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Movie Review: Kong: Skull Island
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Kong Skull Island first image

Kong: Skull Island
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Screenwriter: Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly
Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Brie Larson, Jing Tian, Toby Kebbell, John Ortiz, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Shea Whigham, Thomas Mann, Terry Notary, John C. Reilly
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Rated PG | 118 Minutes
Release Date: March 10, 2017

“Hold onto your butts,” United States Army Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) proclaims as he and his squad act as a military escort for an expedition team that charts a newly discovered island. You may have heard that line before in Jurassic Park, but the anxiousness that swells over before the outcome is the same nonetheless. In fact, that’s the kind of feeling you get when watching Kong: Skull Island. The unconventional story of the King of the Monsters doesn’t rehash the story that has been retold countless times; instead, it focuses solely on the island itself and the monsters that inhabit it. Check out the full review below.

Kong: Skull Island is your basic get off the monster island alive kind of film. But the thing about what makes this so special is that it embraces the genre. It knows it’s a monster movie, and even though it is set within a much larger universe, it has no problem removing the restraints of being grounded. This film is balls-out crazy fun. There’s no need to make sense of it all because let’s face it, there’s no need to explain anything that goes on on this island. It’s more of a seeing is believing thing, and because the island has gone under the radar, discovering all the new sights can be exciting but also terrifying.

It’s 1973 and the Nixon administration is just now pulling out of the Vietnam War. With the Landsat operation just taking off, William “Bill” Randa (John Goodman), a senior official in the government organization Monarch, makes one final pitch to Senator Willis (Richard Jenkins) to get approval to chart an undiscovered island which is suspected of having hallowed ground. With his geological assistant, Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) and biologist San Lin (Jiang Tian) by his side, they assemble a team of that consists of: James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), a disillusioned former British Special Air Service Captain who served in the Vietnam War, who will act as their tracker; Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), a wartime photojournalist and peace activist, who will photograph the events but has her own agenda; and the Sky Devils, an elite military helicopter squadron led by Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson).

Their mission is to drop bombs onto the island to chart the land and identify new species. However, things quickly go south when the bombs alert the island’s protector, Kong. The towering beast goes on a rampage batting away the helicopters with ease and sometimes grabbing them without any problems, though he is shocked when the rotor blades cut him. Still, Kong swats them and as a result, the team is separated. With their only way back home arriving in three days, they must make the trek through the dangerous jungle which hides monsters they’ve never seen before.

Though we may have seen different iterations of the island throughout the history of Kong, one thing remains the same: the island has remained untouched by modern civilization. Man was not meant to set foot on this island, and as such, the island responds to foreign invaders the only way it knows how: by unleashing its beasts onto them. From giant spiders and squids to the ultra-creepy Skull Crawlers, anything that isn’t human is almost larger than life. And if it isn’t, it will most likely kill you anyway. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts made sure that we get the full scale of the monsters while our characters look in shock that anything that big actually exists. The towering sight of Kong goes to show just how powerless humans are when compared to the monsters that roam this island.

Kong: Skull Island definitely has elements of Apocalypse Now, such the time, the setting, and the use of napalm, which are all very appropriate to those themes. Stylistically, this is not like any other Kong movie we’ve seen before. It is a giant adrenaline rush that kicks in right from the moment the helicopter team is struck down by Kong. And though there are brief moments of reprieve, it doesn’t take very long for the action to start back up again. It’s very stylized and perfectly mixed with a great 1970s soundtrack that anyone would rock out to get the blood flowing.

Still, no film is without its flaws, and this one’s lie within its cast and the multiple teams with missions on the island. Tom Hiddleston’s disillusioned yet dashing James Conrad is one-dimensional, and while he spends a lot of time in the center of the action, it’s not nearly as exciting to see when Reilly is slicing up Skull Crawlers with his samurai sword. Brie Larson is great, strong, and fearless, and doesn’t adhere to the damsel in distress trope. She holds her own in this one. John C. Reilly steals the show, as a WWII fighter pilot who has been stranded on the island for two decades. Basically, a man out of time who doesn’t realize that the world has moved from swing time music to rock and roll, and sees USA and Russia in the middle Cold War, to which he thinks it has something to do with temperature. It plays very well on screen. Samuel L. Jackson plays a non-traditional antagonist channeling Moby Dick’s Captain Ahab with a slight touch of Apocalypse Now‘s Colonel Kurtz.

But a good two-thirds of the film is spent on the three teams (yes there’s three) trying to meet up with each other. And even then, there is plenty of practices in stupidity. The film even goes meta by acknowledging someone should run along the path of a charging Kong – isn’t it about time these people learn how to serpentine? It makes sense coming from someone like Packard, but from everyone else, it’s very questionable. But having three different groups trying to reconvene did a lot more harm for the narrative. The pacing is thrown off almost immediately when the story goes from Conrad’s group to Chapman (Toby Kebbell), and even then, we barely spend enough time with him to care about his situation.

Still, when the film gets to the fight between Kong and the Skull Crawlers, it is something very exciting to watch. Director of Photography Larry Fong‘s attention to detail really shows as audiences are transported to exotic sights from Red Light Districts to jungles, everything you see has a slight touch of intrigue and beauty. And it is enough to overlook some of those distracting flaws.

Kong: Skull Island may take place before the events of Gareth Edward’s Godzilla, but it does set the tone for the King of Monsters universe that WB and Legendary are creating. Vogt-Roberts made up for what Edward’s Godzilla lacked in monster screen time. There’s plenty of monster mashing to go around, but there’s also some pacing issues that future films will need to address. Nobody really cares about the humans, and even then, don’t split them up into too many groups because that just takes away more screen time from everyone wants to see: a good ol’ fashioned b-rated movie monster beat down. Fortunately, there is an after-credits scene that teases what’s to come and hopefully, by then we will get to see who is crowned King of the Monsters.

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