Kong: Skull Island (2017)

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Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts

Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman

Review Author: Tony

Rating: 3.75/5 pints of Guinness

Monster movies have always been a big part of my obsession with film, I grew up watching the original King Kong, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and plenty of the Japanese Kaiju classics such as Godzilla and Gamora. Seeing ginormous monsters wrecking shit just spoke to me on a spiritual level. It’s a fascination that has never dwindled through the years so you can imagine my delight when films such as Cloverfield and Pacific Rim reignited this long dormant genre.

Many have rolled their eyes at the announcement of the Monsterverse pointing out that it’s a cheap cash-grab to piggyback off the success of the Marvel cinematic universe. I definitely believe the success of The Avengers has inspired many studios to evaluate their personal properties but if any film genre deserves to have a multiverse I would have always said the monster genre. The majority of the Godzilla films involved the big man himself throwing down with different monsters, even back in 1962 we got one of the first major studio crossovers with King Kong Vs Godzilla.

Kong: Skull Island is a reboot of the King Kong story, perhaps even a bit of an origin story as it all takes place solely of his stomping grounds, Skull Island. This is not the King Kong story we are all familiar with, there’s no film within a film, no damsel in distress and no stand-off on top of the empire state building (This Kong is big enough to bench press the empire state building). Instead, the story of Kong starts with two employees, Randa and Brooks of Monarch (Wahey Godzilla tie-in) obtaining the green light for an expedition to an uncharted island in the pacific. Randa and Brooks recruit the help of former SAS tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and a military escort led by Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and his men. Before they can even have a picnic, everyone finds themselves grounded and scattered among the most dangerous place in the world.

I haven’t seen director Jordan Vogt-Roberts directorial debut Kings of Summer but I must commend his visual flair which is evident in this film, the locations, and shots of the jungle are pure cinematic eye candy. Roberts is another indie director being handed a massive budget blockbuster film, and in my opinion, puts his own stamp on this franchise. Roberts understands the shortcomings of 2014’s Godzilla where the titular character made only a cameo appearance in his own movie, instead, Kong wastes no time showing up early and establishing himself as the lead star.

Kong: Skull Island is fairly unapologetic about what it is and that’s a big dumb fun blockbuster. It’s cut from the same fabric as Pacific Rim where its primary focus is giving the audience a spectacle and keep things pretty light. Godzilla both benefited and suffered from its serious tone. I thoroughly enjoyed Godzilla and Gareth Edwards style, I just feel that some serious flaws bogged down the film such as the human element. Kong has some issues in this department too but thankfully never dwells on it long enough for it to become a serious issue.

The island itself is almost as big a star as the King himself, filled with weird and terrifying wildlife, the design and landscapes of the creatures are fascinating. The trailers sold us big monster royal rumbles and this is easily the film’s biggest strength. The camera work perfectly captures all the action as we see every punch land with ferocious force. Side and background characters are stomped, crushed and eaten as the film quickly reduces its quota of characters.It’s funny seeing some well-established actors reduced to walking meals.

Shedding most of the famous moments of the original film helps set itself apart as the original is a classic and as we saw with Peter Jackson’s 2005 King Kong, very hard to replicate. Instead, Skull Island is more comfortable in the skin of an adrenaline-fueled action blockbuster. 2016 saw a sharp decline in the quality of big blockbuster films with Batman Vs Superman and Suicide Squad suffering from messy, convoluted narratives and Independence Day: Resurgence relying on nostalgia rather than competent direction. Kong: Skull |Island keeps things simple with a point A to B narrative. Perhaps it could be considered uninspired but I feel that it took a leaf out of Pacific Rims book and chose to rather awe the audience than challenging it.

Unfortunately, the human element of the film drags it down as anyone excited by the serious ensemble of talented actors is not going to find any talented acting. Most of the dialogue is hit or miss attempts at humour or by the numbers exposition. John C. Reilly is far and away the best character in the film as he delivers the biggest laughs and liven’s up some pretty bland conversation scenes. I didn’t mind so much the soldiers as most their dialogue is banter but anyone excited to see Hiddleston or Larson will be sorely disappointed, By far the two least interesting characters and yet both are the two leads. Thankfully Samuel L. Jackson plays Samuel L. Jackson really well and helps move along the narrative.

The film has proven to be pretty divisive among both critics and the general audience as most praise the spectacle but also point out the lackluster acting. I suppose it boils down to your expectations of the movie. I believe the film was pretty self-aware and it delivered on exactly what I believe had been presented to me; a fun, loud monster punch up. It’s certainly directed more competently than any Transformer film, as we can actually see what’s happening during the action scenes. While its two leads prove to be as interesting planks of wood, fortunately, its titular star delivers. It’s an entertaining romp that makes for a light watching and has enough monster bashing to have monster movie fans such as myself coming back for more. It’s hard not to be excited for the inevitable showdown between King Kong and the King of Monsters, Mr. Godzilla himself.

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