It’s a monster name that inspires fear, exhilaration, and excitement. In the age of reboots and re-imagining, comes Kong: Skull Island. It’s the latest adaptation of the giant ape invented in 1933. Seen on opening weekend in fantastic 2-D, this is a no-spoiler review.
What draws me to another Kong film, is how the classic creature will be re-imagined in the era of big budget CGI films. In this era, will the film learn from past mistakes and give us a good story and characters? The film’s title tells all. It’s the first chapter of Kong. He is not yet crowned king in the world of man but a god on his Skull Island. It is a story about the perils experienced there by uninvited guests; a cast of invaders, a combination of scientists and military escorts.
I found it a pleasant surprise that the film made attempts in character building. Some, not all, are given a backstory; personal grievances waiting to surface for years or decades. The motivation to visit Skull Island seems accelerated, especially if we look to Peter Jackson’s, King Kong, but it didn’t diminish the story. At least, not at first. With a 1970’s timepiece, is complete with White House protests, Richard Nixon, and a soundtrack rejected from Suicide Squad. The cast includes Vietnam War squadron led by Lt. Colonel, Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) who escorts a government expedition led by William Randa (John Goodman). Randa has hired a special forces tracker, James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) to lead them through the jungles of Skull Island. Through reasons I forgot, an anti-war peace activist, photographer, and social justice warrior, Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), elbows her way into the expedition. Finally, there is Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly) who steals most every scene as the loony World War II pilot stranded on the island for nearly 30 years.
Keeping to “spoiler free”, the best of the large cast includes Samuel L. Jackson, John C. Reilly, and, my favorite, John Goodman who changes his tone as an offbeat kook to a deadpan serious conspirator who has a few secrets of his own. The world of Skull Island is a dangerous one. While Peter Jackson portrayed the island as place that time forgot, Kong: Skull Island is a monster laboratory with questionable origins. It is no secret that deaths occur there. So terrible, they may push the boundaries of PG-13 with some methods earning a R rating decades earlier.
What makes the film “fun”, is its a monster movie with monsters. Some of them not human. It has moments of adventure, comedy, action, and war. Some will think the movie couldn’t settle on its tone. I saw the movie deliberately making that decision. It pays many homages, some too obvious. Think Apocalypse Now.
What makes the film weak and short of the classic is its final act. Its not that it was bad, the final Kong battle wins kudos. However, it is also a movie about the human players. Where Godzilla 2014 failed, Kong 2017 is also lacking. The film played a number of classic tropes but didn’t finish as strong as I would like. If you’re going with Captain Ahab, you better close with the same flare. It is a little long and one-too-many monsters killing again, and again nearing the point of boredom.
Kong: Skull Island is a monster movie. It doesn’t pretend to be much more than that. It’s not King Kong getting captured and going on a rampage in New York City before falling off a skyscraper. It’s a contribution to a new cinematic universe of giant monsters capable of destroying cities. It will be years until we learn the world is receptive to a new age of classic B-movie monsters with budgets pushing $200 million.