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Review: Kong Skull Island, or “Hold onto your butts… again!”

As the second entry in Legendary’s newly established Monsterverse, “Kong: Skull Island” revives one of cinema’s oldest icons in a colossal way. The film begins with two pilots, one American and one Japanese, crash landing on the beaches of Skull Island near the end of World War Two. They fight, chase, and scrap their way into the jungle and are quickly met by the giant ape himself. Fast Forward to 1973, just as the Vietnam war is coming to a close, and we’re met with an introduction to the Monarch corporation as it tries to secure funding for one last venture into the mists of the unknown, a journey to the fabled Skull Island. “A place where God never finished creation” is how John Goodman’s Bill Randa explains it in his pitch, however it’s his associate Houston Brooks, played by Corey Hawkins, that sells the idea to the gatekeeper by suggesting that the Russians and Chinese will have the same data they do soon enough, and if there is something to benefit from, shouldn’t America be the first ones there?

“Kong: Skull Island” quickly introduces us to the remaining heavy hitters in the cast’s lineup. There’s former British SAS tracker, James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) who’s recruited after showcasing his barroom brawling skills, Brie Larson’s Mason Weaver as the anti-war Vietnam photographer, and Samuel L. Jackson’s Preston Packard- a discouraged Vietnam Army officer that leads the military helicopter escort to the island. Once assembled they fly into the storm forever swirling around the eponymous island. Once there they quickly begin dropping bombs to survey the land and retrieve the seismic data. This immediately triggers the first large scale set piece wherein Kong smashes the entire fleet of helicopters like the annoying gnats they are to him.

So let’s talk about what the film does right. From my perspective, this film adequately does what a giant monster movie should do. It focuses on the monsters. It keeps the pace breezy and yet tense. The film gets its tone right. Most importantly though, Kong is a constant force throughout the film. Kong’s motivation was also clearer than that of say, Godzilla in Gareth Edwards 2014 iteration. Kong is the protector of the island, he respects nature and those who care for it, and he chooses peace over violence unless provoked. In Godzilla’s case, it seemed to simply be his need to challenge and reign supreme over the M.U.T.O.s? Or to align some monster’s code of balance?

Anyhow, back to Kong. I loved Sam Jackson’s revenge storyline with Kong, he went full Ahab and Kong was his white whale. Though admittedly I never tire of Jackson’s Shtick, it just works for me. John C. Reilly’s Hank Marlow, was also incredibly noteworthy. He gets the most complete storyline, and while he provides some comic relief, he never wanders into any zany or out-of-place performances. His character retains the heart of the flick, and it shows in palpable ways throughout the runtime. He’s also the connection to the natives of the island, which were represented not as savage tribesmen, but as a small peaceful community trying to survive in this hellish environment.

Speaking of the cast, I know the film has been steamrolled at times for “wasting” such a talented cast. However I don’t think they were wasted in the least to be honest. It’s a giant monster movie with “B-genre” aspects throughout it. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t expect any Oscar nominations to come from a King Kong movie, and that’s okay. It doesn’t have to be the most fleshed out and layered monster movie-Godzilla certainly wasn’t with Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s character, not to mention that film actually wasted Bryan Cranston. To that end, story and background information can be told in ways other than dialogue. The sets, locations, subtle acting, and even over-the-top acting all combine to tell a story. Sometimes it feels as though people simply watch films to point out as many problems and issues with a performance or story as possible, and that’s a shame. When did we all become so consistently cynical? Honestly, if you don’t love something, that’s okay-not everyone has to enjoy everything.

In the end I had a ton of fun with “Kong: Skull Island”. I loved the shameless “Apocalypse Now” influences. I thoroughly enjoyed the chaos, the variety of monsters, the fight sequences, and of course the king himself, Kong.

