/3rds of the way through. Not surprisingly, that is more ridiculous than effective. 

What is so frustrating about this movie is that there is a potentially very good movie lurking somewhere underneath all the nonsense. Using monsters, whether they be Godzilla or King Kong or the like, as storytelling vehicles to explore deeper political subjects like US colonialism or militarism (Vietnam) or environmental issues, or mythic and psychological issues, like man's animal nature or his even more primitive lizard brain, is a phenomenal way to tell an interesting and relevant story. For example, last year Shin Godzilla masterfully used the Godzilla myth to tell a wider story about the ineffectiveness of the Japanese bureaucracy and the dangers of nuclear power. Sadly, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts simply doesn't have the skill or talent to pull off a story with any deeper meaning other than to be a preview for the inevitable Kong ride at Universal studios.

Kong: Skull Island is an utterly abysmal film. It is the equivalent of watching flies gather on a steaming pile of gorilla shit left out in the heat and humidity of the south Pacific. It is not even good in a bad way…it is just bad in a bad way. Please, avoid it at all costs as the stench of this film is overpowering.