There’s a fantastic movie full of revolutionary special effects about a giant ape discovered on a remote island full of monstrous creatures. That movie is called King Kong, and it came out in 1933.

In all those years since the all-time classic created the movie monster genre, dozens of movies have re-imagined the story of King Kong. None has come close to the original, and many, like this year’s Kong: Skull Island fall abysmally short. The movie is set in 1973. John Goodman’s character gets government funding to go map a new, uncharted island. Who he brings with him is part of the problem. He hires Capt. James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), a British special agent and tracker, to help map out the island. I honestly lost track of how many other people go on this expedition. There’s Brie Larson’s photojournalist, who is included without explanation, and about a dozen military guys led by Samuel L. Jackson. Did I mention they’re all vets of the ongoing war in Vietnam? The movie doesn’t have anything to say about that, so I’m not sure why it’s relevant.

1-star

The plot, such as it is, involves the soldiers being eaten, stomped on or otherwise killed, one by one by the big, scary creatures on the island. They’re like little green army men being flicked off a kid’s play table one by one. Kong, of course, being the monster with the heart of gold, tries to defend the group against the other beasts. My biggest problem with the movie is that there are so many characters who don’t serve any purpose. I realized as I watched it that you could take out at least half a dozen characters and the movie wouldn’t really be any different. Even the characters played by big name actors are kind of boring. Tom Hiddleston’s character does little more than alternate between two looks: smug, and smug but concerned. Brie Larson – who is an Oscar-winning actress, by the way – is utterly wasted. Her character does little more than alternate between two looks: curious, and curious but concerned. At least John Goodman and Samuel L. Jackson both have fun with their roles, thankfully, as it seems they always do. And John C. Reilly as a WWII vet who has been living on the island since being shot down 30 years earlier provides some comic relief.

But going into a big popcorn movie like this, you expect cardboard characters and barely any plot. This kind of would-be blockbuster lives and dies on its special effects. And while some of the scenes fighting other monsters on the island are pretty impressive, the least believable monster is Kong himself. From the first shot, he looks like what you’d see playing a video game 10 years ago. You never become so engrossed that you forget you’re watching CGI, like it’s so easy to do watching the recent Plant of the Apes trilogy. Think of how realistically rendered Caesar is compared to the giant cartoon ape in this movie.

What makes the 1933 King Kong resonate is you can see the humanity in the creature. His fears and desires are conveyed using what now look like rudimentary stop-motion and rear projection techniques. You can see the personality in his eyes. It’s a lifelike glint that this remake doesn’t capture.

Title Kong: Skull Island
Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Writer Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly
Runtime 1 hour, 58 minutes
Starring Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman
Production Legendary Entertainment, Tencent Pictures, Warner Bros.
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