‘Kong: Skull Island’
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Stars: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson
3 (out of 5) Globes
If there’s ever been a “Yeah, it’s fine, I guess” movie, it’s “Kong: Skull Island,” a $190 million extravaganza that passes through the memory like celluloid through a projector. That’s not a knock, or not entirely. The biggest movies today are super-sized equivalents of yesteryear’s forgettable time-killers — the old “Tarzan” installments, “Flash Gordon” serials and other flashy cinematic distractions that once kept antsy kids rapt on Saturday mornings. The trend has long been to make them serious, thoughtful, gritty. But maybe — in a sense, if you will — they should be more like “Kong,” which never aspires to be more than an unpretentious nothing, a time well-spent at the movies.
And so we get the simple pleasures of a platoon of over-qualified thespians running from giant insects, ants, squids, spiders and, of course, one big goddamned ape. Set, for some reason, in 1973 as opposed to the 1930s (or now), it ships a motley crew of soldiers, scientists and randos — like Tom Hiddleston’s rugged guide and Brie Larson’s so-called “anti-war photographer” — off to the remote, unexplored South Pacific Skull island, in search of whatever life lives within. When their choppers arrive on the scene, it plays like a cheeky riff on “Apocalypse Now” — only instead of laying waste to a village then breaking out the surfboards, they’re greeted by Kong himself, who smashes their helicopters and scatters the survivors all over his tropical stomping grounds.
Warner Bros. is currently in the process of de-anguishing their comic book movie wing, but their non-superhero blockbusters have been disarmingly modest, in their absurdly pricey way. Like the almost OK “The Legend of Tarzan,” “Kong” is of manageable length and has a simple plot: Instead of capturing “The Greatest Show on Earth” and letting him loose in Manhattan, our heroes are simply trying to get out of Dodge.
Complications include the discovery of a wacky World War II pilot (John C. Reilly), who’s been stuck on Skull some 30 years, plus a mad Colonel (Samuel L. Jackson) who’s hellbent on napalming the iconic titan out of existence. (In a rich stroke of happenstance, Jackson appears both here and on the narration track of the James Baldwin doc “I Am Not Your Negro,” which uses the 1933 original “Kong” as an example of Hollywood subliminally preying on white fears of black sexual prowess. You nearly want Jackson to actually kill him on principal.)
The Internet has speculated that this intro (though not, happily, origin story) mostly exists so its CGI star can fight Godzilla. It’s worth noting how different “Kong” is from the latter’s 2014 reboot — one of the few dour revivals that’s actually a wondrous work of art. “Kong,” meanwhile, is mostly a goof. It was weird when that guy who made the indie comedy “Kings of Summer” was hired to make a giant monster movie. Turns out Jordon Vogt-Roberts is kind of perfect. Both his movies are boys’ comedies, heavy on actorly ad-libbing and visual jokes, starting with its very first shot.
They’re not all great or even good jokes. They tend to be easy, nudge-nudgy, like one about if the Cubs will ever win the World Series and another commenting that D.C. could never get nuttier than it was in ’73. (At least it was prescient, however terribly.) The soundtrack is lousy with obvious ’70s dad rock classics, making you wonder if Warner Bros. got a deal on a bulk of copyrighted songs then dumped half of them in “Suicide Squad.” But the on-the-nose CCR tracks and dumb yuks and frequent (though interchangeable) monster battles add to a general air of light, thoroughly passable entertainment. When you catch it on TV years hence, you’ll watch half of it before you realize you’ve seen it already.