Kong: Skull Island and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros Pictures
Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Truth be told I’ve always been more of a Godzilla fan, and while the recent Shin Godzilla was pretty good (if a bit disjointed and tonally uneven) the American film with Gareth Edwards wasn’t so much. Now Warner Bros is trying to create yet another Expanded Cinematic Universe (because the DCCU is working out SO well for them) and this is in some ways a sequel… or prequel I guess… to the 2014 Godzilla film. Does this manage to make up for the mistakes of that film while setting the groundwork for future monster movies to come, or are we much better off watching that 1962 film where the two of them duked it out and threw rocks at each other? Admittedly that wouldn’t be the WORST thing to do as it’s still pretty freaking awesome, but let’s find out!!
The movie starts by introducing us to Bill Randa (John Goodman) who is the head of Monarch; an organization that is hell bent on proving the existence of monsters. They’ve hit a rough patch, mostly due to them never finding any monsters, but 1973 just might be the year they turn things around! They have some satellite images of a heretofore unknown island which may or may not contain resources that the government can use in their fight against the Russians, and Monarch wants to tag along with another organization already headed there for some basic geological research. Actually, all Bill wants to do is find monsters, but the US government gives them the go ahead to tag along and to also bring a military squadron who JUST SO HAPPEN to be one day away from heading back home from Vietnam. Of course the commander Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L Jackson) is thrilled at the opportunity as he doesn’t seem too interested in leaving the war, but those under his command which includes Jack Chapman (Toby Kebbell) are less so. Still, they follow the orders that are given to them and they are even joined by former British SAS bad ass James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) who’s supposed to be an expert tracker and photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) who somehow manages to be a part of this expedition as well. The crew packs up, they fly to the mysterious island that is colorfully known as Skull Island, and IMMEDIATLEY get their asses kicked by Kong who mows down all their helicopters; leaving all of the name actors but only a handful of army and scientist extras. Along their travels, they run into even MORE monsters, find a World War 2 fighter pilot who’s been trapped on the island for almost two decades (John C Reilly), and ultimately have to come up with a way to escape the island before their one chance of rescue passes them by. Can the remaining survivors make it off the island before they become monster food, or will some of them refuse to leave until Kong is dead? Just what is Kong fighting on this island when he’s not swatting down humans? Most importantly, WHEN ARE WE GONNA GET A NEW GODZILLA VS KING KONG MOVIE!?
After seeing this movie, I’m worried that Leonardo DeCaprio has been messing around inside my brain, because EVERYTHING about this movie is exactly what I would want to see from a big budget monster movie that would be within the realm of possibilities. Sadly, they couldn’t get Nicolas Cage and Solid Snake to be in this, but other than that it’s like Leo knocked me out and extracted a transcript from my subconscious. Now all that said, it’s not a perfect movie, and while I really can’t think of any flaws with it as it manages to hit all the notes I would want it to, it feels a bit… standard I guess? As much as I love everything in here and wouldn’t really want to change anything for fear of throwing off the exquisite balance this movie maintains, to bring up to THE NEXT LEVEL, the movie would have had to surprise me in some way, and everything in here feels like stuff we’ve seen before; hence why this is EXACTLY something I KNEW I wanted instead of something I didn’t realize I NEEDED. Now that kind of criticism is what I call Praising with faint Damning (see what I did there?) as I tend to be overly critical of something even if I absolute LOVE it, and that’s no exception here. If nothing else, it kicks the CRAP out of the last King Kong movie and ESPECIALLY that last Godzilla movie that this is supposed to be in continuity with.
It’s kind of surprising that a big budget movie like this managed to break convention as far as how current big budgeted epics tend to go. There’s nothing particularly “safe” about this movie other than the Kong license, and while the Peter Jackson movie DID make a lot of money, there’s not a lot of people who were clamoring for more from this character. Hell, just take a look at The Legend of Tarzan which is ALSO from a franchise that was wildly popular in the past to see how poorly a property like this can be brought to the modern age. In a cinematic landscape that sells its biggest tent poles on epic yet familiar grandeur wrapped up in incredibly recognizable and bankable properties, the existence of this weird, dark, funny, and decidedly old school monster flick feels like an aberration that will hopefully work the same way that Deadpool managed to conquer the box office despite being the opposite of a safe and predictable superhero movie. Now in all fairness, it’s not THAT extreme of a departure from other mainstream films (damn thing cost almost two hundred million) and in fact one of the only real things I can fault it for is for hewing a bit too close to the monster movies that inspired it, but there places where they take a few risks or the places where they go for a little extra vibrancy and saturation are what set this movie apart from everything else out there. Basically, it’s exactly what that new Power Rangers movie SHOULD and the exact opposite of the cowardly decisions to smooth out all the rough edges that that movie seems to have made, though I guess we’ll find out in a few weeks.
