Saturday, September 23, 2017

Kong: Skull Island (2017) manages to break free from Reboot Island

Kong: Skull Island 2017 Movie Review
Warner Bros. Pictures
We all know a cat supposedly has nine lives, but how many does an oversized ape have? It's a question Hollywood keeps asking whether movie goers want the answer (as much money as the studios can pummel out...) or not. So far there's been nineteen versions of the behemoth known as King Kong, and the latest edition Kong: Skull Island lands right in the middle as an amusing, but not entirely original flick.

This version is set in the 1970s with a government organization called Monarch investigating ancient myths and entities. Its leader William Randa (John Goodman) recruits a team of scientists and military men on a expedition to an exotic island where he believes evidence of prehistoric animals exist. The group abruptly encounters Kong among other beings that are not too happy about mankind disturbing the peace.

Among the otherKong movies, the action is where this one really stands out. Kong makes his introduction as massive silhouette enveloping a fiery sunset playing tennis with the crew's helicopters. The first several minutes he's on-screen is a completely wild ride, and his presence never wanes from there on. He doesn't dominate the movie by himself as an unpredictable mix of giant spiders and lizard-beings hint that there's much bigger forces at play in how this island operates. Even though the creatures might be CGI, the epic choreography and cinematography in subsequent fight scenes are visually awesome and offer some gorgeous set-ups, something that is often missing in similar movies.

While Skull Island's monsters are more than flat effects, its actual humans lack depth. The ensemble has a typical variety of tough guys, wanna-be feminists, nerds, and "red shirts" who are at least a little engaging, but they also fall a little too easy into tropes. The leads with Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, and Samuel L. Jackson occupies most of the screentime, but nothing really comes out of them except their sympathetic or vengeful attachment to Kong. Hiddleston and Larson are subtle heroes/adventurers, but don't have a lot of oomph compared to other stars in this genre. The guns-a-blazing schtick is mostly left to Jackson, whose arc drags on a little too much. They aren't entirely lovable or hateable, but just there to watch.

For any type of performance one might expect to stand out, John C. Reilly as a long-lost World War II pilot living among the island's native tribes easily wins all of the attention. He's so out of the loop on the changing times and desperately trying to get back to the real world, managing to be funny and endearing. Even smaller characters like Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) and San Lin (Jing Tian) as geologist/biologist hang out in the background for the most part, but I still really enjoyed them. If a sequel were ever to be made, it'd be interesting if they can be and do more than what they're offered here.

Outside of the action, Skull Island also remodels itself by not focusing on a big, not-so-bad ape running wild on New York City streets, and letting him reign supreme on an isolated paradise. Kong is a mere protector for other exotic creatures from underground monsters called Skullcrawlers - there's a hierarchy in this environment, one that our scouting crew ultimately disrupts. The allegory of humans overestimating that we own everything we set our sights on, or think that things out of our realm are naturally dangerous, is very subtle. There's even vacant nods and connections to the highly criticized U.S. involvement in the Vietnam war that offer a little depth that some characters lack. The use of beasties are special-effects driven, but it's fun to see what's churned out, and watch Kong acting more than a circus animal or destructive monster on display in his "previous roles".

Hollywood is made up of so many remakes these days, it's hard to keep them straight. Kong alone has twenty movies under his massive belt, but Skull Island isn't the worst of its kind or the worst that this ongoing franchise has come up with. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts manages to make an adventure that's not in your face nor entirely forgettable. The cast and script could've been a little bit more polished, but there's some entertaining elements at bay that helps it escape from Reboot Island.

Rating: ★★½
Have you seen Kong: Skull Island? What did you think?

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