JUST A BIG MONKEY
Film Review by Fiore
KONG: SKULL ISLAND proves the collaboration between Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures should never have dissolved. These two companies are powerhouses when combined. Together, they reimagined the origins of GODZILLA, under the tutelage of Gareth Edwards. Now, they have recreated the legend of King Kong with Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts. Thankfully, the two studios have agreed to partner throughout the Toho monster series, which includes the upcoming GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS and GODZILLA VS. KONG.
KONG: SKULL ISLAND is a great monster movie. It’s filled with a quality cast, action, monsters and a fair amount of humor. It deviates drastically from the Kong we all know and love. Gone are the classical references to BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, and Kong’s trip to civilization, where he meets his eventual end. In much the same way as GODZILLA, KONG: SKULL ISLAND establishes Kong as a defender of the Earth, which should make for an interesting story line when the two collide in 2021.
Thanks to satellite imaging, a new island is discovered in the South Pacific. Since it’s the 1970’s, American scientist Bill Randa (John Goodman), convinces the government to sponsor an expedition to the island before the Russians arrive there. As scientist go, Randa is a bit of a loon, believing the Earth belongs to a collection of giant monsters who live in ‘hollow Earth’. This concept, which borrows from Tolkien’s LORD OF THE RINGS, actually bears a closer resemblance to Edgar Rice Burroughs legendary PELUCIDAR.
Armed with taxpayer money, Randa collects a motley crew of misfits for the expedition. They include two burned out Vietnam war vets, Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston). Tossed into the mix to provide a female role and an activist anti-war agenda is Mason Weaver (Brie Larson). She’s basically there to show all the men how to behave and not be a photo-journalist because during most of the action, she never uses her camera.
To set off the Weaver character’s uselessness, there is Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), a WWII veteran who has been abandoned on Skull Island for over 28 years. He provides comic relief throughout most of the film, and especially when the script and its continuity fail. There are also a series of folk, who if they were on STAR TREK, would all be wearing red shirts.
1.1 KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. FINAL FIGHT WITH SKULL LIZARD
2. BATTLE WITH THE CHOPPERS
3. DISCOVERY OF HANK MARLOW
Screenwriters Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein and Derek Connolly offer a script intended for comic book readers. Randa’s monster theories are inadequately presented; the Packard snapping is given short-shrift; there is no explanation why Marlow lives with the natives on Skull Island for nearly thirty years yet still can’t speak their language; there is really no purpose for Conrad’s bravado, save for a totally unnecessary scene where he robs Marlow of his only weapon to run through toxic gas chopping at deformed Pterodactyls; the Russian element, crucial to the expedition’s purpose, is forgotten at the film’s conclusion, save for an inappropriate blackmail attempt by the activist.
Despite the script flaws, the technical aspects of KONG: SKULL ISLAND are exceptional. Vogt-Roberts assembled two veterans from AVATAR, including Stephen Rosenbaum from Industrial Light and Magic, who conceived the new Kong and Stefan Dechant as production designer. Richard Pearson edits the film at break-neck speed while Larry Fong handles the cinematography.
Truth be told, I’ve always had a problem with Kong. When the bottom line is reached, he’s just a big monkey. In fact, outside of the water ox, he’s the lamest creature on Skull Island. The only reason I rank the original Kong as one of the all-time greats is Kong’s interaction with dinosaurs, which are always cooler than monkeys, and the film’s themes of the American dream: “It's money and adventure and fame. It's the thrill of a lifetime and a long sea voyage that starts at six o'clock tomorrow morning,” and Beauty and the Beast tomes: “Some big, hardboiled egg gets a look at a pretty face and bang, he cracks up and goes sappy!” (Quotes from Carl Denham)
After the original, Hollywood destroyed the Kong persona. “He was a king and a god in the world he knew, but now he comes to civilization merely a captive - a show to gratify your curiosity.” He became an impudent child in SON OF KONG, and that portrayal was manifested further in MIGHTY JOE YOUNG.
Toho studios brought Kong out of retirement to fight Godzilla in a movie that needed two different endings to appease Eastern and Western audiences. Toho brought Kong back in KING KONG ESCAPES, where he fought a mechanical Kong, which would later manifest into MechaGodzilla. Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange resurrected a Kong that obviously wasn’t a man in a bad costume in KING KONG, but the big ape was merely a co-star next to the film’s anti-oil propaganda. So after his first film appearance, Kong is nothing more than a celluloid weenie. Peter Jackson resurrected the original with aplomb, and still today his KING KONG is the only film I can watch which stars Jack Black.
Let’s take a look at the report card for KONG: SKULL ISLAND:
ACTING = B
CINEMATOGRAPHY = A
SOUND/MUSIC = A
EDITING = A
LIGHTING = B
SCRIPT = D
SFX = A
ACTION = A
I’ll readily admit my bias toward Kong. This new version takes all the elements that made the creature noble in the original, and discards them. This new tale features a great soundtrack filled with classic rock tunes and a climactic battle between Kong and the Skull Lizard that will rival anything on Smackdown Live, including the use of foreign objects. It also sets up the rest of the films in the planned MonsterVerse quite nicely. The problem is, when all is said and done, Kong is just a big monkey.