KONG: SKULL ISLAND review

Hey! A reboot of King Kong because… that’s not a trend in Hollywood.

Okay, to be fair, it’s not quite that simple. This movie is supposed to be building up to a crossover fight between Kong and Godzilla. Of course, that’s only going to happen if this movie does well. But considering the star power, I’d say the movie has nothing to worry about.

So how do I feel about this movie monster that’s about as old as cinema itself? Well, I gotta say that I’m not as familiar with it as I probably should be. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I saw the original KING KONG (1933) and I see it as an incredible cinematic accomplishment for its time. It may not hold up that much, but any film buff will still look at how creative the film-makers had to get to make the effects they had. It’s obvious and dated, but still great in it’s own right and should be respected. I also saw the Peter Jackson remake KING KONG (2005) and I thoroughly loved it, arguably because I’m bias toward Jackson and love his work no matter what. A bit unnecessarily extended, but I didn’t mind so much. But as for anything inbetween 1933 and 2005, I never kept up with the Kong franchise. I know he has a son, there was another remake before Jackson’s, there KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962), eh, as you can see, my knowledge is pretty limited. But the size and scope has always been a point of fascination and what each new iteration brings makes this a not surprising fan favorite of film-goers everywhere.

Now what do I think of this one? It looks pretty fun and awesome. It’s not going for a full-on remake, and I doubt there’s going to be a running commentary on humanity. It seems to be mostly just focusing on big monsters fighting each other and having humans in the mix. Not entirely dissimilar to GODZILLA (2014) for that matter. I doubt it’s going to be great, but it seems like it’s not trying to be. It’s pure action and chaos and if that’s what you’ve always wanted to see, then I’d say that’s what we’re going to get. Not much to say other than it’ll be a welcomed birthday present.

Well let’s take a look at this star-studded cast. Tom Hiddleston (I SAW THE LIGHT [2016], THE AVENGERS [2012], and THOR [2011], and the upcoming THOR: RAGNAROK [2017]). I mean… damn, I love this guy. He brings such a great charisma to the screen and is great in everything that he does. Who doesn’t love him as Loki? But I’m always interested in him branching out into other roles, so I’m very excited to see him here. Oh, and by the grace of God, Brie Larson (ROOM [2015], 21 JUMP STREET [2012], and TV show UNITED STATES OF TARA, and the upcoming AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR [2018] and CAPTAIN MARVEL [2019]). How can you not be excited to see her in this? With her unbelievable talent and ability to command the screen without having to try, I personally think she’s one of the best actresses out there and can pull off both comedy and drama with ease. I can’t wait to see her roles in these upcoming action flicks. In support, we have John C. Reilly (THE LOBSTER [2016], GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY [2014], and WALK HARD: THE DEWEY COX STORY [2007], and the upcoming Wreck-It-Ralph sequel due out 2018), Samuel L. Jackson (XXX: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE [2017], THE LEGEND OF TARZAN [2016], and CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER [2014], and the upcoming THE INCREDIBLES 2 [2018]), John Goodman (10 CLOVERFIELD LANE [2016], TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION [2014], and PARANORMAN [2012], and the upcoming VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS [2017]), Toby Kebbell (GOLD [2017], A MONSTER CALLS [2016], and FANT4STIC [2015]), and Shea Whingham (STAR TREK BEYOND [2016], and TV shows AGENT CARTER and BOARDWALK EMPIRE).

Now for the crew. Directing is Jordan Vogt-Roberts, known for THE KINGS OF SUMMER (2013) and is slated to direct the video game adaptation METAL GEAR SOLID, due out… who knows when. RED FLAG ALERT!!! Three screenwriters: Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, and Derek Connolly. Gilroy is known for NIGHTCRAWLER (2014), THE BOURNE LEGACY (2012), and REAL STEEL (2011). Borenstein is known for GODZILLA (2014) and TV show MINORITY REPORT, and is slated to write the upcoming GODZILLA: KING OF MONSTERS (2019) and GODZILLA VS. KING KONG (2020). Finally, Connelly is known for MONSTER TRUCKS (2017), JURASSIC WORLD (2015), and SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED (2012), and is slated to write both the upcoming Jurassic World sequel (2018) and STAR WARS EPISODE IX (2019). Composing the music is Henry Jackman, known for CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016), BIG HERO 6 (2015), and WINNIE THE POOH (2011), and is slated for the upcoming Wreck-It-Ralph sequel (2018) and KINGSMAN: THE GOLDEN CIRCLE (2017). Finally, the cinematographer is Larry Fong, known for BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE (2016), SUPER 8 (2011), and WATCHMEN (2009), and is slated for the upcoming Predator reboot/sequel THE PREDATOR (2018).

