Kong: Skull Island has lots of monsters and lots of explosions and lots of scenery chewing, but it has very little in the way of heart or humanity and seems to exist solely to extract filthy lucre from your shrinking pockets.
Skull Island opens during the air war over the Pacific, where we see American and Japanese pilots plummet to the abandoned island. Dueling to the death, dancing dangerously close to a precipice, the two stop, awed, when the massive, majestic Kong makes his presence known.
Kong, peacemaker, is the theme of this film. As the spared Lt. Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly) explains in the 1970s to a team of Americans stranded on Skull Island, Kong is King of all they survey. He protects the few humans who live on the previously unexplored rock from various monsters that inhabit the caves underneath the island and viciously attacks the American troops who drop seismic charges all over the jungle in order to discover what lies beneath.
The air cav, under the command of Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), is there to transport and protect a team of Monarch scientists led by Bill Randa (John Goodman). Randa is obsessed with finding out if monsters roam the Earth, having been the lone survivor of a U.S. Navy vessel in World War II that was mysteriously sunk by a monstrous marine animal with magnificent claws. To help find the beasts he employs tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), a potential love interest for Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), the war photographer who tags along to cover the expedition.
Sorry: the "anti-war photographer," as she makes sure everyone knows. This is not exactly a subtle picture, treating Packard's mad hunt for King Kong—who kills a handful of his men as the middle part of the movie opens—as a Vietnam War allegory, including lines about how we create the villains we face and blah glah blergh. The desire to add intellectual heft to a picture that exists solely as an excuse for pixels to punch each other on a pretty big screen in relatively poorly done 3D is, well, unbecoming, at best.
This is definitely a movie about pixels punching. The effects are fine, I guess, though nothing particularly special. There's nothing here we haven't seen before: Kong fighting dinosaur-like creatures; Kong fighting a big squid; giant spiders eating humans. Et cetera. Ad nauseum.
The movie only really sparks to life when John C. Reilly is on the screen. As a man from the 1940s hearing from men from the 1970s what life is like to the delight of men from the 2010s watching in theaters, he's delightfully deranged. Jackson's mad man is less delightful but equally deranged, and his darkness is occasionally quite fun. Hiddleston and Larson are remarkably dull as the romantic leads, total blanks. The same goes for literally every soldier served up as chow for Kong, save for, perhaps, Shea Whigham (best known for his turn on Boardwalk Empire). Sadly, even the great John Goodman is wasted in Kong: Skull Island, which feels longer than its two-hour running time.
"Make sure to stick around until after the credits have finished rolling," the critic found himself typing, sadly, fighting off the urge to rail against the degraded state of the cinema and the horrifyingly totalitarian trend to turn every piece of intellectual property into a cog in an extended cinematic universe that no one actually wants but everyone will go to because, hey, it's something to do on a Saturday night and we all demand to be entertained in the easiest, most mindless way possible. "There's a teaser tying this Kong remake to another King—of the monsters!"