Kong: Skull Island Digital
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When a scientific expedition to an uncharted island awakens titanic forces of nature, a mission of discovery becomes an explosive war between monster and man. Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John Goodman and John C. Reilly star in a thrilling and original new adventure that reveals the untold story of how Kong became King.
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A monster movie and proud of it, "Kong: Skull Island" really lives up to its name, as we follow a group of likable - if not slightly underdeveloped - characters to an uncharted island, where they are quickly introduced to the BIGGEST Kong ever put to film, along with a harrowing variety of other giant monsters. Split up and with a few days to go before planned rescue arrives, our tiny human visitors find themselves on the menu for just about everything in sight, and their only hope to survive may rest with the very beast that stranded them. With Samuel L. Jackson as a war colonel with a thirst for revenge, John Goodman as a ridiculed lone survivor, Brie Larson as an adventurous photographer, and John C. Reilly as a WW2 veteran, the star-studded cast makes for a fun ensemble, and though the storytelling and characters may only ever feel secondary . . . . well, that's because they ARE secondary. This is Kong's movie, and in case you're not convinced of just how badass he is, believe me, he makes DAMN sure you're convinced by the end.
Brimming with spectacle and amazing special effects, this new entry in Legendary's planned "Monsterverse" wisely avoids making itself an obvious setup piece, instead taking its chance to deliver nothing less than what you want from a Kong film . . . . . mega-sized monster action. There are some truly imaginative creature designs here, none of which you'd be too keen on encountering, and although the film at times seemed a bit brisk and casual with its presentation, there are some big payoffs after the first act - the biggest being the film's triumphantly thrilling climax, which is just about one of the most brutal fight club monster match-ups you will ever see, and by itself makes this movie an absolute must-see.
If you're expecting an Oscar-winning story with groundbreaking performances, you're looking in the wrong genre . . . . if you're expecting to see an ape the size of a building brawl with monsters the size of a ship, then you will be left VERY satisfied.
(A) Stay true in an important way to the spirit of the original “King Kong”. Check. “Kong: Skull Island” is a very different movie than the 1933 original. The original (which is fantastic; if you haven’t seen it check it out!) was a straight up jungle adventure movie that turned into a three-way romantic triangle with King Kong being given heart and motivation in his clinging to, protecting, and ultimately dying for Ann Darrow. This Kong has no romantic inclinations (despite the callback to the original in one scene) but he is given heart by way of being discovered to be an orphan, a youngling still growing but overseeing and protecting his world, from the monstrous denizens of Skull Island and curious but painful man and their machines. He has empathy and oversight for the gentler inhabitants of Skull Island but shows himself a fearsome fighter against the menacing and hideous skull crawlers. In “King Kong” Kong delivered the beat down to many prehistoric monsters and thus demonstrated his kingly title. In “Kong: Skull Island” he is not yet king but instead is its prince. His parents have been killed and his reign is challenged. He’s on his way to becoming king and though he doesn’t tussle with as many monsters (though there are a lot in this movie) he displays his heart, his courage, and his ingenuity. And this makes him just as compelling as the original Kong.
(B) Deliver an updated and closer to contemporary version of the Kong mythos and make it compelling. Double check. While some might criticize that this is set back in the late 1960s/ early 1970s and should be set closer to now in anticipation of the coming conflict with Godzilla they miss the point that this Kong is still growing, still a junior. By overtly addressing his lineage and recognizing that he is still developing the filmmakers have contemporized Kong while giving him “time to grow”. The Vietnam background is also blended exceptionally well into the film with significant firepower that was able to be brought against a young version of Kong who was still able to decimate man’s war machines without being overwhelmed by them prematurely. The initial contact with Kong and the army and survey forces is a visceral tour-de-force that allows the audience to encounter Kong for the first time in a terrifying maelstrom of unexpected violence and puts us squarely into the same survival mode that our hapless protagonists find themselves in. Compelling? Oh,yeah!
(C) Tie this movie into a developing “monsterverse” that will include Godzilla. Check. This is done by giving Kong a backstory that sets him up as a juvenile giant ape who is still growing, still getting bigger and stronger. Almost 50 years down the road when the two will meet (in 2020) Kong will probably look much the same but just be incredibly, impossibly bigger. The film also gives you a sense of this two when an older Kong is encountered at the beginning of the movie and it is as tall as a mountain. This Kong isn’t the same one that we encounter later in the film, a fact that is easy to miss amidst all of the action.
(D) Ground the story in a palpable human drama. Double check. This movie doesn’t just have characters struggling to keep alive against giant beasties. They have conflicts of interest with each other (the army vets versus the anti-war photojournalist; Samuel L. Jackson’s Lieutenant Colonel Packard realizing that his officers just got butchered by a giant animal that John Goodman’s Randa knew about; Packard feeling it’s his duty to rid the world of Kong because humanity shouldn’t have to be presented with such a reality; ancient natives who speak without verbal language; the internal split amongst the GIs regarding who they should support; and on and on) that play out naturally and purposefully. You may see and feel both sides as the character present them and then find yourself rooting for one and against the other, just as they do. And I think that there are some strong story parallels with Joseph Conrad’s “The Heart of Darkness”, as also seen woven into “Apocalypse Now”. The acting, too, especially from Jackson and Goodman is great and though the action overshadows the drama, there is drama, drama aplenty.
“Kong: Skull Island” may have outdone itself in probably in every conceivable way. It is a fantastic rousing adventure. It is a timely stamp on one of the most divisive periods in America’s history though it exists as a fiction. It is incorporates compelling human conflict and challenges the way we work and think a little. It is big, brash, and the animal star is something you can root for. And it takes us one step further into the “monsterverse”.