Overall, I’m pretty stoked. I’m not expecting anything tremendous or ground-breaking, but it doesn’t look like it’s trying to be. I say I’m going to like it enough. Big monsters fighting each other. Sounds like the perfect movie for my inner teenager.

This is my honest opinion of: KONG: SKULL ISLAND

(SUMMARY)

Set in 1973. Bill Randa (John Goodman) works for an organization called Monarch, a group bent on discovering the unnatural occurrences around the world. He’s also considered a nut-job by his government superiors who don’t want to finance his latest venture: an expedition to Skull Island, an uncharted island that satellites only recently took a picture of. Against better judgment, the expedition is green lit, along with a military escort, led by battle-hardened Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson). Bill and his associate Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) hunt down specialists to join them, including ex-SAS James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and anti-war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson). When they arrives, they successfully navigate through the unnatural storm that keeps the island hidden, but their troubles only get worse as the military escort is attacked by an enormous ape. The survivors are spread out. Packard with his men, trying to survive the many other unnatural creatures of the island, and James and Mason meet the local natives, along with World War II pilot Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), who warns them that the giant ape, Kong, is the island’s protector, and isn’t the true threat they all face.

(REVIEW)

AWESOME!!! Holy shit, this was a bad-ass thrill ride! I was totally right. If you thought you were going to get an action movie with Kong fighting other giant monsters, you’re going to get all that, and it’s glorious. There’s… some annoyances, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that this is high-octane and very enjoyable.

We’ll get to the negatives in a minute, but first, everything that makes it awesome.

Alright, so to clear up some confusion, Kebbell isn’t Kong. Well, not really. The truth has some details that need following. Kong’s physical presence is played by Terry Notary. Notary is a respected stunt performer and coordinator, movement choreographer and coach, and mocap performer. He’s done some extensive work from X2: X-MEN UNITED (2003), Tim Burton’s PLANET OF THE APES (2001), THE INCREDIBLE HULK (2008), The Hobbit films, and will be in the upcoming WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES (2017).

http://ew.com/article/2016/05/11/kong-skull-island-toby-kebbell/

Kebbell, whom has done mocap work before, is actually just there for Kong’s facial expressions. I honestly put down this information more for myself because a ton of the central hype on my end came from the notion that Kebbell would be Kong. In a sense, I wasn’t wrong, but the assumption that he was 100 percent Kong was 100 percent wrong. Hey! That kinda rhymed. Either way, Notary and Kebbell do a great job bringing Kong to life, arguably creating the most bad-ass Kong ever put to screen. Er… at least as far as I’ve seen.

Still, it’s gotta put Kebbell through some kind of existential crisis when he’s physically on screen… looking up at a fictional giant ape partially played by him… it tickles me to think about that sort of thing.

Every action scene is intense and visceral, really cool call-backs to the original film. Like, you’ll have camera shots looking down both openings to the helicopter the hapless soldiers are in and from the opposite opening, you’ll see Kong looking through it, roaring. It’s not unlike being on the Universal Studios tour ride in Universal Studios theme par in California. Just with a, you know, Vietnam War feel to it. Kong’s grabbing helicopters, breaking them in half, throwing them at each other, so it never gets old. Thankfully, Kong’s not the only threat our heroes face on the island. Four story tall spiders, a giant octopus, vicious limp-dismembering birds, and the Skullcrawlers, of course. But no dinosaurs? I don’t know about that, filmmakers. I like seeing my dinosaurs.

The acting is also really good, as you’d expect from everyone on screen to deliver, the cinematography is gorgeous and well-shot, giving a great sense of size, urgency, and danger, the humor is great and Reilly steals the show, and the effects are pretty impressive for the most part.

Well, now it’s time to run through the negatives.

I don’t really know why Packard goes this insane. I mean, I think I know what they’re trying to get across. He’s fanatically loyal and caring toward his men, while also making him sort of the Captain Ahab character, seeking revenge against the larger than life monster, but… why? We don’t really see him have a connection with his team, for the most part. He’s sure obsessed with finding Chapman after their initial skirmish with Kong, but beyond that, he’s just your run-of-the-mill, tough-as-nails leader of his military squad. Also… you’d think a military officer of repute would understand the concept of battle, and that soldiers tend to die in hostile environments. I’d have liked Packard better if his primary concern was to get the remainder of his men out alive. Or meet halfway and want the rest of his men to get out alive, but he stays behind to try and kill Kong. I don’t know, there’s ways to work around this character and make him more interesting. Of course… how mad can I be at this movie about that considering we’re blessed with a pissed of Samuel L. Jackson staring down a pissed off King Kong? It’s glorious in its own right. I just wish it made more sense for the character.

