These past few weeks have been chock-filled with great new releases. However, this week in particular has gripped the attention of monster lovers all around the world. This past Friday, the King made his triumphant return to the big screen and I for one flocked to the theater to see it. This is my Sunday with… Kong: Skull Island!
(WARNING: POTENTIAL SPOILERS WITHIN)
Kong Skull Island
Release Date: March 10, 2017
Run Time: 118 minutes
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Rob’s Score: 7.5/10
“It’s time to show Kong that man is king!” – Packard
In 1973, Bill Randa (John Goodman) and his team from Monarch make the discovery of a century. They have received satellite images of a completely undiscovered, undocumented island in the South Pacific. Wanting to be the first to land on and explore the island, Randa is given the go ahead to start his expedition. Randa makes only one request, and that is to have a military convoy. Enter Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), a US military Colonel who is trying to cope with his unit being sent home. As soon as he receives the call he jumps on, much to the disapproval of most of his soldiers. Randa also goes on a mission to find an experienced tracker for the expedition, and hunts down James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), a former British SAS captain. Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), an anti-war photojournalist rounds out the outgoing team. The team is prepped as if it is going on a geological expedition; however Randa alludes to something “bigger” being on the island. As the team breaches through the storm surrounding the island they are awe struck by how beautiful everything looks, that is until something gigantic stands up just over the horizon to greet them.
Universal isn’t the only company in the process of resurrecting a monsters universe! With the release of Kong: Skull Island, Legendary pictures took their next step in establishing their new “Kaiju” universe which is officially being referred to as the MonsterVerse, and what a step it was. 2014’s Godzilla was the first in this upcoming MonsterVerse, but with Kong they really built on the narrative and back story established in Godzilla. Skull Island serves as an origin story not only for the legendary Kong, but also lays the ground work for the future of the connected universe. Giving more characterization to organizations like “Monarch” the audience is given an inside view into how this new kaiju world not only began but given a glimpse into the inevitable future. As a stand-alone film, Kong: Skull Island is very successful in presenting a new take on the beloved King Kong mythos. Kong: Skull Island is so beautifully over the top it is hard to walk away from it not fulfilled. Kong pulls off the often difficult task of not only providing a good story but also incorporating and building upon the future. Films often get caught up in one aspect or the other and the overall film, or universe suffers for it. This film was definitely the exception as it masterfully delivered a thrill ride of a story but also exciting audiences for the future of this universe.
One of the most successful aspects of this film for me personally, was how the film makers really added a unique take on the King Kong story. Whereas I am not sure where or how this film could fit in continuity with the original (or even the remakes for that matter), Kong: Skull Island keeps our preconceived notions of King Kong and adds a deeper layer to them. King Kong has always been a tragic figure to me, much in the same vein as Frankenstein, and that is why those characters in particular are so beloved, not just by myself but by fans worldwide. The two parallel each other in the fact that they are both essentially scared and overwhelmed and are thus deemed as “evil” or “monsters”. This film portrays Kong as a bad ass protector, who is savage and unstoppable, but also calls back to what made fans relate (as relatable to a giant monkey as you could be!) to him. There are several moments throughout the film where we see Kong touching his wounds or just through the facial expressions that bring us back to the original. Kong is an animal and he has taken it upon himself to protect his land, he is not a heartless monster, in fact he is a caring protector. The film dealt with this beautifully and provides many great visuals that help further this characterization. I also really enjoyed the back story they gave to the inhabitants of the island. This small aspect humanizes the villagers, who were usually portrayed as savages who sacrifice for their god. This small amount of backstory changes the whole dynamic from one of fanaticism between the villagers and Kong, to one of respect. Giving information about Kong’s “family” also helps to build his character. Now we don’t just have a mindless beast, we have what is essentially the only remaining member of his family, defending their land from the monsters who hunt them. We have seen the story of King Kong played out numerous times, however this go round is special because it truly is a unique experience that gives audiences a different view, and a vastly different experience from any King Kong film we have seen before.
Visually this film was top notch. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts took over the King Kong design and the result was a simplistic yet captivating design. His goal was to harken back to the 1933 original version of the lumbering Kong who stalks the island on two legs. This modern version nailed that design perfectly, but also made him more intimidating by making him gigantic. There are several scenes throughout the film to give the viewers the sheer scale of Kong, and the end result is truly impressive! Vogt-Roberts was also very successful in portraying the loneliness that Kong encounters, especially through the close –ups on the face, Kong in several scenes just looks tired. Small details like that really made a world of difference and enabled the audiences to better empathize with him. The rest of the creatures throughout the film boast the same level of uniqueness that will make them memorable for years to come. One of the biggest aspects I liked was that each monster or creature seemed to be in its own area. For example the octopus monster was in the water, the skull crawlers were in the grave yard, and so on. This gave each creature a feeling of oneness with its environment. It also helped further demonstrate Kong as the king of the island because he freely roams throughout it all. Vogt-Roberts named several inspirations for the creature designs, namely the lizard creature from the 1933 original, as well as several anime’s. The skull crawlers in particular bear a strong resemblance to a certain skull wearing Pokémon that is also a fan favorite. Overall the creatures were truly unique and only helped to enhance an already good film.
Kong: Skull Island boasts not only a large, talented cast, but also a very fun script. This, however, is where one of my issues with the film comes in. In most big name action adventure films that has a cast of this caliber it is often hard to get each actor the screen time they deserve. In an effort to get everyone involved certain aspects seemed rush and certain character details are left out. Personally, the whole opening of this film seemed rushed to get the characters to Skull Island. It was a move I understand, but a little more time could have been spent building this up. There was also some lack of character development in this, as several of the characters followed generic movie tropes. For example we have the soldier who is always at war, and the anti-war journalist. Both characters were fine and necessary for the film, but felt very generic and could have left the audience uninterested in their fate. As with a big cast certain actors or actresses are undoubtedly going to be underutilized and unfortunately that is what happened to the great John Goodman. None of what I mentioned are glaring issues, but things I did notice.
Now back to the positives and that is just how over the top the script and several of the performances were. Aside from Kong, the real scene stealer was John C Reilly. The film makers absolutely nailed his character as did Reilly with his performance. He perfectly combines humor with actual sentiment that in my opinion made him the best part of the film. And of course we have the king of over the top Sam Jackson! He is in true Sam Jackson form as he delivers a whirl wind of a performance filled with his infamous tone and language. At certain points it seemed as if Jackson’s character was going to fist fight King Kong himself, and believe me I wouldn’t have been mad if it actually came to fruition. The inclusion and performances by these two great actors really gave this film an extra level of fun that really pushed it over the top. The script itself is also fun, filled with wonderful Easter eggs, namely a call back to another great creature feature, Jurassic Park!
Kong: Skull Island opened worldwide on March 10th, and is definitely worth the price of admission. It is a fun adventure film that features not only impressive creatures, visuals and fight scenes, but also some great performances. And p.s. stick around after the credits for one of the best post-credit scenes I have ever seen.
(Rob Texter – @GrundyXIII)