This review of the movie Kong: Skull Island was written by Dr. Philip Ernest Schoenberg and published in The Schoenberg Spotlight.
Kong: Skull Island
Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Written by Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein & Derek Connolly
Produced by Warner Bros. Pictures & Legendary Pictures
I watched Kong: Skull Island on Saturday, March 18, 2017. It was an action-packed movie in search of a logical and believable plot. It is radically different from the three original King Kong movies that basically follow the same plot. In the three movies, a movie maker goes in search of a mysterious creature on an unknown island. While on the long voyage, the actress falls in love with the first mate. She is offered up as a sacrifice by the natives to King Kong who falls in love with her and protects her. The crew successfully captures the beast after losing some of their number to prehistoric creatures. The great ape bursts out of an entertainment center in NYC, goes on a rampage, and climbs the highest building with our heroine before being killed. As the movie maker declared in the original 1933 film, "Oh, no, it wasn't the airplanes. It was Beauty killed the Beast."
The first still holds up with some of the best special effects of the time. It also birthed a sequel, The Son Of Kong, the same year. Both were critical and commercial successes. As Wikipedia notes, "The original King Kong is especially noted for its stop-motion animation by Willis O'Brien and a groundbreaking musical score by Max Steiner. In 1991, it was deemed 'culturally, historically and aesthetically significant' by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Film Registry." The 1976 version directed by Dino De DeLaurentiis was highly successful at the Box Office despite mixed reviews by the critics. The sequel, King Kong Lives! was a failure at the Box Office. The 2005 version was both a commercial and critical success acclaimed for its state of the art special effects, excellent acting, and its sense of spectacle. King Kong has also starred in various Japanese movies but since I have not seen them, I will not review them. The latest instalment of the King Kong franchise lacks the logical continuity of the original plot. In the three King Kong movies, you actually have three plots: a romance between the actress and someone on the ship, King Kong's infatuation with the actress, and the capture, rampage (or escape), and death of King Kong.
In the latest version, we lack one simple logical plot. Out of nowhere, a scientific expedition is organized under cloak and dagger to go to a mysterious island. It is never clear what the expedition is supposed to achieve because its objectives keep on constantly changing. No one falls in love with anyone. There is no chemistry between the female photographer and the private tracker. The human beings are stick figures - not real live persons - the actors cannot bring to life. A nerdy geologist can shoot a big gun during the fighting without any training and hit the target every time. In the end, you get a lot of action but no interaction to bring whatever the plot is together, to life, or to a believable reality. The expedition invades the turf of King Kong who fights back at the invaders. The six or eight helicopters on the ship become fifteen before all are destroyed by Kong. There appear to be about twenty survivors as they land on the island but despite losing fifty or sixty people, there are still about ten left to return home.
In the threesome, you care about the characters because the movie took the time to develop the relationships and show them intimately together. On the island, we see King Kong as a gentle creature that falls in love with a girl while surviving in the jungle. King Kong dies tragically, but heroically, a creature trapped in a world not of his making, defending his turf and someone he loves. We care about the romantic couple, the actress and her lover, who will go on to make a life for themselves. In this new version, everyone is an action figure of superhero dimension. You enjoy the thrill but you don't really care what happens to them.
Where a couple of bullets brought down the mighty King Kong in the original threesome, the multitude of awesome weapons cannot lay a finger on King Kong who also battles a prehistoric monster. Samuel L. Jackson, the military leader of the expedition, decides to battle King Kong in order to punish him for killing some of his men even though this makes no logical sense. He would have been court-martialed in the real world for putting his people at risk once it was clear that anyone that he wanted to rescue was already dead. Toward the end, Kong bonds in a few seconds with the female photographer, protects her from an awesome prehistoric monster, and lets her go. The expedition leaves King Kong respectfully behind as they are rescued.
There is a lot of action in Kong: Skull Island but no coherent plot to tie stuff together. Our sympathies are muddied so we don't know for whom to cheer. You may enjoy the slaughter and the special effects but you will leave asking yourself, "Why should I care?"