There doesn’t seem to be a moment of silence in Kong: Skull Island. If it’s not busy overwhelming its audience with a barrage of gunfire or CGI monster action, it’s full of superfluous one-liners from its seemingly bottomless cast of characters. Helicopters crash, things explode, people get eaten, and monsters fight. All of this sounds like a perfect recipe for a fun action spectacle worthy of an iconic character such as King Kong. Only there’s one problem: it’s not entertaining.
It’s not really enough that things explode and monsters eat people. There is no shortage of action or spectacle in this film. Where Kong: Skull Island fails is in putting its spectacle in the proper context so that we can get involved in all the action. An easy way to accomplish this is by making the characters interesting so that we end up caring about what happens to them.
Unfortunately, there are so many characters in this movie that trying to remember any of their names quickly becomes a fool’s errand. The only way to really distinguish them is through their jobs. There’s the Photographer, the War Commander (a.k.a. Samuel L. Jackson), Bumbling Scientist 1 – 3, Soldier 1 – 8, Soldier With A Kid Back Home, World War II Veteran, Scientist Who Gets Eaten, Scientist Who Gets Stomped To Death, and British Hunk With No Charisma. It’s like we’re not even watching people onscreen. These are cardboard cut-outs that can speak and talk at the same time. Some of the actors playing them have won major acting awards in their other work, but in Kong: Skull Island, they’re about as memorable as the disposable extras that get killed off in the background. Watching a bunch of people whose names I can’t even remember try to survive in an island full of monsters isn’t fun. It’s tedious.
The only character that’s given any motivation in the film is Samuel L. Jackson, but his character arc is so mindnumbingly stupid that you wish he were relegated to background status instead. After watching Kong take out a majority of his team, Samuel L. Jackson gets pissed and becomes obsessed with killing Kong. How he’s supposed to kill a 100-foot tall gorilla with just guns and bombs isn’t made clear, but he sure tries his best up until Kong smashes him like an ant. This one-sided rivalry between the two was only ever going to end in one way, so when the face-off finally happens it goes exactly how you expected it to.
But enough about the puny humans, because when Kong is onscreen, he’s appropriately impressive. I would’ve gladly watched an entire movie where Kong is the lead character, protecting his kingdom from the evil humans and saving the other animals from the real monsters. I’m reminded of the recent Planet of the Apes franchise, where the lead character is a CGI ape and the supporting characters are played by real-life humans. This film should’ve done the same, because Kong is enough of a compelling character to easily carry his own movie. At the very least it would’ve been a refreshing take on a story that’s already been remade numerous times.
There are simply no surprises in this film. The schlocky, B-movie approach has its charms every now and then, but overall it’s just a drag. Kong: Skull Island takes an iconic story of adventure and turns it into an empty spectacle. There’s a distinct “Been there, done that” feeling to everything that happens in this film, emphasized by the fact that Peter Jackson’s version of the story is only twelve years-old at this point. They’ve changed the look and the setting, but it’s still the same story. Only they made it worse by removing any sense of wonder or emotion that lies at the heart of the King Kong story. In this version, there is no awe in a world where hidden islands full of ancient monsters rule. Instead, Skull Island is a mere cynical launching pad for a franchise of movies to sell toys.