Saturday, March 11, 2017

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Notable Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Brie Larson, Jing Tian, Toby Kebbell, John Ortiz, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Shea Whigham, Tomas Mann, Eugene Gordero, John C. Reilly

There are essentially two kind of King Kong movies. You have the more serious adventure ones that mean to paint Kong as a kind of tragic figure who is betrayed by humanity which is represented by the original 30s version and Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake. Then you have the silly Kong films, best represented by the Toho versions (King Kong vs Godzilla and King Kong Escapes) and to a lesser extent King Kong Lives. While the initial trailers made out the latest Kong film, the second in Legendary’s new expanded Monsterverse that includes 2014’s Godzilla, to be something more serious and drawing on plenty of Vietnam war imagery, this film is far more akin to the latter films than the previous. This is not a remake. This is not some kind of morality tale outside of the subtext. This is a giant monster film. This is pure kaiju cinema worship and it never takes a breather from its intent as being an entertaining popcorn flick. Don’t expect to be blown away by thoughtful characters, dynamic plotting, or even logical progression because that is not what Kong: Skull Island is about. This film is about big monster fights and giving the audience their money’s worth in outrageous entertainment.

Randa (Goodman) and Brooks (Hawkins) have a theory about Skull Island, but the government is hesitant to support them and their Monarch division. So they instead piggy back on a geological survey of the island led by an Army Lt. Colonel Packard (Jackson) and a tracker Conrad (Hiddleston) as they attempt to see what resources the island holds. What they find there is nothing like they could have ever imagined and it’s all protected by one of the biggest scientific discoveries they will ever find…

Leaping lizards that's a big leaping lizard!
Perhaps the biggest take away I had from Kong: Skull Island was that, as a pseudo-sequel/prequel to Godzilla, Legendary took pretty much every criticism of that film to heart and went the opposite direction with this one. If you thought that Godzilla was too serious and didn’t have enough monster fights, then this is the remedy. It’s rarely serious at all, unless it’s meant to be in juxtaposition to the more humorous tones, and it has 100 metric shit tons of monster action. Seriously, this film never stops. Kong is introduced in the opening sequence, the workers at Monarch are quirky outcasts, and there are enough monster fights and Kong battle sequences that those complaints will never, ever be uttered against Skull Island. For better or worse. Kong: Skull Island is pure popcorn entertainment. It’s littered with larger than life monster battle sequences and its ensemble cast is filled to the brim with screen eating personalities and performances. It’s written to be that way and cast to fit those bigger than life personalities. When a character’s story needs to be tragic, it’s made off beat with broad character choices like a crazy man stuck on the island for 28 years. When the film wants to parallel its tale with the events of the Vietnam war, it does it up front and in obvious ways like a Colonel who can't escape the idea of crushing his enemy no matter how unbeatable it is. If you ever wanted to see Tom Hiddleston in a gas mask running through a field of giant bones, weaving through a dense green fog, and cutting small reptilian bird like creatures with a katana, than this is the film for you. If you wanted heartfelt and deep characters, than you’re better off going someplace else. This is pure popcorn monster mayhem, intentionally so.

This, of course, does have its problems. For Kong: Skull Island to have this much fun and this many action set pieces, it must sacrifice something and that something tends to be narrative flow and any kind of logical character development. The ensemble cast is built on shallow character traits, the plotting pulls a lot of silly moves just to keep things moving or add in more action, and some of the execution is a bit hit or miss. There are moments where it works. Visually, the film is packed, but the editing seems chopping at times and it hurts the narrative. However, when a film is this intent on entertaining you, it’s hard to criticize it too much for patchy scripting or character development. This is made for fans of kaiju films and it makes it easy to let those issues go as we get to watch Kong battle a giant octopus or two legged lizards called Skullcrawlers eat people and leap around attacking Kong. I mean, Kong is not even built like a natural gorilla. He walks on two legs like a man in suit in a nice homage to the Toho days of the monster. Just don't think about it too hard.

Kong unchained!
The idea for those looking to still see Kong: Skull Island is not to expect it to be a remake of the original story or even use many of the same emotional beats. This is meant to be the next chapter in Legendary’s Monsterverse and it does so nicely, broadening the scope and spectrum of Monarch and the myths, while at the same time entertaining to the fullest with nonstop monster battles and fun characters to watch in their attempt to survive the oddities of the location which is packed with weird monsters and great visuals. It’s decently well made, with those focuses in mind, and exists to be pure big screen fun. With that in mind, enjoy what this film has to offer. Color me more than excited for Godzilla: King of the Monsters.

Written By Matt Reifschneider

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