Kong: Skull Island (2017)

  • Time: 118 min
  • Genre: Action | Adventure | Fantasy
  • Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
  • Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson

Storyline:

A diverse team of scientists, soldiers and adventurers unites to explore a mythical, uncharted island in the Pacific, as dangerous as it is beautiful. Cut off from everything they know, the team ventures into the domain of the mighty Kong, igniting the ultimate battle between man and nature. As their mission of discovery becomes one of survival, they must fight to escape a primal Eden in which humanity does not belong.

4 reviews

  • At its most entertaining when one doesn’t take it as seriously as it often takes itself, Kong: Skull Island is an exhilarating resurrection of one of cinema’s most iconic characters. The second entry in Legendary Pictures’ intended MonsterVerse, the film inverts many of the characteristics that elevated Gareth Edwards’ atmospheric Godzilla, most significantly the reveal of its star attraction.

    Kong shows up before the opening credits unfold, interrupting a fight between two soldiers – one American, the other Japanese – who have parachuted onto his domain and are rendered awestruck by his fearsome figure. The film proper takes place 28 years later, 1973 to be exact, just as the controversy over the Vietnam War is about to give way to the Watergate scandal. “Mark my words, there’ll never be a more screwed-up time in Washington!” conspiracy theorist Bill Randa (John Goodman) bellows with a wink-wink, nudge-nudge to audiences mired in the already troubled infancy of Donald Trump’s presidency. Randa has come to Capitol Hill to convince a senator to fund an expedition to find an uncharted island somewhere in the South Pacific. This, he tells the senator, is a place “where God didn’t finish creation, a place where myth and science meet.”

    With the senator’s approval, Randa and his team set off for Skull Island. Amongst the key figures: James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), a former SAS black-ops soldier turned mercenary and tracker; moralistic anti-war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson); amusingly bookish geologist Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins); and U.S. Army Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), still bitter over America’s performance in the Vietnam War and happy to get himself and his squad of gun-wielding “Sky Devils” back in action. “You’re a good group…to die with. You shouldn’t have come here,” John C. Reilly’s Hank Marlow good-humouredly informs them.

    Indeed, by the time the team encounter Marlow, a soldier stranded on the island during WWII and living peacefully with the small group of silent natives for the past 28 years, most of them are regretting their involvement in the mission having survived flying through an electrical storm only to run into the mighty Kong, who does not take too kindly to interlopers arriving in choppers and dropping bombs on his island. Kong grabs and swats at the choppers, which resemble mosquitoes next to his gargantuan frame. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts proves his mettle in his staging of this and the film’s other set pieces. There are breathtaking visual flourishes such as the single shot that travels through all the helicopters in the midst of Kong’s assault, or the shot where one of the soldiers, dangling off the side of an airborne copter, is shaken loose and falls directly into Kong’s canyon-wide mouth.

    There are more wonders to be had once the survivors are split up and traverse through the jungle in order to reach the extraction point. As advertised in the film’s trailers, Kong isn’t the only creature on Skull Island. Super-sized water buffalos emerge from the rivers, giant ants stab through bamboo forests with their legs, birds with chainsaw-like beaks take flight, a multi-tentacled sea creature that entangles itself around Kong, and a large stick-bug that may be Groot’s forebear. Most dangerously, there are the lizard-like creatures that Marlow has dubbed “Skull Crawlers,” who rendered Kong the last of his species by massacring his family.

    Expectedly, the film is at its most surefooted when focused on Kong, whether in repose or in battle. Though not as emotionally expressive as Peter Jackson’s Kong or as tragic as previous versions of Kong, this latest incarnation feels more realistic. Perhaps it’s the filmmakers decision to set the entire story on Skull Island and to have Kong be more protector than destroyer that makes his nobility and humanity more pronounced. It also helps that this Kong isn’t quite as interested in blondes as his predecessors. He and Mason do have a connection but, as with the romantic attraction between Mason and Conrad, it’s muted. Whether the former’s relationship eventually mirrors the ones in previous Kong movies in future installments of this franchise remains to be seen.

    Hiddleston and Larson are well-matched in their blandness and toned tawniness, and it’s particularly remarkable how Hiddleston’s hair manages to remain immaculate unruffled throughout the entire film. Though they are the purported headliners, they are really the most expendable characters in the bunch. There’s a reason why Jackson, Goodman and Reilly are as durable as they are – they know how to invest enough tongue-in-cheek humour in their roles without sacrificing gravity. Jackson’s Packard is Kong’s true enemy here – for him, taking out Kong is a way to somehow redeem everything that went wrong in Vietnam – and the staredowns between the two are frightening in their intensity. He is the genuine Kurtz in Vogt-Roberts’ re-tweaking of Apocalypse Now as monster movie, and his doggedly singleminded pursuit of Kong is arguably more terrifying than Kong’s climactic battle with the leader of the Skull Crawlers.