That’s all rather vague and high level stuff right there, so let’s get into the nitty gritty of what ACTUALLY makes this movie so freaking awesome! First, you’ve got a lot of really talented actors here who know how to turn over the top into an art form which is perfect for the tone this movie is trying to set. John Goodman, Samuel Jackson, Brie Larson, John C Riley, they even managed to snag Toby Kebbell who was already in a big budgeted monkey movie! Seriously, when your hansom leading man is freaking Loki, you know you’ve done something right, and the performances across the board are incredibly solid. Now to be fair, most of the actors don’t have the kind of material to work with to mine for much emotional depth as the characters are pretty much archetypes of the giant monster movie genre, but they still manage to give a lot of life and personality to the performances which carry us through the movie. Even the REALLY cartoonish and mismatched best buddies in the group (Mills and Cole played by Jason Mitchell and Shea Whigham) are a delight to watch on screen even if their performances are damn near vaudevillian. The one character though who DOES manage to have a degree of emotional depth to them (besides King himself) is John C Reilly’s Hank Marlow who’s history on the island and all the scars it left him with shine through even when he’s being charmingly goofy. The guy doesn’t really get as much credit for his acting as he deserves which admittedly is in part due to the career choices he’s made (seriously, you don’t have to say yes EVERY time Tim and Eric call), but if you take a look at some of his less prominent roles where he’s either a supporting character in a big movie or the main character in a smaller one you’ll see just how much talent this guy really has. It’s no exception here as Hank manages to be the heart and soul of the movie, and the way his story ends is so emotionally satisfying that it threatens to make you tear up in a movie primarily about a giant monkey fighting lizard monsters.
Speaking of the action, HOLY SHIT DOES THIS MOVIE HAVE SOME AMAZING MONSTERS IN IT! There are a lot of things that go into making the big budget action scenes in here so enjoyable, but what stood out to me as the scope of everything; not just in terms of size, but in threat as well. Things weren’t just BIG; they were very dangerous and death could come at a moment’s notice which kept the tension up throughout, and yet it’s not so dark and dour in its sense of hopelessness that it forgets to have a good time when things inevitably hit the fan. As scary as that giant spider may be, the way it initially dispatches with some of the humans is as humorous as it is gruesome, and the money poured into this clearly shines through considering how well everything is staged and edited together.
This movie is so good that the only complaint I can really come up with is that it’s not even better, and while that argument is clearly meant to be facetious, it does have a bit of merit in THIS instance. There’s not much that I would say doesn’t work in this, but the whole structure feels rather weightless as there doesn’t seem to be much of an arc to this movie. It’s basically just a travelogue of these unfortunate bastards stuck on an island where everything wants to kill them which is fine for a monster movie like this, but it also means that of the dozen or so characters in this, not many of them feel much more than disposable. Sure, you’ve got some decent material just under the surface of these clichés like John Goodman and Samuel L Jackson having a clear if irrational vendetta against Kong, and the way the movie toys with being an allegory for Vietnam (or at the very least indulging in the trapping of Vietnam movies), but it’s rather obvious that it’s less a collection of characters trying to survive an impossible situation than it is a series of action figures who are only on hand to be smashed into the dirt. Thankfully a lot of this is helped by John C Reilly’s character being so strong that it ALMOST manages to carry everything else, but the movie feels like it needed just a little bit more going on to feel like a SUPERB film rather than just a celebration of the genre.
This movie is an absolute blast even if it won’t turn out to win best picture at the Oscars. On the sliding scale of big budget blockbusters from someone OTHER than Disney, this is probably going to be one of the better ones of the year; especially when it’s competition includes Power Rangers and yet another Transformers movie. Go out to the theater and see it RIGHT NOW! Seriously, stop reading this review and watch this movie which is exactly the kind of film they built theaters for in the first place! I’M SERIOUS! GO! IT’S AWESOME!!