Directed by Jordan Vogt-Robert
February 28, 2017 (Empire, Leicester Square) / March 10, 2017 (United States)
An expedition in 1973 to the mysterious storm shrouded Skull Island uncovers the existence of a giant ape and savage monsters.
This is not a remake of any previous Kong film but rather a reimagining/reboot that places the character in a new era. That gave me pause since I really love the original. “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” as they say. Fortunately no serious harm was done.
One thing to appreciate about this giant monster movie is that it is not a series of giant monster battles strung together by a group of two-dimensional characters fleeing falling buildings and giant feet. Jordan Vogt-Robert builds the characters and relationships. We are invested enough in them that when one invariably gets killed off we feel bad.
We get characters that we care about in an actual story with shades of Moby Dick. I am not saying necessarily those themes, but Lt. Col. Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) could be viewed as Captain Ahab and the white whale is Kong. One could also view Packard’s desire to kill Kong as representative of what would come in entertainment where characters would “win” the Vietnam War.
Keeping with rehashing the Vietnam War we have Brie Larson as anti-war photographer and investigative journalist Mason Weaver. I remember during the 80s just about every film whose story ventured beyond America’s borders refought or relitigated Vietnam. It bordered on cliché. The character of Weaver has brought that trope into the modern era.
Tom Hiddleston plays the prerequisite damaged soldier. His character of James Conrad is an ex-British Special Air Service Captain who served in the Vietnam War with the Australian Special Air Service Regiment. He is a super tough loner they find in a seedy bar. I think I may have seen this movie already.
John C. Reilly plays U.S. Army Air Forces Lt. Hank Marlow who has been marooned on Skull Island since WWII along with a Japanese pilot named Gunpei Ikari portrayed by Miyavi who has since been killed by one of the island’s creatures. The character waffles between comic relief uttering kinda crazy things because he has been on the island so long and serious character. Reilly was better as crazed, and I wish they had stuck with that. They were darkly comic moments and they worked best with his skill set. Actor Will Brittain portrays a younger version of Marlow and also plays Marlow’s son in an end credits scene.
The story though is just okay though. It is not bad, but it does not feel epic. Then again I am not sure what you can do stuck on an isolated island. What you really come to these movies for are the monster battles and they are amazing in this film! The major problem with the majority of King Kong (can I call him that here?) films in the past is that they were limited by the effects technology of the day. You either had a guy in a gorilla suit battling other people in monster costumes or some use of puppetry or stop motion animation all of which have serious drawbacks when it comes to keeping the viewer immersed in what is going on.
While I have a strong preference for practical effects, this is one instance where I can put that preference aside. There is no way practical effects of any type could be as good as what they do with CGI here. It is a throwdown drag out fight with Kong and the monsters and Kong and the helicopters and Kong and anything. You cannot get that kind of realism and intensity doing things the old way. Stop motion would be choppy. Puppetry would probably be slow. And the guy in a costume always looks like a guy in a costume.
Costuming was great. Specifically the Iwi (the tribes people Marlow lived with) on Skull Island. It looked like I was watching a National Geographic special. I am guessing there was some research done to make them look realistic and not what some isolated director or film executive thinks they should look like.
In Kong: Skull Island they certainly craft an otherworldly island here. I was especially freaked out by the spiders with legs that looked like bamboo tree trunks. That freaked me out. They manage to keep the jungle adventure style that the original film had. The pacing of this film is great. It just builds and builds and builds. Packard and Kong are set on a collision course and it works.
Kong: Skull Island is a great giant monster movie. It has got great special effects and great action. While the story is only just okay this is still a watch it film!