Thursday, March 9, 2017

Kong: Skull Island

Far more focused than Peter Jackson's bloated three-hour mess, Kong: Skull Island is a film with a clear agenda of what it is and what it wants to do. Sadly, King Kong hasn't had the greatest career in the movies with far more disappointments than successes. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts and screenwriters Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, and Derek Connolly strip away much of the Kong story to focus only on the discovery of the giant ape and the mysterious island which is also home to other monstrous beasts the outside world can only imagine.

Piggybacking on a separate government geological survey, a small group from the secret government organization called Monarch heads to the unexplored island hidden behind constant storms. In the peaceful eye of that storm Randa (John Goodman), Brooks (Corey Hawkins), the mostly silent San (Tian Jing), their military escort led by the obsessed Lt. Col. Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), the mercenary-with-a-heart-of-gold guide (Tom Hiddleston), and their anti-war photographer (Brie Larson) discover the impossible. Monsters are real, and chief among them is one very large ape.

Kong: Skull Island is a B-movie horror flick that knows what it is and doesn't attempt to try and be anything more. What makes it work is that Vogt-Roberts knows just what story he wants to tell and doesn't let anything else get in the way. The film is a streamlined horror film with humans on the run, amazed and horrified by what they find on the sleepy isle. Aside from the early scenes of putting together the mission and cobbling together the team, the entire movie takes place on Skull Island as they are attacked from all sides by monsters which include giant prehistoric lizards and one very very large primate who isn't fond of trespassers.

The movie isn't high art, although the film does make the most of its 70s style. It's simply a story of survival. Are the human characters a bit too cliche? Sure, but since you know most of them are likely to be little more than monster food it's not too big of a concern. Jackson is in full scene-chewing mode as Packard becomes obsessed with destroying the monster who brought down his men. John C. Reilly proves to be humorous comic relief as a WWII veteran stranded for two decades on the island with knowledge and experience the newcomers aren't always willing to accept. And it wouldn't be a Kong movie without a beautiful girl, but Larson brings some tomboy swagger to the role which involves more this time around than just turning the giant ape's head.

While Larson, Hiddleston, Jackson, and Reilly drive the human part of the story there is no doubt that Kong is its star. We've come a long way with both CGI and the expressions and feats of strength help flesh out the silent guardian's character. Despite spending far less time to make Kong feel human than Peter Jackson, this film suceeds simply by letting Kong be Kong. The movie does fall into a bit of a trap in its final act where the extended CGI spectacle takes over a bit too much, but whether wrestling a giant squid or starring into a woman's eyes, this Kong is always impressive.

A couple of final notes. First, while I don't think it necessary to see the film in IMAX 3D, I will say the scale and scope is impressive on the larger screen. And second, don't leave before the credits. These days studios have gotten audiences to stick around for the mere possibility of a end credit sequence. Not only does Kong: Skull Island have one, but it's actually better than what Marvel has given us lately. The scene (along with one throwaway line of dialogue from earlier in the movie) not only offers us a reason why the film takes place in the 70s, but also teases the possibility of a fanboy's wet dream. If it's as good as Kong: Skull Island, sign me up.

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