Kong: Skull Island
Everything nowadays has to have a 'universe' and, apparently, now the big, old, famous monsters are no different. The "MonsterVerse", slowly being created by producers Legendary Entertainment, currently includes 2014's Godzilla and now 2017's Kong: Skull Island. A sequel to Godzilla is on the horizon in 2019 and then the two big bastards will fight each other in 2020's Godzilla Vs. Kong.
While normally I might scoff at such a thing, just because:
- These have all been done a bazillion times before and
- Movies should be about telling a good story and not about simply having release dates and spectacle,
Having seen Kong: Skull Island last night, I am all for it. In a big, bad way.
I am for it because I want to see new Godzilla fight new King Kong. A lot! More than once! and hearing that Legendary also have the rights to use Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah as well, then fuck it! let's have an Avengers style film in 2022 where Kong and Godzilla join forces to kick the shit out of those guys, heck throw MechaGodzilla and Gamera in there as well. Let's go hog wild!
One thing though guys, just a suggestion... either just have it be 90% monsters fighting or find someone who can write characters and mad one liners because Kong: Skull Island massively lacked that.
I was not surprised to see that one of the writers on this, a twelve year old by the name of Derek Connolly, also worked on Jurassic World because I was going to make that comparison with Skull Island. Jurassic World worked only when the big monsters were around and especially at the end where they just started fighting each other, humans be damned.
Now Kong: Skull Island worked because of three things and that was:
- It looked incredible - Seriously. It's the best cinematography and digital effects of a movie of this kind that I've seen.
- Kong and the monster fights were awesome - the monster fights, oh hells yes the monster fights! They set my little nerd heart a flutter!
- John C Reilly.
And that was really it. If you had taken one or more of those elements away from it, I would not be so excited at the prospect of the whole MonsterVerse.
The movie is filled with cool inside references from costumes "ape-ing" costumes from the original King Kong, to character names referencing Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and, of course, from the marketing of the film to the era it's set in, the whole thing reeks of one of my favourite films of all time, Apocalypse Now.
There's also a sequence where Kong fights a giant octopus that was amazing. Obviously referencing the 1962 movie King Kong Vs. Godzilla but also it looked incredible. Like a pulp magazine cover from the 50s come to life. I was in cinematic heaven!
Monster movies should, rightfully, always be about the monster. The best ones, however, always have a group of stereotypes spouting joyous, cliche one liners, making the movie flow smoother and providing a little comic relief.
Sadly Kong: Skull Island had enough of an understanding of the genre to set up a whole bunch of pleasing human stereotypes but not the talent or balls to write them any decent lines and/or character. It also had enough understanding of fan favourite casting but then gave them little to nothing to sink their acting chops into.
- John Goodman - shady government professor/scientist - had no character development, no skills and simply served as exposition delivery system to get them to the island.
- Samuel L Jackson - Grizzled army lifer who never wanted wanted to leave 'Nam and is now looking for any excuse to kill things - literally all we know about the man. That's his whole character.
- Tom Hiddleston - ex-sas super tracker who never went home because his war/inner turmoil is never quite done - Hiddlesnooze is horribly miscast here, he's always mostly bland as beige trousers and here he's even more so. He gets about 3 lines, inexplicably knows where every thing is, on an island that he's never been to before without ever even consulting a map, and has a style and a hair cut that neither says 1973, British SAS or roguish adventurer. Presumably meant to be the Indiana Jones/Han Solo type and just like Chris Pratt, who has been cast in those roles before (Guardians and Jurassic World), Harrison Ford is proving himself a very tough act to replace.
- Brie "I'm in everything now despite being chronically dull" Larson - Presumably meant to be the feisty liberal, go-getter, feminist, photo journalist looking for the next new story and some roguish hunk to trade witty quips with. Sort of a Karen Allen/Sigourney Weaver type. - Brie Larson has neither the acting chops nor the script here to do anything other than function as the occasional voice of reason and, inevitably, the damsel who is the human conduit to Kong.
- John C Reilly - Mad old chap, stranded on the island years earlier, with comical beard and confused ideas about the world outside - By far the best human character in the film. Yes he basically acts as a built-in Skull Island exposition delivery system but either the script, or I suspect Reilly himself, who is a deft improviser, remembered to pepper his convenient knowledge of everything with the odd joke or crazy non-sequitur.
The rest of the cast was filled with mostly unknowns and Shea Whigham and actually, they were all pretty good. Not that you could tell any of them apart in the script but certainly in performance and costume, they were a neat little supporting ensemble who had clearly given themselves all a little character to inhabit that expanded them a little beyond cannon fodder.
The time in the edit suite, and at least a third of the budget, was clearly spent picking out groovy, era-appropriate rock songs to accompany a lot of the scenes. So much so that hearing the jangly opening to yet another Creedence, Bowie or Black Sabbath track, sort of started taking me out of the film and making me chuckle. Yes it's cool as fuck but at a certain point it becomes a little obvious.
What the film was crying out for was some amazing, booming, orchestral score to signify what the audience should be feeling emotionally, as the script and story were straining to do that. I was siding with Kong, I was always going to side with Kong because I am a monster movie geek but I really could've done with some stirring, heart wrenching or fist pumping music to help the whole thing along. Henry Jackman's score was sadly lacking in that area. When in doubt, producers, call Brian Tyler, the John Williams of our times, a man who understands that a big blockbuster needs a kick ass, Philharmonic, booming, over the top, hum-able score!
All that being said, it is a beautifully shot, fantastically enjoyable, monster movie blockbuster that I enjoyed the hell out of. During the final fight between Kong and the Skull Crawler I was in the edge of my seat like it was fight night and I was ring side!
After the catastrophic misstep that was 2016 I have realised that movies will probably never be what I would ideally want them to be again. So I am trying hard to retrain my brain and enjoy what I can about a film rather than be irritated by what I don't. It won't always be possible of course but, for me 2017 is off to a great start and I am enjoying going to the cinema again. 6 months ago I wasn't interested in a single thing and now I have a list as long as my arm of movies I am excited to see.
Kong: Skull Island was far from perfect and even pretty far from ideal but it was enjoyable, exciting, stunning to look at, had some interesting ideas behind it. Now I can't wait for 2020 to see the big fella go head to head with Godzilla!!