Kong: Skull Island Review

DEAR BILLY…


 

It’s seems like every major studio in Hollywood is trying to establish their own cinematic universe. With the film industry trending on the idea of adaptations, prequels and, reboots / reimaginings, the ideal of shared cinematic universes are the popular rage with the latest blockbuster phases. From the realm of superheroes with Marvel’s (aka Disney) MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) and Warner Bros’s DCEU (DC Extended Universe to Universal’s Pictures upcoming shared universe of Monsters (starting with the 2017’s reboot of The Mummy), these cinematic universes are seeing as profitable franchises, producing crossover events and interlinking these feature films to bring a certain inherit hype to the films. Now, continuing that share universe trend with 2014’s remake Godzilla, Legendary films and director Jordan Vogt-Roberts present the newest iteration of King Kong with the movie Kong: Skull Island. Does this latest feature deliver on “Giant Monster Mayhem” or is it a forgetful King Kong movie?

THE STORY


With the Vietnam War drawing to a close, Monarch employee William Randa (John Goodman) seizes the perfect time to explore Skull Island, an uncharted land mass in the South Pacific, but is in need of transportation and military escort to make his exploration of the mysterious island come to fruition. Accompanied by geologist scientist Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins), Randa enlists the help of expert tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) to complete their team, soon joining military Lt. Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and his soldiers, including Jack Chapman (Tony Kebell), Glen Mills (Jason Mitchell), Reg Slivko (Thomas Mann), and Earle Cole (Shea Whigham) With the team formed, the expedition group ventures into the primordial land, only to be immediately confronted by Kong, a huge, monstrous ape who doesn’t take kindly to strangers bombing his area, making quick work of Packard’s men, scattering the group in the process. As the teams of survivors’ asses their situation, they encounter the strange creatures and inhabitants of Skull Island, including Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), a stranded WWII solider thrilled to see Americans again. With a plan to escape the island, the survivors must find one another, but are met with difficulty from conflicted ideals from within as well as vicious subterranean beasts that waiting for their chance to kill Kong (the somewhat benevolent guardian of Skull Island).

THE GOOD / THE BAD


Like I said above, shared movie universes are somewhat the “trendy” thing in Hollywood movies. With so many cinematic universes to follow, it can be somewhat hard to keep track (if you’re not paying attention). Of course, my favorite is the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe) as I do love those movies. Anyway, I remember seeing the 2014 monster remake of Godzilla (I forgot to do a review for that movie when it came out) and had a bit of mixed feelings with the movie. Yes, it was definitely better than the original Japanese ones (even a tad bit better than the 200 version), but it was just okay as a huge fan of Godzilla (the brand). Why bring the 2014 Godzilla in this movie review Kong: Skull Island? Well, it’s because both films take place in the same universe (yes…another shared universe by Hollywood). This, of course, drove interest in seeing Kong: Skull Island to many, including myself. The trailers for the movie looked appealing (plenty of giant monster mayhem), so it definitely was on my radar to go see the film when it came out. However, I did have some reservations about this new iteration of King Kong. Thus, I take the good and the bad pre-conceived notions about this movie and went to see it. In truth, I actually I went to see Kong: Skull Island while I was on vacation in Costa Rica (my second film to I saw in local theater in an international country). What did I think of it? Well, while there was plenty of giant monster fun, Kong: Skull Island is more of a visual spectacle than a wholesome narrative. Basically, all big monster action….and that’s all.

Kong: Skull Island is directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, whose previous work includes directing several TV show episodes, including Singles Dads, Funny or Die Presents, Mash Up as well as the movie Kings of Summer. Vogt-Roberts seems to know what fans of giant monster films want to see, delivering plenty of monster mayhem for the film’s characters to discover on Skull Island. Some characters die (in some pretty gruesome, violent ways) and the creature designs are pretty creative and imaginative (I kind of wanted to see more of the creatures in the film). As one would expect, Skull Island is not a friendly place and Vogt-Roberts definitely creates that world in the movie, finding danger around every corner, while also finding the beauty in this “land that time forgot”. Thus, cinematography (done by Larry Fong) is handled beautifully, capturing moments of serene landscape that’s blended with giant creature action. As for the film’s action, it’s good and will fill any action junkie’s appetite for a visual blockbuster such as this movie. Naturally, Kong is the big star of the feature (probably one of the biggest iterations of the giant ape) and is pretty cool every time he’s on-screen, whether he’s smashing helicopters, battling a giant octopus-like monster, or interacting with the human characters. Plus, the visual detail in order to create him is pretty impressive. As a side-note, while the movie score (composed by Henry Jackson) is good, Kong: Skull Island utilizes the music of the early 70s, with songs from popular 70s artists including The Hollies, The Stooges, Black Sabbath, and Creedence Clearwater Revival. It was kind of fun to listen to those songs in the movie, which helped build the film’s world of Vietnam era time period.

What’s also interesting is that Kong: Skull Island is a bit of a departure from norm of common told narratives of King Kong. Yes, Kong is still the chief title character of the picture and is a pronounce ruler of a mysterious island (Skull Island), but Kong: Skull Island moves away from many of the iconic moments of the Kong legend (i.e. battling T-Rex or being captured and traveling to New York City and climbing the Empire State Building, etc.). Even the more commonplace romance Kong theme with the classic “Twas beauty that killed the beast” line is not present in the film as Vogt-Roberts and his writers present Kong: Skull Island as a more action blockbuster iteration of the giant ape, reimaging Kong as young adolescent (who will potentially grow bigger), the last of his kind, and as a benevolent ruler of the Skull Island, protecting its inhabitants from outside threats and known enemies. As I said, this movie is set in the same universe as the 2014’s Godzilla, with several nods and winks that mention that monsters (older than mankind) exist in this world. This, of course, setting up future installment in this “Giant Monster Universe”.