Final Score: Two Kong-sized thumbs up

 

 

 

 

film

Rant Time: Godzilla better hit the Gym to prep for Kong

The Summer of 2014’s blockbuster season opened with a bang in the form of Legendary studio’s re-imagining of the King of all monsters, “Godzilla”. The film soared to new and exciting heights for the big budget monster mash with word of mouth and generally favorable reviews helping to boost its solid earnings. As a self proclaimed lover of the giant monster sub genre of B movies I understand the love of a cheesy monster romp and I adore some of the old Gojira classics, even some Gamera flicks have won my heart in years past. However, I did not particularly love this new iteration of the famed atomic fire breathing baddie/hero/savior/destroyer.

My issues lie in the fact that the movie is incredibly slow for a towering slamfest between monolithic legends, er or at least one legend. I can handle slow movies, (there’s a special place in my heart for “The Good The Bad and The Ugly”) that’s not my personal issue, it’s that if the human melodrama had been compelling in any sense of the word then I would have been fine. The subpar, disinterested, and wooden acting from Aaron Taylor-Johnson was borderline unbearable though. He is the most useless character I have seen in a movie in a long time. He frequently mentions his character’s purpose of disarming, or arming I forget, EODs (bombs) but never once utilizes this skill and somehow gets close to some of the monsters for money shots, but that is the breadth of his character’s usefulness, getting a good shot down. It’s a real shame they wasted Bryan Cranston here as well because while he was onscreen, he was brilliant. Quite a shame. There were several outstanding moments of action that were phenomenal, but an entire movie can’t ride on “That one awesome scene”. And I will give credit where credit is due in that the visual homages to Toho’s Godzilla flicks over the decades of their work was right on the money, specifically in the colorization.

I bring all of this up because recently it was rumored, then confirmed, that Legendary studios will be utilizing their new King Kong feature as an eventual set up for another clash between cinema’s greatest monsters of all time. This is worth getting excited about if you love the genre and the B movie mayhem that flows through the vein of these movies. I certainly do! But my concern here is that if we’re going to have this film exist, then we must at least try and make it compelling when the titular beasts are not onscreen, right? If we’re taking a moment to harken back to the last Kong movie as well and compare it to this latest Godzilla flick, well, I’d have to give it to Peter Jackson’s “King Kong” as the better movie overall. It’s, simply put, a more entertaining film. and structurally I believe it is superior, especially when concerning pacing.

My point being that if this new “Godzilla VS King Kong” movie is to be any good then we have to reassess what makes a monster movie good. There will be several movies before the big showdown between the two heavyweights however so there is plenty of time to prep and train. Godzilla will be getting a sequel in which he will be taking on both the continually underestimated Mothra and the immense brutality of the space dragon known as King Ghidorah as well, that should be a blast. Kong will also be making his debut (again) in a period piece that takes place before the events of last year’s Godzilla flick, along the lines of how Captain America’s origin tale fit within the Marvel Studios universe at the time. At one point both Michael keaton and J.K. Simmons were attached to roles within this film and I am deeply saddened that they will reportedly not be in the flick if reports and rumors are to be believed. This movie can be both bombastic AND compelling if the people involved are willing to learn from their (granted they are “perceived”) mistakes and transcend the expectations of the genre to create something grand. or just fun, as long as it’s good ole escapist fun I will be sated and drunk with happiness.

In today’s world of filmmaking the threat of spectacle may be overwhelming to some, but I say there is room for all types of movies to coexist and this is one I’d gladly see right alongside Spielberg’s upcoming cold war drama “Bridge of Spies”, different stories come with different rules and expectations. Such is the rich world of cinema we find ourselves in today, we can go out and see Danny Boyle’s cold and calculating “Steve Jobs” biopic, or the next offering from Marvel Studio’s pantheon of morality tales. it’s all up to choice at this point, and the future is what we make of it. Hopefully that is a future in which I will not be groaning in the theater at the sight of Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s unmotivated face again but one where I am awash in the glory of giant fisticuffs soaring through skyscrapers with at least an ounce of acting charm thrown in for good measure.