KONG: SKULL ISLAND is a franchise movie designed to prop up yet another expanded universe. It’s the second film in Legendary’s so-called MonsterVerse, with the 2014 GODZILLA reboot the first entry. This 2017 picture is directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts and features a screenplay by committee, with the 1933 original serving as distant, distant inspiration. It is devoid of refinement and splendour, serving instead as a monster smackdown movie with rough and creepy creatures mucking around an island alongside a colossal ape.
The picture finds government agent Bill Randa (John Goodman) and geologist Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) gathering support for a journey to the mysterious Skull Island. They tap a tracker (Tom Hiddleston) and a military escort fresh from the Vietnam War to assist, while a photojournalist (Brie Larson) tags along. The island wastes little time revealing its secrets, with a gigantic ape and a throng of other creatures causing havoc. There are humans on the island too, including a soldier (John C. Reilly) marooned since World War II.
Vogt-Roberts’ approach is scrambled, the halfway mark between monster mash and war movie. The APOCALYPSE NOW homage is impossible to miss, as the score swells with obvious cuts from Jefferson Airplane, Black Sabbath and CCR driving the point home. There’s even a delusional colonel (Samuel L. Jackson), who takes a personal interest in defeating the ape regardless of the cost. He wants to avenge what he sees as the desertion of war in Vietnam and Skull Island provides the opportunity. And the locals have apparently arranged a questionable peace with the enormous Kong as their guardian, suggesting an authoritarian society the Western visitors are more than eager to leave behind.
Of course, most of KONG: SKULL ISLAND concerns the monsters. Kong fights off creatures known as Skullcrawlers, plus there are lethal flying reptiles and other surprises. The suggestion is that the prehistoric epoch of monsters never really ended, with Randa and Co. asserting that the world doesn’t belong to humanity. The fight is on and so forth. Blending this fantastical sensibility with the reality of Vietnam is an interesting idea, but it’s hard to shake the inelegance. Nothing seems to fit right and even the monster battles get repetitive in a hurry, couched as there are in pro wrestling choreography and POV video game shots. With a lack of grandeur and a pile of characters hardly worth describing past their tropes, KONG: SKULL ISLAND is disappointingly typical.