12KongKong: Skull Island (Rated PG-13)

I am not opposed to extended movie universes. I think they’re generally pretty cool, even if some (*cough* DC Extended University *cough*) fall short of their potential. But trying to create a “Legendary Monsterverse” out of Godzilla, King Kong, Mothra, Rodan and King Ghidorah — well, color me skeptical. Kong: Skull Island (118 minutes) was better than I expected, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was clumsily executed, and the connection to the recent Godzilla movie was forced, at best.

The film begins in 1944, during World War II. An American named Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly) lands on a beach and fights with a Japanese pilot named Gunpei Ikari (Miyavi). I’m sure that in modern Hollywood, a blockbuster movie will be sure to incorporate Gunpei into the remaining plot and … wait, nope. That dude dies off screen, leaving Hank as the only moderately likeable character. 

Fast forward to the 1970s. Bill Randa (John Goodman, apparently still alive) is a scientist performing science for the United States government in the closing days of the Vietnam War. The conflict that starts off this segment is that Bill wants to do science but the government doesn’t want to pay for it. Bill convinces somebody to let him tag along with a different, better funded, group of scientists doing science, and somehow manages to get everything else he wanted, including a military escort and low-rent James Bond named James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston). An anti-war photographer named Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) is also included on the assignment, because (reason to be decided later).

The cast is huge at this point, but that doesn’t mean there’s not room for one more female character, and I’m sure that in modern Hollywood both women will have an interesting, dynamic … wait, nope. The plot splits them up as soon as possible, so they never have the chance to accidently talk to each other or play a significant role in the film. You know, I was paying careful attention, and I’m not sure the other female character even got a name, much less a back story. I’ll admit, it was entirely possible she got both and I missed it due to not being able to care about any of the people except Hank.

The group flies over Skull Island, blow some stuff up, and Kong understandably attackes them. After the first encounter with King Kong, the cast is still pretty big, with Lt. Col. Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) leading a group of survivors to kill King Kong and Conrad leading a slightly smaller group to a rendezvous point on the other side of the island. Along the way, Packard’s group is steadily whittled away, their determination to kill Kong increasingly resembling Ahab chasing the white whale. When the two groups finally share the screen again, it is clear that the military are the bad guys — unable to recognize that their true enemy isn’t King Kong, but another kind of M.U.T.O. (yes, they resurrected the Massive Unidentified Terrestial Organism acronym from Godzilla), the skullcrawlers.

Overall, if you’ve seen Apocalypse Now and thought, “gosh, what this movie needs is a giant ape and a pokemon-inspired antagonist” you’re in for a treat. Everyone else, feel free to place bets on who gets wiped out in their first encounter with King Kong, stuff you face with popcorn, and then take a pleasant nap for the last hour of the film. 

Now playing at Patriot 14 + IMAX.

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