We laud and admire explorers who dare
To venture to regions unknown,
Who journey to jungles with risk in the air
Where most men would heed all the signs to beware,
But not they who roam to the eye of nowhere
And cherish each uncharted zone.
Yet one thing to note of these men who beseech
The thrill of what’s hidden ahead:
Although they may find every mountain and beach
And give all the teachers more titles to teach
And seek out the truths that lie just out of reach,
Most of them do end up dead.
MPAA rating: PG-13 (some of the violence is rather strong, though)
If you thought the world didn’t need another remake of King Kong, you’d be right, but that’s not about to stop Hollywood. Following 2014’s Godzilla and paving the way for 2020’s Godzilla vs. Kong prize fight of the so-called MonsterVerse, Kong: Skull Island isn’t the same story in past films featuring the giant ape. There’s no film crew, no screaming damsel in distress, no Empire State Building, so it might seem that Kong: Skull Island simply features a different (and much larger) version of the character and isn’t an actual remake. But it is, just a remake of the first half of the original King Kong tale, that being the story of ill-fated visitors to Kong’s home of giant critters. As much as the film tries to make a whole out of this half-story, it doesn’t quite work.
Those ill-fated visitors include a team of surveyors, a military escort fresh from Vietnam, and a few scientists from Monarch (the secret monster-studying organization from Godzilla), all led by the shady desire of Bill Randa (John Goodman) to explore the newly discovered Skull Island. There are plenty of big names here, from Goodman to Tom Hiddleston’s manly tracker to Brie Larson’s intrepid photojournalist to Samuel L. Jackson’s overly devoted army commander, boasting plenty of Jacksonian intensity. In addition, the Vietnam War-era setting warrants a great soundtrack of 1970s rock staples that make the team assembly of the first half quite enjoyable and promising. And when we actually see Kong himself, skyscraper-sized and none too happy about the unwanted guests and their explosives, it’s an action-packed debut that reminds us how frightening a giant gorilla can be.
Yet as the film wears on, and the dangers of Skull Island make themselves known, it becomes clear that this is less of an adventure movie and more of a CGI-laden horror film. Oversized creatures take out redshirt after redshirt, often in gruesome ways, until the only source of mystery is who’s going to be on the menu next. By the time one unsuspecting fellow was carried off by lizard birds and torn apart in silhouette, my VC had had enough of the carnage and didn’t want to keep watching. It might help if the characters had some meat to them (literal or otherwise), but they’re really only there as potential beast fodder, even Hiddleston and Larson whose roles are clearly main character material yet don’t really go anywhere. It was also annoying that the military immediately makes the stupid decision in these films of “shoot the giant monster” instead of retreating, like any sensible person would in that situation.
There are bright spots. John C. Reilly livens up the cast significantly as a castaway stranded on the island since World War II, offering some good heart and humor and exposition for the island’s inhabitants, including a tribe of natives much more sympathetically depicted than in past versions. The big battles with Kong are also CGI wonders, perhaps not on par with Peter Jackson’s triple T. Rex fight but still marvelous to watch.
Despite the relatively positive reviews for both Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island, I’m still not sold on this MonsterVerse franchise. The monsters created are well visualized with properly awesome action, but the human characters are thin as paper. It’s not a good sign when the scene played during the end credits has more human interest than the whole rest of the film. And I have other questions, like “How are Kong and Godzilla supposed to battle when Godzilla is still much bigger?” or “Will it turn out the same as the 1962 Japanese version of King Kong vs. Godzilla?” or “Will none of the surviving characters from Skull Island return, considering they will have aged between the ‘70s and the modern-day time frame of Godzilla?” Basically, Kong: Skull Island is about a bunch of people who go to an island, and a lot of them die. There has to be more than that for me to care.
Best (and most ironic) line: (Randa, as hippies in D.C. protest the war) “Mark my words. There’ll never be a more screwed up time in Washington.”
Rank: Honorable Mention
© 2017 S.G. Liput
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