By Jack Dignan
The cinematic history of the world’s largest gorilla dates all the way back to 1933, where audiences worldwide were first introduced to Kong, the eighth wonder of the world. Aptly titled ‘King Kong,’ the film was a revolution in cinema, a huge leap forwards for practical effects and stop motion animation, and on top of that, audiences everywhere found it damn entertaining. It was our first step into the world of Kong, one that’s spanned over 80 years. The monkey last graced our screens in 2005 with Peter Jackson’s sweeping epic, a film I adore. Now, Kong: Skull Island takes us on a new and original adventure deep into the heart of Skull Island. With 84 years of history behind it, and some pretty fantastic advertising, the pressure is on.
It’s 1971. Bill Randa (John Goodman) is determined to prove the existence of monsters, along with his skeptical but supportive colleague, Houston Brooks (Cory Hawkins). The two have uncovered satellite footage of an uncharted island deep in the pacific oceans, setting up a team of soldiers to guide them through the perils of the sea and onto its shores. Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), a man unwilling to accept that the war is coming to an end, leads the team, assisted by famed tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and anti-war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson). After pushing through potentially life ending storms and landing down on the island’s gorgeous surface, it’s here where trouble arrives.
Awaiting them on the island is Kong, a 60-foot gorilla who’s hailed as king, and he isn’t happy. Tearing down their helicopters, the group find themselves scattered throughout the island. They’ve got three days to re-gather and get off, but survival isn’t the most likely outcome when they’re faced with a series of horrifying, dangerous creatures out for blood, not to mention the rampant Kong who comes and goes as he pleases. It’s during this task that they come face to face with Hank Marlow (John C. Rielly), who’s been stuck on the island since World War 2. Through beautiful landscapes, a stunning colour pallet and astounding visuals, Kong: Skull Island is a film that’s too well made for what it actually is, adding to the ever-increasing list of big blockbuster b-movies released in 2017.
The film opens with a flashback sequence set in the 1940s, giving us our first look at the enormity of Kong’s largest interpretation yet, despite being but a child with plenty of room left to grow. And he’s going to need it when he’s forced to face Godzilla in the much-anticipated 2020 sequel, Godzilla Vs. Kong. This opening deviates away from predictability, I will give it that. It’s not what I was prepared to see, gripping me right away, but it soon becomes clear that this opening is incredibly distasteful. Describing it as poorly written feels like an understatement, as it’s that and so much worse. All expectations I had for the film were immediately shattered, leaving me with nothing more than a faint glimmer of hope for what’s to come.
But did the rest deliver? Well, yes and no. There’s shimmers of greatness throughout, the action sequences full of thrills and excitement, as well as overjoyed laughs. Each one manages to one-up the one that came before, perhaps with the exception of a strange squid sequence that plays no real relevance to anything outside of the need to bring Kong back into the script and turn him into something more than a walking plot convenience. The rest, however, is an exhilarating spectacle, exploring a question that, until now, has remained unanswered for many years… How many different objects can Kong use to beat a monster up? The answer is ‘a lot.’ These visual effects are definitely impressive, Kong presented so much better than how he looked in the advertising, but a few of the green screen shots felt a little underwhelming. The shots look flat. They’re visually impressive, but noticeably digital and lacking depth, standing out in comparison to the real life aspects of the shot.
Monster brawls top off the finale of each act, and while they’re definitely the highlight of the film, the filler in-between is where this movie falls apart. John C. Reilly steals the show with his comedic, larger than life character, but other than that, everyone else is a bore, although it’s never because of their performances. All the cast members are great, as is to be expected when the cast list is this impressive, but it’s the writing of their characters that drags this film down into the mud. They’re clichéd and dull, the dialogue excruciating, and the first act, in which each of them gets an introduction, is incredibly poor. Think Suicide Squad’s first act, but a little more subtle (it feels strange describing Kong: Skull Island as subtle) and presented in linear fashion. The soundtrack is great, but is Kong: Skull Island really a film that needed one? It takes away from the movie more than it adds.
Kong: Skull Island is fine. You can watch it, have fun with the action and leave the theatre without demanding a refund. The film works as a successful second installment in Warner Brother’s Monsterverse, a universe where Godzilla is king and King Kong is god. The post credit scene sets up the universe to come, but this is a film that shouldn’t have to settle for fine. A lot of people have problems with 2014’s Godzilla, and I get what they’re saying, but in my eyes, that film was great, problems and all. Kong: Skull Island, no matter how hard it tries or how hard I wanted it to, never quite achieves its much-desired greatness.
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