Most of the summer blockbusters traces back to Jaws. I think Jaws probably was the film that started the idea of the Summer blockbuster, because it proved you could make a movie on that scale and sell it in the Summer holidays. But I don’t think it’s the original blockbuster. For my money, the film that created the blockbuster as we know it and really, I think, in general, suggested the idea that movies were for everyone and not for the so called enlightened was King Kong. All the way back in 1933 King Kong was a big deal in its day and while it’s not aged brilliantly including some rather offensive racial stereotypes it still has some good qualities to it. It definitely should be in the pantheon of film histories like it has become and should be taught in film school especially how to get the best use out of practical effects, but while the effects may be primitive you have to acknowledge that they were cutting edge at the time and took a lot of time, care and effort to make. Many people think there aren’t any other King Kong films because the various sequels and re-boots have been rather sparse, but you might be surprised by how many there are, including Son of Kong and even a Japanese film where he fought Godzilla. While Warner Bros, who produced the Godzilla film back in 2014 have noticed that the Marvel Cinematic Universe has been successful and said let’s give King Kong another re-boot because we want to try and outdo Peter Jackson, so let’s make this film. The plan being that eventually there will be a whole list of monster films that will share a similar Universe.
The film’s trailers didn’t look amazing, in fact the effects don’t look like they have been upped all that much since Peter Jackson’s film back in 2005. Looking back, though I think Peter Jackson did a pretty good job with his version of King Kong, though it did stumble at points and was a little too long. The latest film not only boasted a huge stellar all-star cast, but it also tried to make it look like it would be an epic, though, that being said, I didn’t really get the entire epic feel of it from that trailer, but I was pleasantly surprised that the trailers did not show too much of King Kong. Though, I did get a decent look of Kong from some of the promotional material, which was inescapable, so yes, screw that surprise!
The film is directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts a director who has only directed on feature film prior to this one, being Kings of Summer and has spent most of his career directing television and short films, though the only notable one I could find was a film called Successful Alcoholics, which makes him an interesting choice to direct a film of this scale. The writing team also look rather interesting, we have Dan Gilroy whose credits include Bourne Legacy and the fantastic political thriller Night Crawler, Max Borenstein who was one of the writers on the Godzilla film and apparently contributing to the sequel and Derek Connolly, an award winning writer, who has worked on the previously reviewed Jurassic World and will also be writing the credits for the upcoming Jurassic World sequel and Star Wars Episode 9, With that combination of credits, it gives you the idea that these writers have mixed success at best. Then again, writers can be rather limited by their directors so I am not going to judge them entirely on it. But with all that being said, does Kong live up to the expectations of its previous incarnations. Let’s see if Skull Island is worth the trip!
Taking place in 1973, following the conclusion of the Vietnam War, Bill Randa and Houston Brooks (played by John Goodman and Corey Hawkins) present satellite photos of an undiscovered island with a potential eco system unlike any other. They lead a team to find it, which includes an army escort led by Preston Packard (played by Samuel L Jackson), and under the guidance of them and former SAS man James Conrad (played by Tom Hiddleston) and photographer Mason Weaver (played by Brie Larson). After they reach the island, however, it is evident that they have got more than they expected. The island is guarded by an ape the size of a building named Kong (played in motion capture by Toby Kebbell) and he will do anything to defend his territory. I’m not going to go too far into plot details with this one because believe it or not, they actually left quite a lot out of the trailer! This one does set itself apart from other Kong films. I think it’s best to go into this film having not seen much, even if you have seen the trailers you are still going to get a few surprises. For one thing, there is plenty of variety of big creatures on the island and as a result there are a lot of really interesting set pieces.