However, while the film is a mixture of big-budgeted blockbuster and good old giant monster fun, Kong: Skull Island does have its fair share of problems. Perhaps the most notable one that fans will immediately think about is the comparison to Peter Jackson’s 2004 King Kong to this movie.  While both are entertaining in their own ways, Jackson’s King Kong is (as a whole) is a higher quality theatrical film. The production (sets, costumes, concept designs, etc.) were better, the characters were more well-rounded (even the natives in Jackson’s film were more memorable), the script and dialogue was more refined delivered better, and (to be honest) I think Jackson’s film gave Kong more personally than this movie did. The Kong of Kong: Skull Island as little to no personality (just that he’s a young benevolent ruler of the Island who doesn’t take kindly to aggressive outsiders and enemies), while the Kong in Jackson’s King Kong was more depth in a sense of curiously, humor, and heart as well as rage and a touch of sadness (something that Jackson wanted to achieve in his film). In Kong: Skull Island, I didn’t feel that with their version of Kong. Speaking of its story, while I do praise this movie for trying to depart from the classic King Kong tale, the narrative of King Kong is pretty conventional (drumming up parallels to a superhero origin film). Likewise, the script, written by Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, and Derek Connolly is pretty simplistic and a bit wacky, creating several story threads that really don’t go anywhere as well as not particular great. Thus, the film’s story is a bit on the weak side, losing its overall poignancy to the Kong mythos in favor of an action monster popcorn feature.

Another problem with Kong: Skull Island is the fact that the movie’s trailers and TV spots show a lot of the best part of the movie. While the film was entertaining as a mild-popcorn flick, there was only a few surprises left that were brand new to me, while the rest was what I saw in the film’s promotional material, which is kind of a letdown.

The cast in Kong: Skull Island boasts many recognizable / familiar names to fill in its cast of characters (both primary and secondary characters). However, the movie is not so much interested in creating fully developed characters in the film, making most (if not all) somewhat one-dimensional characters. This comes at the expense of the film’s brisk pace, focusing more on the movie’s visual scenes at the expense of well-rounded characters. Perhaps the most developed character in the entire movie is the character of Hank Marlow, who is played by John C. Reilly. For most part, it’s not really a compelling character, but he’s given the most story development for us (the viewers) to care about. Naturally, Reilly’s performance helps bring a lot of humor / heart to Marlow. In truth, that’s pretty much goes for rest of the film’s other big stars, bringing their charisma star power to their otherwise flat characters. The MCU fan-favorite Tom Hiddleston and Oscar-winner Brie Larson do fine work in their respective roles as James Conrad and Mason Weaver, but their story arcs are pretty straightforward (i.e. the seasoned tracker and the wide-eyed journalist) and are mostly underdeveloped. Both are pretty, but that’s the only thing that’s memorable about them in the movie. Similarly, the same goes for Samuel L. Jackson character Preston Packard. Jackson brings his natural theatrical charisma to the role, acting as the film’s somewhat antagonist, but it’s hardly the seasoned actor best role or even being a memorable one.

Similar to the principal cast, Kong: Skull Island’s boast a large pool of supporting players (too many to be truthful), which doesn’t allow them enough time to be proper secondary characters. Yes, a few get their chance (i.e. their moment in the spotlight), but most just come off just as flat and unimportant. Of the bunch (and probably the most memorable one) is Boardwalk Empire alum Shea Whigham as the army captain Earle Cole (he’s deliver of his wacky one-liners at priceless). It’s either him or actor Thomas Mann as the young army soldier Reg Slivko. The rest of the supporting cast, including Jason Mitchell’s Glenn Mills, Corey Hawkins’s Houston Brooks, Toby Kebbell’s Jack Chapman, Jing Tian’s San Lin, John Ortiz’s Victor Nieves, and John Goodman’s William Randa have a few moments here and there, but aren’t memorable or fascinating at all, serving as only to propel events forwards or simply as cannon-fodder for the feature. Lastly, it’s also worth noting that seasoned stunt performer and mo-cap (motion capture) performer Terry Notary did the motion performance for Kong in the movie. While Notary does a good job as Kong, I have to say that Andy Serkis’s Kong in Jackson’s King Kong is better (and that’s because of the ultimate direction of the film and not the actual performance).

FINAL THOUGHTS


Kong comes roaring back on the big screen in the movie Kong: Skull Island. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts newest finds the infamous King Kong in a new light, ditching his classic tale and presenting him in a somewhat flashy giant superhero origin story. While the movie chooses “big action” over a compelling narrative, with a wacky script and one-dimensional characters, the movie still succeeds in being visual feature for the blockbuster popcorn variety. And, for better or worse, that’s all it need to achieve (in the long run). Personally, I thought it was just okay. Yes, it was big, goofy monster mayhem fun (and plenty of it), but it wasn’t awesomely grand as I was expecting it to be, especially in the narrative department. Thus, I would say that this movie is an iffy-choice as some will like it (especially those who are fans of the old giant monster movies), while others will be indifferent to it, seeing as just another bad noisy blockbuster remake of Hollywood. Whatever you think of this movie, Kong: Skull Island (and by proximity 2014’s Godzilla) this shared “Monster” film universe is setting the stage for a large-scale gargantuan showdown fight between the titular beings as well as other giant primordial creatures in future installments.

3.4 Out of 5 (Iffy-Choice)

 

Released On: March 10th, 2017
Reviewed On: March 23rd, 2017

Kong  is 118 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for brief strong language

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