365 Movies By Day Reviews of Movies I Watch that I Feel Like Writing About

20Mar/170

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

Kong: Skull Island was definitely my most anticipated movie of the first quarter of 2017. Granted the first three months of the year aren't usually known for producing the year's best films. And while Kong: Skull Island won't be up for any end of year honors and won't end up on my year's top ten list (unless this year is God awful for movies), I found it to be a very engaging, exciting, and, if it's even possible, original. While it wasn't nearly perfect, this movie was awesome. As excited as I was to see it when I originally saw the trailer, I wasn't feeling it the day of my viewing. Even with a Rotten Tomatoes score of 79%, I still felt like I was going to be disappointed. I haven't seen the most recent King Kong movie (the 2005 one starring Naomi Watts and Adrien Brody) since seeing it in the theater. I remember liking it a lot. But I don't remember many of the details. I do remember it being extremely long. It honestly felt like it should have been two movies and I think that's why I haven't watched it since, even though there has been a copy of the DVD sitting on my bookshelf for the last decade. Kong: Skull Island was certainly not a sequel or a prequel and it didn't feel completely like a reboot to me either. Sure, there have been other King Kong movies about a group of unknowns visiting Skull Island, but either this one had a different twist than the other ones or I just wasn't paying enough attention (which is entirely possible), but this movie had a sense of freshness in it that I didn't suspect. That plus its visuals, sound, lack of dull/unimportant moments, and relatively short length (118 minutes) allow me to fully endorse this movie as one that you should try to see in the theater. Plus, this movie was not created in 3D when it very well could have been. This is a definite plus.

We get to meet King Kong for the first time within the first five minutes of the film. This is very different from the 2005 movie where I think we went about 90 minutes before we saw the monster for the first time. There was this same gradual build-up from the 1933 original and the 1976 remake as well. There is nothing wrong with this approach. In fact, I often like this approach. It builds intrigue. But if the three most recognizable King Kong movies followed this same exact format, why not create the newest rendition of the movie differently? And that's exactly what director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (The Kings of Summer) did with his approach. The movie begins with a fight sequence from World War II somewhere over the South Pacific where American military Lieutenant Hank Marlow and a Japanese soldier each parachute out of their solo fighter jets down onto an unknown island. The two continue to combat with guns, swords, and hands. The Japanese soldier has now run a weaponless Marlow to the edge of a cliff when out of nowhere, a massive ape appears roaring from beyond the cliff. The two men turn with astonished looks on their faces and we fade away.

We then fast forward to 1973 Washington DC. A government official named Bill Randa (John Goodman - Flight, 10 Cloverfield Lane) and geologist Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins - Straight Outta Compton, Non-Stop) are attempting to receive some funding for a trip to Skull Island, a recently discovered place somewhere in the South Pacific. They tell US Senator Willis (Step Brothers, The Visitor) that they want to scout the area while not disclosing everything that Landsat (the company that they work for) knows about the island. When Willis finally does agree to give the money, Randa goes a step further by asking for a military escort to the island. Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson - Black Snake Moan, Changing Lanes) and his Sky Devils squadron which includes Captain Earl Cole (Shea Whigham - All the Real Girls, HBO's Boardwalk Empire), Slivko (Thomas Mann - Project X, Beautiful Creatures), Jack Chapman (Toby Kebell - Ben-Hur, The Counsellor), and others. A shoot first and ask questions later type of squad, it seems perfect for Randa's expedition. Others partaking on the journey include their tracker, a former British Special Air Service captain named James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston - Crimson Peak, Thor), an anti-war photographer named Mason Weaver (Brie Larson - Room, Rampart), and other scientists from Landsat. There are A LOT of characters in this movie and they aren't very distinguishable from each other. It's a tad frustrating at times because you don't really form relationships with any of these people and, thus, don't feel particularly terrible when they don't make it. At the same time, this isn't a character-driven movie. It's an adventure movie. It's a fantasy movie. It's got some mystery. It's got some action. It's the furthest thing a character study.

The excitement really occurs when the group arrives on Skull Island. Some of the coolest CGI you'll see all year occurs in the last hour plus of this film. On this island, all of the animals, fish, and insects are the size of monsters. Spiders have legs big enough to go clear down human throats. There are octopuses that are the size of whales and buffalo that make African elephants look tiny. This comes to a big surprise to many on this adventure, but not everyone. There are secrets that some are keeping about the island and this becomes a major problem when people begin losing their lives. The truth will come out, but until then there is lots of mystery, intrigue, and suspense.