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  • Kong: Skull Island is a big budget movie that likes to show off. Its got Richard M. Nixon bobble-heads, Sam Jackson making another silly speech, and John C. Reilly playing a lifelong Chicago Cubs fan. Being a die hard White Sox fan myself, my question is this: Did “Skull” really need to be made in the first place? No. But hey, all Hollywood execs have to make a buck.

    In Kong: Skull Island, King Kong as usual, beats his chest and roars. In Kong: Skull Island, King Kong the monster is the protagonist once again. In Kong: Skull Island, the story minus timeline constraints, involves a bunch of eager beavers venturing into forbidden Skull Island not knowing the dangers that await them. In Kong: Skull Island, the only thing missing is Kong scaling the Empire State Building. So OK, Kong: Skull Island at a cost of $185 million, is my latest review.

    Anyhow, a large cast including Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Hiddleston, John Goodman, and Brie Larson, gets lost in the shuffle via “Skull”. And as the eighth film in the King Kong franchise, “Skull” also suffers from pacing that’s a little off, a lack of cinematic freshness, and some real patchy editing.

    So all right, what’s left to admire during Kong: Skull Island’s two-hour running time? Well it’s the special effects and capable cinematography courtesy of Hawaii and Australia.

    Now if you decide to view “Skull”, you’ll probably reminisce about Colonel Kurtz, Martin Sheen, mangoes, and good old “Charlie”. Let me explain.

    Call it a hunch but I think director Jordan Vogt-Roberts viewed 1979’s Apocalypse Now before even making “Skull”. I mean how else do you explain the presence of colored smoke grenades, patrol boats going upriver, rampant palm trees, slow motion sounds of helicopter rotor blades, and a similar movie poster depicting Earth’s huge, tucked away sun. Yeah Kong: Skull Island bleeds nostalgia for Coppola’s drawn-out vision of the Vietnam War. Too bad it’s not nearly as epic. Sigh.

    Wistful candor and fledgling choppers aside, “Skull” has decent visual effects shots and a scorched look. However, it possesses these traits in nothing but standard fashion. Peter Jackson did more twelve years ago with 2005’s vaguely titled, King Kong. Of course Jackson’s film is bloated at three hours long. And yes, it also contains the same structural miscues as Kong: Skull Island. Nevertheless, 2005’s “Kong” is more eye candy than “Skull” will ever be.

    With King Kong, Jackson inserted some real nasty CGI creatures in the form of giant bugs, “Scorpio-pedes”, and “Piranhadon”. Vogt-Roberts instead, goes the military route giving us an overly violent PG-13 flick that just gets by. Bottom line: I’m a sucker for 60’s/70’s rock tunes and “Skull” has that kind of a soundtrack (better yet, it’s obsessed with said soundtrack). Also, King Kong is a character that in any one of his movies, will never just go away. Nonetheless, I can’t quite give Kong: Skull Island a true recommendation. No need to rush out and visit this “island” any time soon. Rating: 2 stars.

    Rating: 2 out of 4 stars

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  • In addition to being arguably the most dramatic, spectacular and entertaining of the King Kong films, Kong:Skull Island is of special interest as an historical document. As any remake or sequel should, the film inflects the original material to express its current times. As the original Kong expressed the Depression anxieties this one reflects America’s post-Nam anxieties.
    The opening credits play against a montage of newsreel clips from the 1940s to the 1970s. That summarizes the social and political changes since the original King Kong film, where the beast was conquered by the beauty, Fay Wray (or as I always say, “Fay Wray from Cardston Alberta”). That Kong sniffed that helpless lady’s underwear. The new one softens to her facial caress and rallies to save her life, both by conquering the greater evil monster and by rescuing her from drowning.
    The film is set in the wake of the Vietnam war. That allows for some Credence Clearwater Revival and “White Rabbit” on the soundtrack, always good for the pulse, and a filial homage to Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. The Conrad and Marlow surnames evoke the latter film’s source, Heart of Darkness. The music also includes David Bowie, Ziggy Pop, etc., and works up and back to close on Vera Lynn’s 1940s ditty, “We’ll Meet Again.” These allusions provide a literary and musical history that parallels the political one in the film.
    The WW II leftover Hank Marlow functions like a time machine, having been isolated from his civilization for 30 years. He brings the Vera Lynn climax into the score, suggesting that history is a continuous cycle of wars, separations, reunions. The film’s first post-script is his magical reunion with his faithful wife and son, set apart from the main film as a small home movie.
    The second surveys the range of threatening unnatural monsters that populate our film world because they inhabit our minds. That is, they embody our primal fears as shaped by our own insecurities and our historical suffering and insecurity. Thus Hiroshima begat Godzilla, Motha, and that crew. That’s why Marlow names the subterranean dragons “Skull Crawlers” and why Kong rules over Skull Island. These monsters are creatures of our imagination, projections from our fears.
    The two senior army men are a contrast in sensitivity. Marlow has lived with the primitive tribe for so long he understands them — and they him — without speech. Marlow (here as in the Conrad novel) is the understanding mediator between the two cultures. These people’s closeness to their land is imaged when the camouflaged soldiers emerge from the walls. Marlow persuades the heroes Conrad anti-war photographer Mason Weaver to save Kong because that is Kong’s territory. He justly rules it. Moreover, the island, its people, indeed the whole world, would be imperilled by the underground dragons, were Kong unable to continue their suppression.
    In contrast, the army captain Preston Packard is the pathological fighter, determined to murder any Other in his path, determined to continue any murderous cycle to the end. Hence his mode of persuasion: You are going to tell me everything that I should know… or I blow you away.” Hence his delusion of insight: “I know an enemy when I see one.” He tries to stare down his monster enemies. Sad. He denies losing the Vietnam war: “We abandoned it.” He won’t leave this one however apocalyptic its conclusion. Fortunately the dragon chows down on him before he can blow up Kong.
    The two monsters whose battle royal provides the film’s climax parallel the recent politics especially in the Middle East. Bill Randa’s stubborn — and crooked — campaign to avenge his earlier loss recalls Dubya’s campaign against Hussein (“That man tried to kill my daddy”). Yes, “monsters exist,” but they really may be the hunters of the putative monsters.
    This film’s initial war is against the villain Kong. But his apparent, temporary defeat only unleashes the greater evil from the deep, the big dragon. The contemporary lesson is clear. If you don’t understand the alien culture don’t act as if you do. For then, erase one evil threat, such as, say, Hussein, and you only unleash a greater one, i.e. ISIS. Contemporary world politics needs a more sophisticated understanding.
    As well, Kong’s importance to his island’s people is a corrective to the usual American confidence that they can determine what another people need and want. Marlow teaches Conrad and Weaver to respect Kong as part of the alien culture, of which they have no understanding but which has as much right as they to survive and live their own way. Hence the recurring “We don’t belong here.” The King Kong story has always been a parable about colonialism. The present drama of American righteousness, ignorance and belligerence continues that tradition.

