An unspoken rule of thumb in Hollywood is the more helicopters in a movie, the greater the odds the film is a dud. War films are sometimes exceptions to the rule, with Apocalypse Now and Black Hawk Down both being classics in that genre. Kong: Skull Island is set at the end of the Vietnam War and has a bunch of helicopters, but it’s no war film.
People have been trying to remake/cash in on King Kong since the original film opened in 1933. There have been two outright remakes: the 1976 version starring Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange and Peter Jackson’s three-hour version, released in 2005. Neither were massive hits. The 1933 original even had a sequel, Son of Kong, released several months afterward. Kong has even appeared in Japanese films, taking on Godzilla in King Kong vs. Godzilla in 1963. Ironic, since the Kong in Skull Island will be taking on the 2014 version of Godzilla in 2019 as part of a new shared universe of classic monsters, not to be confused with the shared universe of classic monsters featuring the Mummy, Dracula, Frankenstein, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
Keeping all of that straight?
In this latest Kong adventure, a chopper group led by Samuel L. Jackson, still stinging from the peaceful end of Vietnam, escort some scientists (including John Goodman and 24: Legacy’s Corey Hawkins), Tom Hiddleston’s mercenary tracker, and anti-war photographer Brie Larson into the mysterious Skull Island. After dropping a few bombs to wake up the neighbors, the group gets attacked by Kong in spectacular fashion, leaving the separated survivors to fend for themselves. One group comes across a pilot stranded on the island in World War II, played with infectious joy by John C. Reilly. Other than that, the characters aren’t all that important. Some live, some die, but what matters is the big, CGI-heavy action.
Kong: Skull Island is the latest attempt at recapturing the success of the 1933 original. It’s not another remake, instead keeping the action centered on the dangerous Skull Island. There’s no Kong on top of the Empire State Building in this one. The most novel concept is the film’s post-Vietnam setting.
With today’s political climate as it is, Skull Island had a chance to be much more than your standard, run-of-the mill blockbuster. The Vietnam War was rife with racism, drug abuse, and all kinds of conflict that would’ve made Skull Island more than just a movie with a massive $185 million budget. That would’ve required the film to take a risk, and once the story reaches Skull Island, the period doesn’t matter anymore. It’s all about big monster-on-monster action. It’s as if director Jordan Vogt-Roberts only set the film in 1973 so he could have a bunch of super cool shots of helicopters taking on King Kong.
Skull Island is chock full of super cool, stylish action, but little else. Like so many mediocre would-be blockbusters before it, the film cares more about the CGI scenes than character or story. Audiences have been getting epic-scale CGI action for more than 20 years at this point, and it takes a lot more to impress than a bunch of money shots edited together to look cool.