Also, I do have to voice some mixed feelings about Kong’s backstory. Yes, Kong has a backstory. I won’t claim to know if Kong has had a backstory before, but… if I remember correctly from both the original and Jackson’s remake, Kong never had a backstory. He was just a monster that existed and stupid humans needed to accept that. Here, he had parents who were killed by the Skullcrawlers and now he’s the last of his kind. So, mixed feelings implies there’s something I like about it, and something I don’t like about it. What I like is that this gives Kong a special hatred toward the Skullcrawlers and adds a little weight to his mere presence. In the original, you just sort of assume that he’s the only one of his kind. But this has him as the last of his kind, and there’s an implication that he’s still pretty young. Marlow utters a line that goes, “he’s still growing.” So in a way, you empathize with Kong a little more than usual. But therein lying the problem. In both the original and remake, you already do. Both explore the cruelty that he faces when he’s brought to civilization, so you grow to feel bad for him through what happens to him. In this movie, it’s telling you to feel bad for him because his parents were killed. Well that’s not an overdone backstory in action movies. At this point, the movie might as well have put Kong in a bat-cowl and cape. Batkong? Copyright! In any case, that could debatably be subjective and not bother anybody. What I think is a legit problem is that it’s pointless to the monster. I mean, if you took out his backstory, what do you really take away from him? Would you ever look at the character and think to yourself that he was truly affected by the death of his parents? Do those details matter? Because I really don’t think so.

And speaking of the monsters, aren’t the Skullcrawlers a bit recycled from the monsters Godzilla fought in the last movie? I mean, they’re big and they scuttle on two arms. Seriously, anyone else feel the same way? Doesn’t it kind of suck out the threat level if they feel like the same enemies that were fought against in the previous film? I don’t know, I didn’t like them. Not very imaginative to me. I would have preferred to see Kong fight more recognizable monsters, like giant spiders, I still miss those T-Rexes, and pretty much anything else other than… arm-scuttling beak monsters.

***SPOILERS***

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I’m also not a particular fan of characters being unceremoniously killed off. Extras die all the time on screen, sure, but I’m talking the ones with names, developed personalities, backstories, the works. Like, we’re clearly supposed to like Chapman. He’s a caring and concerned individual toward his commanding officer and he writes to his son and his team teases him about it. He’s the lone survivor in his helicopter and he watches Kong fight and eat an octopus. Literally, he shares an entire scene with Kong. Likely for that tongue-in-cheek humor, Kebbell having a slight hand in the mocap of Kong’s facial features. But he’s got some serious screen time. But he dies. You’d think a character who is that nice of a guy would carry some emotional weight. Also, he’s a significantly more interesting character than, say, Reg Slivko (Thomas Mann), who plays that clichéd young guy who panics a lot, isn’t confident in any of his teammates to keep him alive, even though they do for the majority of the movie, it’s annoying. I liked Chapman, I didn’t like Slivko, but the writers clearly disagreed with this notion.

And there was no reason for Cole (Shea Whingham) to die. Don’t get me wrong, his character is kind of funny. He’s that quiet, but respected, and ball-busting sort of character whom has no real development, but he’s so awesome in how he doesn’t give a shit and how short he can be with characters. But you do see a sense of loyalty in him and the deaths of his comrades clearly affect him in his own way. But again, he’s killed off because… the script demanded it. Believe it or not, screenwriters, you can have a bunch of characters survive a story. It may not be as fun, granted, but let’s have better reasons to kill off cool characters other than, “It’s been two minutes, someone should die.”

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***END SPOILERS***

Overall, I’d say if all you wanted was to see big monsters beat the crap out of each other, that’s exactly what you’re going to get, in the best way possible. But if you were looking for a true update to the Kong monster that will stand the test of time like it’s 1933 original… eh, shelve those expectations. This is an action movie, through and through. Don’t expect any poetic “It wasn’t the planes. It was beauty that killed the beast” stuff. So if that’s what you’re looking for, then I highly recommend this movie to anyone interested. Oh, and stick around for post-credits scene. It’s pretty awesome.

My honest rating for KONG: SKULL ISLAND: 4/5

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