  • (RATING: ☆☆½ out of 5)

    GRADE: C

    THIS FILM IS MILDLY RECOMMENDED.

    IN BRIEF: Kong’s back…bigger and duller.

    SYNOPSIS: A expedition goes to explore a hellish island ruled by a very large primate.

    RUNNING TIME: 2 hr.

    JIM’S REVIEW: “Tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme, Beauty and”…wait a second…that’s the wrong beast movie! Hmm…let’s try again…”Is that a monkey?”…Yeah, now we have the right beauty and her beast tale. This remake, newly titled Kong: Skull Island, has no real love story or any remote emotional connection. Beauty does not kill the beast in this update. No, instead, we have boredom that kills the moviegoer.

    While the CGI is very well done, especially the immaculate detailing of matted fur and expressive eyes on our big silly ape, other features are sorely missing, like believable characters, a plot that makes sense, action sequences that build tension, dialog that sounds authentic. Would that the filmmakers had spent more energy and effort on a convincing script, the film could have at least been entertaining. It just wastes everyone’s time.

    The King Kong legend dates back to 1933, with numerous remakes (including the vastly superior one by Peter Jackson in 2005). But our reboot begins in 1943 before it fast forwards to 1973. The plot (as before) involves a group of explorers who venture unto a primitive island filled with monsters, historic beasts, and a big galoot of a gorilla.. This time, however, Kong rules over the island (sans the King, because no one likes a monarchy anymore). Not only is our ape “as big as a building”, he is literally a tree hugger who cares about ecological balance. When he feasts his eyes on the lovely Mason Weaver (Brie Larson, substituting for Fay Wray), there is no love interest. It’s more of a mutual admiration society, as if she is an active member in PETA.

    While no animals were injured in the making of this film, several fine actors have certainly damaged their reputations. Such talented actors like Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Shea Whigham, and the aforementioned Ms. Larson, are wasted in their underdeveloped roles. Only John C. Reilly succeeds in making his character interesting.(I also felt ill-at-ease with the direct link to Mr. Jackson and our stoic primate throughout the film. With their clenched fists and brooding glances, the Alt-Right might actually like the film’s subversive message.)

    Besides the fine special effects, the only other redeeming feature is the stunning cinematography by Larry Fong that does impress, although his photography aligns itself too frequently to Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now with its wartime imagery. But one has to admire that he set the bar high for his goal.

    The direction by Jordan Vogt-Roberts is not that lofty. It is merely adequate. He stages the action scenes well enough but relies to heavily with a 1970’s pop soundtrack that overstates everything. All seems rote and predictable. The dangers the characters face are not the least exciting as there is no build-up or tension. His pacing of the film is off-kilter. (The film takes a good half hour even before the mission begins.)

    However, the majority of the blame goes to its rightful source, the screenplay-by-committee team of Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, and Derek Connolly. They strand the actors on the island with banal conversation, long tedious exposition, and stock characters. (At one point, the travelers are warned about the giant ants on this isle, but they never make an appearance in this misguided adventure/fantasy. Nary a crumb in sight.)

    Kong: Skull Island is just not a very enjoyable movie experience. The CGI holds your interest momentarily, but there are no real scares or thrills in this monster movie. This Kong may be a lot bigger, but it’s not a whole lot better.

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