Sunday, March 17, 2024

Review: "KONG: SKULL ISLAND" is a Monster Movie Paradise

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 14 of 2024 (No. 1958) by Leroy Douresseaux

Kong: Skull Island (2017)
Running time: 118 minutes (1 hour, 58 minutes)
MPAA – PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for brief strong language
DIRECTOR:  Jordan Vogt-Roberts
WRITERS:  Max Borenstein, Dan Gilroy, and Derek Connolly; from a story by John Gatins
PRODUCERS:  Jon Jashni, Mary Parent, Thomas Tull, and Alex Garcia
EDITOR:  Richard Pearson
COMPOSER:  Henry Jackman
Academy Award nominee


Starring:  Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John C. Reilly, John Goodman, Corey Hawkins, John Ortiz, Tian Jing, Toby Kebbell, Jason Mitchell, Shea Whigham, Thomas Mann, Eugene Cordero, Marc Evan Jackson, Terry Notary, and Richard Jenkins

Kong: Skull Island is a 2017 monster movie, sci-fi military, and period, adventure film directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts.  It is a reboot of the King Kong film franchise and is also the second film in the “MonsterVerse” film series following 2014's Godzilla.  Set at the end of the Vietnam war, Kong: Skull Island focuses on a group of military personnel and civilian scientists who must fight to escape an uncharted island full of giant monsters that includes the island's king, the mighty Kong.

Kong: Skull Island introduces Bill Randa (John Goodman), the head of the U.S. government organization, “Monarch.”  It is 1973, and the U.S. is ending its mission in Vietnam.  Randa fears his time is running out to launch a mission to a recently discovered island that has long been shrouded in mystery and legend, “Skull Island.”

He convinces a U.S. senator to fund an expedition to the island, and subsequently recruits a U.S. Army unit commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) to accompany him.  Also on the mission are recent Monarch recruits, geologist Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) and biologist San Lin (Tian Jing).  Randa also hires James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), a former British Special Air Service Captain, as a hunter-tracker for this expedition.  Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), an “anti-war” photographer, forces her way onto the expedition.

The expedition begins with thirteen U.S. army helicopters penetrating the fearsome storms that surround Skull Island.  Randa and Brooks told Packard that they wanted to map the island by dropping seismic explosives, and shortly after arriving on the island, Packard's men begin dropping the explosives, which does help to map the island.  The explosions also draw the attention of a giant ape, which promptly attacks the helicopters.  Soon, the expedition is divided into two groups of survivors.  One is led by Packard who wants revenge against the giant ape, and the other by Conrad who wants to reach a rendezvous point where they will be rescued.  The giant ape, however, is “Kong,” king of Skull Island, and he isn't the only deadly, giant monster on the island.

The “MonsterVerse” is an American multimedia franchise that includes movies; a streaming live-action television series (Apple TV+) and a streaming animated series (Netflix); books and comic books; and video games.  It is a shared fictional universe that includes the character, “Godzilla” and other characters owned and created by the Japanese entertainment company, Toho Co., Ltd.  The MonsterVerse is a reboot of Toho's Godzilla franchise.  It is also a reboot of the King Kong film franchise, which is based on the character, “King Kong,” that was created by actor and filmmaker, Merian C. Cooper (1893-1973).

The fifth film in the MonsterVerse series, Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, is due to be released sometime in March, so I have decided to watch and review the previous four films:  2014's Godzilla, 2017's Kong: Skull Island (which is the subject of this review), Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019), and Godzilla vs. Kong (2021).  I have previously seen Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island, but only recently made attempts to review them.

Kong: Skull Island is proudly both a monster movie and a King Kong movie.  Like Peter Jackson's 2005 film, King Kong (Universal Pictures), Kong: Skull Island digs into its “lost world” pulp fiction and pre-Code horror movie roots.  Kong is as King Kong as any other cinematic version of the character, and the result is an exhilarating film that is fun to watch even after repeated viewings.  Most books about writing fiction and screenplays will emphasize that the characters should drive the narrative, but Kong: Skull Island's narrative is driven by its plot, by its other-worldly setting, and especially by its monstrous gods and god-like monsters.

There are quite a few interesting characters in the film.  Samuel L. Jackson makes the most of his Lt. Col. Packard, who is driven crazy by his insane mission to kill Kong as a salve for his bitterness about the end of the American misadventure in Vietnam.  John C. Reilly once again displays his tremendous character actor chops as the lost-in-time, U.S. Army Air Force Lt. Hank Marlow.  Tom Hiddleston is a good heroic lead as James Conrad in a film in which the human hero is not the film's most important character.  Brie Larson also shows off her acting skills by chopping out some space for his character, Mason Weaver.

However, the characters are just pawns in the film's plot, which involves surviving Skull Island's various monsters and advancing to the rendezvous point.  The setting of Kong: Skull Island is a lost world Eden that is part tropical paradise and part jungle horror, an environment in which the most beautiful place is the most dangerous.  The amazing things to see on this island are its deadly denizens, which includes gargantuan spiders, man-snatching carnivorous birds, and seemingly unstoppable lizards that are literally nothing more than perfectly designed death machines.  I would be remiss if I didn't mention the practically mute human natives of Skull Island with their dazzling array of face and body painting and eclectic costumes.

At the center of Kong: Skull Island is the film's most important character and element, Kong, himself.  He is a thing of beauty, the best special effect in a movie favored with enough impressive CGI to have earned itself an Oscar nomination for “Best Achievement in Visual Effects.”  Kong's introduction into the story, a breathtaking display of fight choreography pitting him against a squadron of military helicopters, is as good as the best fight scenes audiences will find in the top superhero movies.  Whatever glitches in the overall narrative and character development Kong: Skull Island has, Kong's introduction glosses over.  Kong is made king again in Kong: Skull Island, and that is why it is a damn shame that there is not a Kong: Skull Island 2.

[This film has an extra scene at the end of the credits.]

7 of 10
★★★½ out of 4 stars

Sunday, March 17, 2024

2018 Academy Awards, USA:  1 nomination: “Best Achievement in Visual Effects” (Stephen Rosenbaum, Jeff White, Scott Benza, and Michael Meinardus)

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