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.
3 big apes.