Tuesday, April 4, 2017

King Kong - Takin' Care Of Business!

I got around to seeing Kong Skull Island a few weeks after it first hit the big screen. It is the one big movie I've been aching to see this year and I found it positively enjoyable and distracting, but alas far from a great movie version of the greatest ape. Here are my thoughts, laced with spoilers so beware.


Loved the monster fighting and this movie is loaded up with it. It might even be too much, but I hate to complain about that since often we find ourselves wanting more of this. That's not the case here. We meet Kong early in the movie and he shows up again and again along with some other pretty well realized giant creatures for some really fast-paced fights. This is the classic Kaiju method with modern computer graphics used to give it pace and energy.

John C. Reilly as a stranded WWII pilot who becomes defacto the audience's guide into the world of Kong steals this movie with his fist scene and remains the emotional center of a movie which doesn't have all that much heart. We care what happens to him and thankfully his story is one which is filled true tragedy but little regret. He's someone we can root for. Great stuff.

John Goodman as the obsessive monster hunter does a pretty decent job too, but there's less of him in the movie than I would've liked. He's sorely missed in the latter half of the flick.

1973 is my heyday, so to see this movie, a monster movie starring my favorite monster set in it was a delight. The end of the Vietnam War was an ideal weirdly chaotic moment to set such a story which wanted to be something larger than a mere monster movie, but being a mere monster movie is pretty good ambition for me. The use of the period music, while a movie cliche at this point was still much appreciated by me.

Skull Island is a really properly scary place. Beautiful and hidden behind a terrifying wall of storms, we see a territory which has monsters hiding in plain sight. As weird as it is to imagine enormous fauna roaming a landscape of normally-sized flora it still works in some weirdo monstery way and I loved it. The land and the silent people who try to live there are truly well realized.

The BAD:

We see Kong early and often and that's good in a way, but also a bit bad in that his majesty is somewhat diminished. One of the thrills of monster movies is learning about the monster's unusual characteristics as the movie unfolds and in this one we see Kong's approach pretty quickly and little is added aside from some insights into his motivations.

The human beings in this movie fall into a definite cypher category. While played by visually distinctive actors, the movie failed to created compelling back stories for them and the presentations were rather indifferent. Beyond a few soldiers who seem to get gobsmacked a few times, the utterly weird nature of Skull Island seems to impact the characters too little. Maybe this is supposed to accounted for by the fact that they've all been in a foreign conflict away from their homes and already tipped over a might, but it sadly undermines the emotional power of the story. They do some very scary shit but most of the time don't seem to be bugged by it, valuing their own lives so little that the audience is almost invited to see them merely as fodder.


Now that we've seen two of these entries in the "Monsterverse" it seems apparent that the creators are going out of their way to make the monsters devoid of human identification as possible. In Godzilla the MUTA is almost geometrical in its design and devoid of expression and likewise the "Skullcrushers" of this movie have noggins which justify their name but don't remotely allow for any sense of personality. They are forces, brute beasts and little more, though immense. It's intentional for sure and it seems the creators are afraid of making their monsters too cute.

Overall I have to give Kong Skull Island a big old "B", as much as I wanted it to be a an "A+". It just doesn't deliver the emotion sufficient to make the audience dive deep and invest in the people. The characters are too remote and woefully undeveloped.

Is it worth seeing? Hell yes! It's a King Kong movie and they don't come around all that often. I'm very much looking forward to seeing a more mature Kong (and bigger too) taking on Godzilla and his Kaiju kin in later flicks. Hold on to your helmets!

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  1. I saw it the day it was released and I agree almost totally with you. I did find a bit more personality in a few of the supporting characters, but yeah, they were just "born to die" as far as the writers and directors were concerned. And, I agree, too, that no matter how "battle hardened" one might be from the horrors of actual war, big honkin' monsters would have to freak you out! I suppose the producers didn't want the "thought police" to accuse them of diminishing the horrors of the real war? Still, this is what popcorn movies should be! Keep 'em comin', says I!

    1. The rule of monster movies, right from Fay Wray to now is that we have to care about the people who find the monster and have to deal with it. If we don't then it's just so many special effects.

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  2. Based on the trailers, I expected John C. Reilly's character to be silly comic relief, so I was impressed by the depth of his performance. I was also sure he was not going to survive, so it was wonderful to see he got a happy ending.

    1. I agree. I thought he was a short timer in the movie, there to give us some context. But the movie with its prologue and epilogue ended up being about him.

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