John C. Reilly (The Perfect Storm, The Lobster) is perfectly cast as Lieutenant Hank Marlow, the same American soldier we meet in the film's opening scene. We meet him some 20-30 minutes after the group lands on the enclave. He's been surviving on the island for the last 30 years with the help of a tribe of natives who look fierce, but don't have the desire to hurt others. They have war paint and are armed with spears, but this is not to protect themselves from other humans. It is simply to fight the massive creatures when they are attacked. The relationship between Marlow and the natives is a great one, and as soon as Marlow enters for the first time, we know that our group of Americans are safe. Marlow has some foreboding news though and makes the outlook on being rescued safely from the island dire, to say the least. He informs the group that they haven't seen anything yet because the most dangerous predatory species are those who reside in bowels of the island in deep, underground tunnels have yet to emerge. Kong protects the island from these inhabitants that walk on two front limbs, have long thrashing tails, and partially exposed skulls. If these "skull crushers" remind you of, I don't know, Godzilla, you wouldn't be the only one to think so. If Kong is able to catch them when they are young, he is able to eliminate them before they do much damage. But the ones who grew to be adults...well then it's game on. These skull crushers have killed Kong's family and if the military has any intentions of killing Kong, Marlow is the first one to tell them to think again. But of course, the military is there for a reason and simply isn't going to say okay. Confrontation ensues and lines are drawn...those who want to follow Packard's lead and those who choose to listen to Marlow and instead try to vacate the island as soon as possible. The last 30+ minutes become humans battling humans, humans battling these massive beasts, and these massive beasts battling each other through jungles, mountains, and rivers And it's all extremely captivating and you don't want it to end.

What I certainly did not love about this movie was the number of indistinguishable characters. And while we needed to have enough of them so that we could lose some of them to the massive predators on this island, it didn't make it easy to identify many of the soldiers from many of the scientists. And when you have so many characters, it can be hard to separate them and becomes even harder to become emotionally invested in them, even the ones who survive until the end. Likewise, I honestly didn't care whether any of the main characters lived or died either (mild spoiler...some live and some don't). I cared more about Kong than I did any of the humans. The acting was fine. Reilly was the highlight when, honestly, his character in the wrong hands could have destroyed the movie. Hiddleston was fine, but for the lead, it never felt like he was carrying this movie. Larson's character served little purpose other than to have the pretty young woman that we associate with other King Kong movies. Jackson played the angry character we have become accustomed to. And for as great as Goodman was in his last performance (2016's 10 Cloverfield Lane), his performance was flat here. In fact, Hiddleston, Larson, Jackson, and Goodman could have all been replaced with lesser-known characters and that would have been just fine. This is especially true for an actress like Larson who I would prefer being in more complex roles that evoke more emotion. But, as I often say, I understand the want and need of securing a big payday so that these actors have the financial security to take risks on lesser financed independent projects. A movie like Kong: Skull Island certainly provided a nice paycheck for Larson and others. But in a film like this, if my biggest gripe is the character development or character chemistry, that's okay. I'm not watching a movie like this for the character development. With that said, I certainly don't want the acting to be phoned in or corny and that wasn't the case here. I like a lot of my movies to be heavy. This one had its fair share of humorous moments (mostly through Reilly's character), but it worked for me. It was believable to see him with his casualness and joking personality because he's lived on that island for 22 years. The fear experienced by the other characters is nothing new to him. In fact, what the others fear the most is what he feels most protected by. It works.

Kong: Skull Island is worth experiencing on the big screen. It could be the best adventure movie we see all year. While not new in its premise, it does offer more originality than you would normally expect. And because of the advancements in technology (particularly CGI) since 2005, this movie provides a more rewarding visual experience than its predecessors. There aren't many great movies in the first quarter of 2017. While Get Out is the surprise hit, Kong: Skull Island hold its own as a standalone movie and I do recommend seeing it in the theater, despite having a score that would normally suggest simply watching it at home.

Plot 8/10
Character Development 6/10
Character Chemistry 6/10
Acting 8/10
Screenplay 8/10
Directing 8.5/10
Cinematography 10/10
Sound 10/10
Hook and Reel 9/10
Universal Relevance 7/10
80.5%

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