King Kong has always been a somewhat problematic character when it comes to presenting him on the big screen. After all, how do you take a giant ape and turn him into a character that audiences will care about? The 1933 classic film did a fine job of thrilling audiences and making viewers sympathize with Kong through misunderstanding and subsequent captivity, making a remake feel rather unnecessary. However, we would receive not one, but two, remakes that included a poorly-received 1976 version with Jeff Bridges and Sir Peter Jackson’s bloated, three-hour rendition in 2005. Now more than a decade has passed, so apparently it’s time to go back to that well again. This brings us to “Kong: Skull Island,” the latest attempt to reimagine an idea that we first saw told more than 80 years ago.
In 1973, Bill Randa (John Goodman) pitches a proposal to a US Senator for a trip to a newly-discovered island, where even he isn’t quite sure what they’ll find. The hesitant Senator eventually relents, leading Randa to hire expert tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), who will lead them once they arrive on “Skull Island.” Along with a military escort, led by Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), and photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), the group sets out, braving through an intense storm to reach their destination. Upon their arrival, they begin dropping special explosives in an effort to map the island. However, they are soon attacked by a gigantic ape, causing the group to be scattered. They soon discover that the ecosystem on this island is like nothing ever seen before, and that Randa was not telling the whole truth in regards to the expedition. With the truth uncovered, and an island full of creatures that want to kill them, the survivors must make their way to the extraction point in a desperate attempt to escape the nightmare they’ve found themselves in.
On the outset of “Kong: Skull Island,” there doesn’t appear to be anything inherently wrong. The film gathers a group of characters who are all given an excuse to go to the titular island (a topographical survey seems just as good a reason as any), and they’re quickly off in the first 30 minutes of the film. No, it’s only after the initial setup that the film’s problems begin to display themselves all too clearly, with no other standing out more than its perplexingly poor plotting.
I’ve already mentioned that the original 1933 film did a fine job of telling the story, giving the characters plenty to do, while providing a good amount of excitement on the way. When it comes to Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ rendition of the tale, there is very little to be found in either department. Action scenes that should provide thrills and entertainment end up falling flat on the screen because of their drawn-out nature and the over-reliance on CGI (which the original film didn’t even need to be successful), and that’s not even to mention the lack of connection to the characters, who are left just as flat and undeveloped.
Circling back to the plot finds us with a screenplay that basically dumps all of the characters on the island and then gives them little to do except wander around and shoot the various creatures. One of the most important things about taking on a remake/reimaging/reboot is to take the original story and do something with it that makes it feel fresh and new so that it’s able to stand on its own. Such a guideline makes it utterly inexplicable as to why the screenwriters would therefore choose to take one part of the story (exploring and trying to get off the island) and make an entire film out of it, leaving out just about everything that made this story worth telling in the first place.
Then again, all one really needs to do is take a look at the screenwriting credits to see how such a film veered so far off course. Putting aside the shocking fact that it took three screenwriters to put this together, we see that the film was co-written by Max Borenstein (“Godzilla (2014)”) and Derek Connelly (“Jurassic World”), two writers who delivered terrible creature features in just the last few years. Dan Gilroy, an Oscar nominee who has given us great films like “Nightcrawler” and “The Fall,” is also credited on the film, though he’s not without his own setbacks (“Real Steel,” “Two for the Money”). If anyone of these three was going to be able to get the film on track, it was going to be Gilroy, but working with two screenwriters who had already bungled material like this before was probably no easy task.
Not even a great cast that includes Brie Larson, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John C. Reilly, and John Goodman could elevate the material enough to make it worth seeing, but this is to be expected when practically no thought went into the plot. Just like with other projects suffering from the same issue, it’s rather frustrating due to the fact that it’s a problem that should have been overtly noticeable before a single camera started rolling. Despite popular belief, no, you can’t take a series of action sequences and string them together without some kind of connective tissue, which is exactly why “Kong: Skull Island” comes across as all action and no substance. It was always going to be a challenge to bring King Kong back to the screen, but when the writers are handicapping the film from the very start, there was no doubt that it was going to be next to impossible.
“Kong: Skull Island” comes to Blu-ray in a 2.4:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of fantastic quality. The image is incredibly sharp and clear throughout the entire presentation, doing a fine job of highlighting the film’s extensive CGI effects. The Dolby Atmos-TrueHD Audio is also top-notch, giving you all of the dialogue, score, and sound effects in excellent quality. Overall, the film has been given great treatment, leaving little room for complaint.
Director’s Commentary: An intriguing commentary that has director Jordan Vogt-Roberts divulging a lot of interesting background information about the making of the film.
Creating a King (25 Minutes): A two-part featurette that takes a look at how Jordan Vogt-Roberts and his crew reimagined the classic icon.
Monarch Files 2.0 (8 Minutes): A featurette that gives you some background on the characters and the mission.
Tom Hiddleston: The Intrepid Traveler (7 Minutes): A featurette that follows Hiddlestone around to various filming locations.
Through the Lens: Brie Larson’s Photography (2 Minutes): As the title implies, this is a collection of Larson’s photographs.
On Location: Vietnam (6 Minutes): A featurette that goes behind the scenes of filming in Vietnam.
Deleted Scenes (4 Minutes): A collection of four deleted sequences that were easily cut from the finished film.
“Kong: Skull Island” may have a talented cast at its disposal, but they are utterly wasted in a poorly-plotted reboot that fails to elicit any excitement or entertainment from the classic material. This entire project seemed rather ill-advised from the start, given that there’s very little that can be done differently with the titular ape, but it only becomes harder when the writers put this little effort into the screenplay. Because of this, it should hardly come as any surprise that the film is simply never able to take off and become the fun adventure it should have been.