REVIEW: KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2017)

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KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2014)

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This new version of the King Kong legend takes place in 1973 at the end of the Viet Nam War when an uncharted island is discovered by satellite in the center of a perpetual storm system in the South Pacific. The monster hunting Monarch organization from Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla wants to send an expedition in, with the hopes of getting there before the Russians find out about it. Agent Bill Randa (John Goodman) heads the expedition team, including former SAS tracker, James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), combat photographer, Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) and a military escort lead by Lt. Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson). Immediately upon reaching the island, they find a hostile environment populated by hostile creatures and manage to piss off the ruling predator, a 100 foot tall ape the local natives and stranded WWII airman Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly) call Kong. After a confrontation with Kong that leaves the military escort decimated and the expedition stranded, the group begin to plan their escape from the island…all but the vengeful Packard, who wants to finish what he and the enormous simian started. Little do they realize, that there is a greater threat living beneath the grounds of Skull Island and Kong may be their only hope of surviving it.

The entire reason this reboot exists is to set up the eventual collision between the giant ape and Godzilla, now that Warner Bros has the rights to both and is starting their proposed Marvel-esque “Monster-verse”. In a way it shows, as this flick is directed somewhat by-the-numbers by Jordan Vogt-Roberts from a script by three writers, no less, including Godzilla scribe Max Borenstein. This new interpretation is a fun monster movie that is loaded with action and filled with an assortment of critters, but by removing the tragic elements and the Beauty and The Beast angle from the original story, the makers remove the parts of the tale that resonated the most and gave it emotional depth. Now it’s just a routine monster movie and while it does entertain, it is also a bit forgettable once the credits finish rolling. Vogt-Roberts moves things fast enough, but never succeeds in giving the film a sense of wonder or an emotional center. Even Kong seems more of a generic monster here, though a bit of a noble one and we don’t endear to him like previous incarnations. The film is still a fun time, but not much is going to stick with you after it’s over. The FX are top notch and the monster scuffles are fast and furious, but the film lacks the heart and soul that the original classic…and even, to a lesser extent, Peter Jackson’s remake…had that made them memorable and endearing. Aside from re-introducing Kong in order to set up another movie with The Big G, there really isn’t a point to this version and despite the monster menagerie and some likable characters, it’s a bit shallow, when all is said and done.

The cast are all good, though and overcome some stale dialog to make their characters enjoyable to watch, aside from the big CGI ape. Hiddleston is solid as former military man Conrad and proves again he is leading man material. Here he plays a tough guy with a heart and does so very well. Brie Larson is also very charming and likable as seasoned photographer Mason Weaver. She can scrap and battle monsters with the boys and hold her own with both Kong and Samuel L. Jackson and not loose her girl-next-door appeal. She conveys a strength and grace that should bode well for her upcoming MCU turn playing Marvel super-heroine Captain Marvel. Goodman avoids the clichés that come with government operative characters and gives his Bill Randa a boyish sense of wonder at what he has found on Skull Island. While the character did keep secrets, he is never portrayed as a villain. Samuel L. Jackson is dead-on as the battle-hardened warrior who is not going to let a giant ape get away with wiping out his squad, especially after a disappointing exit from the Viet Nam conflict. Jackson’s bravado and intensity does make him a suitable adversary for the gigantic ape. Rounding out the leads is John C. Riley, who gives the film a little comic relief and some heart as a man who has been stranded on the primordial island since WWII and has bonded with the natives and learned how to survive it’s beastly population. His Hank Marlow provides us with some important exposition about Kong and his homeland, too. The supporting cast are all fine, as well and the strong cast helps make this as fun as it is.

Overall, this is a fun Saturday or Sunday matinee monster movie with plenty of creatures and numerous monster brawls to pass the time. The solid cast elevates a routine script and some stale dialog and the film is fast paced enough to keep us from thinking too much about things. The tragic soul of the original story is lacking and while there is a brief bonding moment between Kong and Larson’s Mason Weaver, the epic Beauty and the Beast element is missing as well. This Kong never gets to see New York or fall in love, but if he is still a growing boy as Hank Marlow seems to suggest, he should be big enough to lock horns with Godzilla as Warner Brothers plans them to do in 2020…which is the entire reason we got this movie. A fun, but forgettable monster mash.

Be sure to stay through the credits for a Marvel-esque post credit sequence that reveals Godzilla’s “co-stars” in the upcoming Michael Dougherty directed sequel Godzilla: King Of The Monsters due in 2019.

-MonsterZero NJ

  3 big apes.

 

 

 

 

 

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REVIEW: PACIFIC RIM (2013)

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PACIFIC RIM (2013)

Simply put, Guillermo del Toro’s Pacific Rim is an absolute blast! A fun thrill-ride of a summer movie that had the audience I was in cheering like I haven’t heard in a flick in a long time. Rim tells the story of a rift that opens in the Pacific ocean floor from which crawl forth giant monsters known as Kaiju. These beasts keep coming and are hell bent on destruction and carnage, so the nations of Earth unite to built a fleet of giant combat robots called Jaegers to defend against the growing invasion. Each machine needs two pilots to mentally link with the robot and the film focuses on one such pilot, Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) who falls from grace after a battle costs the life of his co-pilot/brother. But the Kaiju are gaining ground and the Jaegers are being destroyed one by one. Now Raleigh is called back to service for one last, desperate mission to destroy the rift and end the threat. With him is a rookie female pilot (Rinko Kikuchi) whose past may be as painful as his own.

Under Del Toro’s guidance Pacific Rim is a spectacular and visually sumptuous popcorn movie that has the spirit of one of those old fashioned Japanese monster movies mixed in with the hi-tech spectacle of a modern day event movie. As a fan of Japanese monster movies since I was a kid, I was enjoying every bit of it. Pacific Rim is non-stop fun, even if you’re not a fan of those movies. The battles are something to behold, but don’t move too fast that we can’t understand and enjoy what is going on. The Hong Kong battle is worth the price of the admission alone with it’s epic battle action and thrills. Del Toro populates the film with some very colorful characters like Charlie Day’s hyperactive scientist and a scene-stealing Ron Perlman as a black market Kaiju body parts dealer. The military characters seem charmingly corny as if taken from an old time WWII movie with Idris Elba playing, hard-nosed commander Stacker Pentecost, who hasn’t let command soften his ability to throw down and an eclectic assortment of multi-national Jaeger pilots, including the egotistical hot shot (Robert Kazinsky). The cast all take their roles seriously but, not too serious that we can’t tell that they are having a good time…and so do we.  The design of the film is breathtaking as is with all Del Toro’s movies and the Jaegers and Kaiju each have their own unique style and personality. The FX work to realize them is amazing. The monsters come across as dangerous and lethal, making our mega-robots always the underdog which, has you cheering for them as you should be. And cheer the audience in Paramus, N.J. did and often.

The versatile Del Toro has once again crafted a beautiful to look at film that has a delightfully old fashioned style, yet with all the modern hi-tech SPFX we’ve come to expect from a summer blockbuster. But no matter how exciting the action is, no matter how amazing the visuals, no matter how spectacular the FX, Pacific Rim most of all has huge amounts of heart and fun to make it a truly entertaining summer movie blast! I also can’t respect and love Del Toro enough for dedicating the film to both Ray Harryhausen and Ishirō Honda. That is true class and a wonderful show of appreciation to two of the great all-time masters! Highly recommended and stay through the credits!

-MonsterZero NJ

4 Kaiju!

Pacific Rim rating

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