‘Kong’ not exactly a barrel of monkeys
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You know the old saying: If it ain’t broke…go ahead and break it. Oh, wait. That’s not a saying?
Well, nonetheless, that must have been the motto that director Jordan Vogt-Roberts had in mind when he chose to bastardize one of the most heralded film franchises in history with the monstrosity of a monster movie known simply as “Kong: Skull Island.”
Taking the original 1933 setting of “King Kong” and replacing it with the volatile Vietnam War era of 1973, “Kong Skull Island” serves as a reimagining of the story of the titular giant ape and his famous home.
The film follows an expedition led by a skilled tracker and a US government agent who are accompanied by a Vietnam War helicopter squadron to a mysterious isle known only as “Skull Island.”
Literally moments after arriving on the island, the group has their first encounter with Kong, resulting in numerous deaths and countless explosions.
Although visually eye-catching, the overreliance on spectacle and action here, and throughout the movie, ultimately throws a giant monkey wrench into what could have otherwise been an enjoyable popcorn flick.
The film does somewhat deliver the goods in the visuals department, at least when it comes to the natural landscapes of Skull Island and some of the more breathtaking action sequences.
However, the pervasive use of computer-generated imagery (CGI) quickly becomes all too apparent, and the overall synthetic look of the film is sure to draw the viewer out of the story just as a quickly as it brought them into it.
In addition, Vogt-Roberts often opts for excess when filming all the various action sequences. Vogt-Roberts’ proclivity for confusing close-ups, quick cuts and exaggerated zooms result in a jumbled, disorganized mess.
The overindulgence in unnecessary and unmotivated editing prevents the viewer from having a chance to breathe, let alone to become emotionally invested in any of the multiple character deaths that transpire throughout the film.
As for the characters themselves, they serve merely as vehicles through which to drive much of the excessive and redundant action on screen. This isn’t to say that action can’t enhance a movie; on the contrary, well-executed and emotionally driven action sequences can turn a good movie into a great one.
However, the action in “Kong: Skull Island” is so devoid of any real human emotion that all the bloodshed and fiery explosions ironically leave the viewer feeling cold and unsatisfied.
The film’s narrative structure also tends to sway between mindless summer blockbuster and epic adventure drama. These rapid tone shifts come in the way of piecing two extremely polarizing scenes back-to-back, such as when the film’s climactic giant monster battle is immediately followed by a poorly-shot and poorly-acted home video of a war veteran returning to his estranged wife.
It appears as if the filmmakers became aware of their overreliance on action and attempted to ameliorate these narrative flaws by haphazardly throwing together scenes they thought conveyed real human emotion. Instead, these pathetic excuses for character development only serve to magnify the film’s inherent shortcomings.
Needless to say, the screenplay for “Kong: Skull Island” is sorely lacking in characterization. It seems that as soon as the film begins, we are quickly thrust into the plot with little to no explanation of many of the central characters’ backstories or motivations. As a result, nearly all of the characters in the film come across as nothing more than thinly-drawn outlines of real human beings.
To be sure, the subpar acting on display doesn’t help the film’s poorly developed script one bit. This is truly a shame, given the all-star cast of such widely acclaimed veterans and newcomers, including Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman and 2015 Academy Award winner Brie Larson.
Indeed, the cast seems to only fluctuate between painfully wooden acting and equally wince-inducing ham-fistedness. It almost appears as though the cast was unsure of what kind of movie in which they were starring, as the uneven acting styles reflect the film’s aforementioned uneven tone.
John C. Reilly proves to be the only bright spot in the cast, whose natural charisma elevates his character’s initial role as comedic relief to one of the more well-rounded characters in the entire movie.
To put it simply, “Kong: Skull Island” is a giant failure of a film. This reimagining of the story of the famous ape simply fails on all levels to recapture the magic from the franchise’s previous film adaptations — whether it be the innovation and wonderment of the 1933 original or the epic scale and emotional depth of the 2005 remake.
Visual excessiveness, narrative incoherency and a painful lack of any real human connection ultimately makes “Kong: Skull Island” less fun than a barrel of one giant monkey.