Kong: Skull Island (Warner Brothers, PG-13)

You’ll be bored out of your mind, and probably find your intelligence has been insulted as well.

I went to see Kong: Skull Island hoping for some good, dumb fun. Unfortunately, while director Jordan Vogt-Roberts nailed the dumb part, he managed to miss out on the fun. Unless, that is, you are satisfied with a lot of fighting, some impressive CGI, and don’t mind a script determined to leave no cliché unmined, paper-thin characterizations from a sadly under-used human cast, and dialogue bad enough to make your ears bleed. Life is all about setting priorities, after all, so if that’s your thing, then Kong is your movie. If it’s not, you’ll be bored out of your mind, and probably find your intelligence has been insulted as well.

After a brief prologue set during World War II, Kong jumps ahead to 1973, just as the United States is pulling out of Vietnam. Scientists Bill Panda (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) have funding to explore Skull Island, and they enlist help from Lt. Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson, delivering the kind of sneering performance he seems to specialize in these days) and his troops. Remember that Vietnam-era song “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy”? That’s the kind of guy Packard is, and he’s obviously never heard the next line, which is “and the big fool says to push on.” He’s also the kind of guy referenced in a remark by one of the old and wise soldiers in Bridge On the River Quai, that the most important thing to know is not to know how to cut throats, but to know which throats to cut.

I’d like to think that Packard, who is given to bellowing things like “This is one war we’re not gonna lose!” is meant to be viewed satirically and that Kong is actually anti-colonialist and anti-militarist. But it’s not smart enough to be that clever, and even if it were, such subtlety would fly right over the heads of the intended audience. No, Kong wants you to identify with people who invade an island, drop bombs on it (without even knowing if it is inhabited, let alone considering what their behavior might do to the island’s flora and fauna), and basically shoot at anything that moves. If that approach to life appeals to you, there’s yet another indication that this might be a movie you would like.

Civilian photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) and ex-British special forces trackers James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) join the expedition, and while both look quite good in their T-shirts, their roles are a sad waste of their talents. The expedition also includes a token female scientist (San, played by Tian Jing) with virtually nothing to do, and the usual bomber-crew cast of military stereotypes not worth enumerating here. The crew gets separated, they come across a brown-skinned tribe who are treated exactly like set decoration, and they discover an American soldier from the prologue who’s been on the island ever since. That would be Hank Marlow (notice how meaningful the character names are?), played hammily by John C. Reilly, right down to a shameless, tear-jerking epilogue.

The expedition also discovers that there are all kinds of scary creatures living on Skull Island, and Kong has apparently been keeping them under wraps. That doesn’t stop them from making repeated attempts to kill him, although since he’s supposedly the last of his tribe, it would make more sense to just go home and come back a few years later, when he’s died a natural death. But logic has absolutely nothing to do with this movie, so don’t even bother thinking such thoughts.

Kong is revealed very early in the film, so there’s no suspense there. He does take part in a lot of fights, both against the invaders and against the various other monsters living on the island (there’s some nonsense about the hollow earth theory in the script), and the CGI fights are where Kong truly shines. I suspect they would be even more impressive in 3D, but that’s just speculation since the press screening was in 2D. | Sarah Boslaugh

 

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