Ok you know that most of the characters introduced are just being introduced to get killed off, but a couple I was expecting to die did live until the end! Even a couple of characters that I expected to live, died! So don’t go in thinking everyone is safe in this film. It does, however, give a sense that when this film does what you expect it to do, it’s rather mediocre. When it doesn’t do what you expect it to do, it’s a genuinely good film. The biggest issue, though, is that there are too many characters, they are all fighting for screen time. You take a look at some of the characters like Jake Chapman, who is being played by Toby Kebbell, who is having a dual role having also done the motion capture for Kong, he is playing a Vietnam soldier who wants to get back to his son. Then you also have the introduction of John C Reilly’s Hank Marlow, a world war 2 soldier who has been stranded on the island after his plane was shot down. You have got Samuel L Jackson’s character’s sub plot of having a vendetta against King Kong, because all films these days seem to have a Moby Dick reference. There is quite a lot going on and while you won’t lose track of all the characters and their sub plots, a lot of them pale into significance, as a result, when characters die. It’s not that upsetting because we weren’t given time to know all that much, in fact a couple of them are that obvious I’m surprised they didn’t go sooner than they did.
The film can also feel arbitrary, it has a video game feel to it, there is very little reason for characters to be in certain environments at certain times, they have to do quite a lot of plot gymnastics to get the characters to various places. Some of the transitions do not flow as naturally as I would have liked. There are some good ones and some decent twists in the story as a whole but as I stated, it doesn’t quite flow together completely. In fact, the narrative can be so over the place that you will pick one you like and will be annoyed when it cuts away from that one. Don’t go in expecting too much of the actual Kong. Yes, rather like the 2014 Godzilla, he is not really in the movie as much as the advertising campaign suggests. Once again, he is kind of B player to some of the other monsters on the island, again, I won’t dare spoil. There are some excellent fight scenes which I liked and there is some decent character Kong, it’s just for a film with Kong in the title, I was amazed how little of him there is. When he is on screen, it’s really good and Toby Kebbel does a good motion capture performance with this one.
I have a couple of minor issues with Kong though. The first one being that there really is no build up to Kong. Now in most of these films, you knew he was coming and you had a decent build up to it, this film literally throws him in right off the bat and I would have liked some build up to the character. Right from the start we know exactly what Kong looks like. Also, Kebbell is not like Serkis in this performance. We know Tony Kebbell can give a decent motion capture performance, I described how good a performance he gave in a similar role in Warcraft, which I reviewed last year, however, Kebbell plays Kong more like a monster than an animal. For example, Andy Circus also did a motion capture performance in the 2005 Peter Jackson King Kong and that one he attempted to be more ape like. Kong is not exactly Ape like, he walks on 2 legs upright as opposed to the stance of the normal walk of apes. It’s a minor thing but it takes out the idea that Kong is an animal acting out of instinct. Mind you, considering the back story they go into in this film, that’s not surprising, it does have an interesting angle to it. The other factor is that Kong is significantly bigger in this film that in any other incarnation. This is again, so he matches up in size with Godzilla for the proposed Kong vs Godzilla film which will be out in the next decade. That being said though, I do like Kong in this film, when he is on screen he is quite good and it’s some of the best moments of the film, but I think people will be surprised with how little he is in the film.
The rest of the characters are kind of stock. We have seen these characters a lot, there’s not much new to them, in fact a few of them almost just exist to die. I kind of liked where they were going with Samuel L Jackson’s character, a man who feels defeated by the Vietnam War and doesn’t want to lose any more men and develops a Captain Ahab complex towards Kong after he kills almost everyone who first comes to the island. That was really good for the first portion of the film. But then they turn him into the usual dumb military shoot first ask questions later stereotype that we have seen hundreds of times. what happened here, if they had written him slightly better, he would have been one of the best characters in the film. Tom Hiddleston’s character gets some bad ass moments, but they are few and far between. Brie Larson’s character feels like she has very little personality. John Goodman’s character has a good personality, but he is not on screen enough to sell it. In fact, once they reach the island he is rather insignificant since he doesn’t provide much more information of exposition because John C Reilly’s character takes over in that role. This is again my point, there are far too many characters and not all of them serve enough of a purpose to justify their place in the film. I do find the film entertaining though. Yes, no joke, I actually, did find this entertaining. It’s a kind of dumb action film, but I like a dumb action film every so often and at least this one is entertaining and never insults your intelligence. I just don’t think this film is 83% on rotten tomatoes good!!!
