KONG: SKULL ISLAND
RELEASE DATE: MARCH 10, 2017
A MONSTER MOVIE WORTHY OF THE APE KING.
BY ALEX WELCH
There are few images more synonymous with classic American cinema than that of King Kong -- a giant ape the likes of which audiences had never seen before his first appearance -- hanging from the top of the Empire State Building in New York City, with some kind of gorgeous blonde nearby. Which is why it might seem strange to say that Warner Bros.’ newest attempt at bringing the King of the Apes to life on the big screen takes place not in a 1930s New York City, but in a psychedelic, napalm-scented, 1970s Southeast Asia. There are no Empire State Buildings in sight this time around, and even if there was, the new 100-ft tall version of Kong wouldn’t even need to hang from it in the first place.
“Your first thought when you see him towering over you should be that this is a god,” said director Jordan Vogt-Roberts in my recent interview with him about the film. In that sense, Kong: Skull Island manages to give the King Kong character something that none of the previous live-action films have -- a pre-existing reputation and mythology before he even sets foot off of his beloved homeland. To the native people of Skull Island, Kong is a god, protecting them from the other dangerous creatures that roam the land. The last of his kind, he spends his days either fighting off various threats or wandering aimlessly around the island, in search, it seems, of some kind of company.
Starting with a brief, fun flashback sequence set in the 1940s, Kong: Skull Island spends most of its time early on in 1973 America, when the US has officially decided to abandon the Vietnam War and the country seems the most divided it’s been since 1861. But the fight for national security is never over, and with the incorporation of new space-based satellites, Monarch, a corporation dedicated to hunting down unidentified terrestrial organisms (and in case you were wondering, yes, that is the very same Monarch that was in Godzilla), has discovered new satellite photos of an uncharted island said to be as legendary and cursed as the Bermuda Triangle.
Representing Monarch are Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins), who through a fervent conversation with a US senator (Richard Jenkins), convince the federal government to finance an expedition to the island. Along for the ride are some highly-trained military escorts (led by Samuel L. Jackson’s Colonel Packard), other scientists, an anti-war photographer (Brie Larson’s Mason Weaver), and a former British S.A.S. tracker (Tom Hiddleston's Captain James Conrad), the latter of whom has been hired to be their guide on the island itself.
Of course, as the film’s trailers have already revealed, and common monster movie logic should indicate, things quickly go awry when they arrive via helicopter on Skull Island, dropping bombs to try and map the terrain of the island, much to the chagrin of a certain 100' ape. From there Kong: Skull Island kicks it into high-gear, as the helicopters engage in an unexpected battle with Kong himself, who emerges from the mountains of Skull Island, standing against a searing red sunset that truly emphasizes his status and power.
While Vogt-Roberts and his technical team do an effective job at following up that first sequence with other interesting, and continuously different set pieces, none quite measure up to the group’s first run-in with Kong. It is an adrenaline-fueled montage of carnage and destruction that King Kong fans have likely been waiting their whole lives to see. Unlike director Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla, Vogt-Roberts wastes little time introducing Kong, showing off the character’s power and design with a confidence that only makes this version of Kong seem that much more terrifying and dangerous.
From the moment that one of the helicopter’s pilots falls out of the window, directly into Kong’s mouth, before Vogt-Roberts then immediately cuts to a shot of someone taking a bite out of a peanut butter sandwich, it becomes clear that Skull Island isn’t going to be afraid to take stylistic risks. Aesthetically, cinematographer Larry Fong (Batman v Superman) is borrowing most heavily from Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, but the editing, story, and action of the actual film feels more in line with the work of filmmakers like Edgar Wright and Guillermo del Toro, with a blood-pumping 1970s rock soundtrack to boot.
If that sounds like the kind of monster movie you’d want to see, then Kong: Skull Island is for you. There are moments when it feels more like an amusement park ride than a traditional monster movie origin story, taking full advantage of the set piece and stylistic opportunities available -- it’s a thrill ride for people ready to kick off 2017 with a big bang.
The film’s characters and emotional moments don’t match up to the visual and stylistic aspects of the film, unfortunately, and a lot of that can be attributed to the fact that Skull Island has more main and supporting characters than any other, non-superhero blockbuster film in recent memory. Brie Larson, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, and John Goodman all turn in fine performances as the film’s main characters, but one of Skull Island’s more prominent flaws is how much more interesting and fleshed out the supporting characters around them appear to be.
Shea Whigham gives a particularly stand out performance as Cole, one of the more seasoned and wise soldiers working under Jackson’s Packard, who doesn’t seem to be surprised by or fazed by much any more. When Jason Mitchell’s Mills even asks him incredulously why he isn’t more shaken by the squad’s encounter with Kong, all Cole replies with is, “Yeah, that was a particularly uncommon occurrence.” And Skull Island is littered with those kinds of small, fun opportunities for its supporting characters that the main cast very rarely get the chance to have.
John C. Reilly steals the entire show, however, as Marlow, a World War II fighter pilot who crash landed on Skull Island accidentally in the mid-1940s and has been stranded there ever since. His familiarity with the island’s natives, creatures, and Kong himself help him to be a sufficient vessel for necessary exposition, but it’s the moments when Skull Island takes a break from all of the monster mayhem and lets Marlow just spend a few minutes asking the other characters what the world is like nowadays that it feels closest to its characters.
The film’s pacing can be spotty at times, especially near the middle when all of the group’s surviving members are trying to regroup and meet back up. Additionally, the directions it takes some of its main characters in (especially Packard and Randa) feel inorganic and rushed compared to the rest of the film. But for what Kong: Skull Island sets out to do, which is deliver a monster movie filled with the kind of action and destruction that audiences have never seen from a King Kong film before, it’s hard to imagine it doing a much better job than it does.
There’s a moment in Kong: Skull Island when one of the soldiers plays some '70s music for Reilly’s Marlow, who responds by asking, “How can you swing to this?,” confused by the heavy emphasis on electric guitars rather than a piano or saxophone. Some King Kong purists may feel that same frustration with Skull Island, but while the aesthetic of this new adventure may be very different, it ends up evoking the same feeling that made King Kong such an icon in the first place. Even if this time, it’s coming to you with roaring electric guitars and napalm rather than Empire State Buildings and damsels in distress.
Source : IGN