Friday, March 10, 2017


When it comes to bringing giant monsters to the big screen, we can all expect to turn off our brains to a certain extent. Hollywood has thrived on the big-dumb-and-fun adventure blockbuster for years, and they can be blast, but filmmakers have to be careful not to get too dumb or else all is lost. Such is the task for director Jordan Vogt-Roberts and the newest version of King Kong; KONG: SKULL ISLAND.

In the waning days of the Vietnam War, a government agent (John Goodman) leads a team of scientists and soldiers on an expedition to the remote and un-seen Skull Island. Joining him are a tracker (Tom Hiddleston), an anti-war photographer (Brie Larson), two scientists (Corey Hawkins and Jing Tian), and a platoon of soldiers led by a war-hungry colonel (Samuel L. Jackson). Upon arrival, the team encounters the giant ape Kong, and discovers that he is not the worst threat on the island.

This new version of King Kong is not a straight-up remake of the 1933 classic, and is instead its own little adventure on Skull Island and never sees the New York City skyline. It is very much inspired by the old monster movies of KING KONG’s era; where characters are drawn paper-thin, plot doesn’t matter, and the real movie is watching monsters fight each other. With that in mind, SKULL ISLAND works just fine as homage to monster movies of old.

Wearing its influences on its sleeve is no problem for director Jordan Vogt-Roberts and his team of writers. The film rips off borrows heavily from APOCALYPSE NOW, right down to the rock anthems being played every five minutes and characters taking on the personas from that film. Things get interesting when the team is faced with the dilemma of killing Kong, which opens up the possibility of the island natives being wiped out by other threats on the island (Kong is the natives’ only defense), but this is a theme that is glossed over too quickly, along with what could have been better storylines involving character’s contrasting involvements in the Vietnam War.

The situation with a giant ape and other big monsters is certainly silly, but acceptable. But SKULL ISLAND goes dumber than monkey-shit in its telling. The script seems to be written on an elementary-school level, where characters basically announce to the audience what they’re doing and what’s going on; it’s cringe worthy right from the beginning. There are also breaks in continuity and logic as character’s outfits change from scene to scene and soldiers pull out big weapons out of nowhere. But the biggest insult to the intelligence of the audience happens in the early going. The trip to the island is mostly done via ship, which clearly, and often shows four helicopters on the deck…but once the choppers take flight, those four magically become twenty. It’s mind-boggling that the filmmakers expected us not to notice.

For an adventure film, the pacing is faster than a scalded ape, and there’s rarely a slow moment. It’s perhaps a little too quick as there is very little build-up and we’re into an action scene and almost out of it before we know what’s going on. Visual effects are maddening as they look great in some areas but terrible in others. Action scenes involving the chopper and Kong fighting them and other creatures are beautifully photographed and have some big-wow moments, but with characters being so thin...all the action is just empty noise.

Acting is all over the place as no one seems to know what they’re supposed to be doing. Samuel L. Jackson is perfectly cast as a military commander who is fresh out of ‘Nam and is looking for a war to win, and his turn into Captain Ahab-territory is probably the most interesting thing in the movie. John Goodman is just kind-of there, and Brie Larson fares pretty well in what is a very physical role for her. Tom Hiddleston is mistreated, as his character is barely one-dimensional, doesn’t get much to do, and seems to have been told to only strike a pose like an action figure. Corey Dawkins and Jing Tian are a waste. John C. Reilly shows up as a pilot who had been stranded on the island for almost 30 years, and adds some much needed humor even though he basically plays another version of all his characters.

Why exactly the team goes to the goddamn island in the first place isn’t really clear at all, and the entire venture seems pointless by the time the survivors get off the island. A post-credits scene teases the existence of other monsters that Kong will obviously be facing soon…ranging from big and green and scaly to another with really big wings. That, and the lack of any real content makes KONG: SKULL ISLAND just a stepping-stone of a film; one that treats its audience like ape-shit.


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