Where the plot does succeed is that it gives us exactly what we want and it does that well. It has most of the things we come to expect from King Kong films, the natives, Kong’s affection towards a beautiful woman who visits the island and so on and so forth. Everything with the exception of, Kong being bough to New York. The difference is, this has been merged with the Godzilla film and I like the Godzilla films. They are really campy stupid fun. This one is no different. As I said, Kong is not in it as much as you would expect, which is a trait that it shares with the 2014 Godzilla film, in fact this film is very similar to that one, so if you enjoyed Godzilla, you will know exactly what to expect. It’s very similar.
All the performances were pretty good. John C Reilly is on top form in this role. Tom Hiddleston once again delivers a decent performance and Brie Larson is really dam good as well. I have already mentioned about Toby Kebbell’s motion capture dual performances, but here to say, he does both of them good and I am glad that has actually caught a break by finally being in a film that I liked because I have been rooting for the actor and he really needed some help after Fantastic 4. John Goodman is great when he is on screen, but then again, he is John Goodman, he is entertaining, even in bad film, and of course, who could forget Samuel L Jackson. This guy loves these sort of movies and he is eating up every moment he is on screen. As for the rest of the performances, they are all pretty much so, so, I think the majority of the cast are good, it’s just their parts were either not written well enough or they weren’t in the movie enough to really leave much of an impact. That’s pretty much my two cents on the cast.
As for the presentation, that’s where I think this film kind of shined. I loved the 1970’s aesthetic, we are trying give this film a feel of Apocalypse Now, this comes from certain types of camera lenses used and the soundtrack, which is brilliantly 70’s. How can you not like a film which has the cast arriving on an unchartered island by blasting Black Sabbath out of a mega speaker! The fight scenes are decently choreographed and the cinematography suits it well, the camera does some very good panning shots, including one excellent scene involving Tom Hiddleston in the middle of the film. That being said though, the effects are not amazing. For most of the film they are on a par with the 2014 Godzilla, but I think a couple of the effects don’t do as well. There are some interesting practical effects in there as well, which I have to commend them for and the set designs are fantastic, plus the amazing on location shoots in Vietnam, including some excellent shots in Ha Long Bay, which helps give the island a complete other wordly feel. Actually after having been to this location when I was travelling, I can say it gives that effect off and I think people going to see the film unaware of the location will get the exact feel the film makers were going for.
I saw the film in 2D, so I can’t comment of the 3D although a couple of the scenes are shot with the 3D in mind. I think this might be worth checking out the 3D, but you won’t be disappointed with the 2D.
Kong Skull Island is a dumb film, but it’s the sort of dumb film I like. It never tries to over stretch it boundaries and gives you exactly what you expect but it is entertaining in that sense, so my predictions of it being a mediocre film feel unjustified. I think this is a good film. It could have used a bit more Kong and the plot doesn’t flow quite as well as it could have, but what it does well it does well. The dialogue is pretty good some of the characters are relatively entertaining, though some of them are not as well written. The acting is fairly decent and the effects hold up alright. Anyone who saw 2014’s Godzilla should check this one out. It’s a very similar film and it almost follows the plot beat for beat. This unfortunately means that you probably won’t enjoy it as much if your problem with the Godzilla film was that they focused too much on the humans at the expense of the monsters. You can probably tell from my brief descriptions whether you are going to like this film or not. I would recommend seeing it at the cinema as I think you won’t get the same effect on the TV screen and it comes with my recommendation. This is a pretty good film. If you are going to see the film, stay until the end of the credits, there’s a post credit scene which sets up future movies and it’s really awesome.
No mini review this week as I have been away at a Professionals Conference. I am intending to improve on this and I will have some mini reviews next week, so you will get a feel what is coming out over the weekend.
So now to move from one beast to another beast. Join me next Friday where I will be giving my thoughts on the upcoming Disney’s latest live action, Beauty and the Beast.
Thanks a lot for reading my review. I hope you have enjoyed reading it as much as I have enjoyed writing it and the moral of the story is children, if John Goodman invites you to an island for the weekend, just say no!!!
Calvin – Nerd Consultant
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