KONG: SKULL ISLAND Review

kong-skull-island-poster-2

It’s been 12 years since the last King Kong film. Peter Jackson’s 2005 film is a remake of the classic 1933 story of a giant ape who falls for a woman and ends up meeting an unfortunate demise. Skull Island takes a break from this plot to tell a unique tale using elements from the original story. This isn’t the first time Kong has deviated from the usual story of course, with one example being TOHO’s King Kong Escapes where he battles a mechanized version of himself. Skull Island brings an ensemble cast to the titular setting for an adventure that feels both familiar and new. It lacks enough quality writing to call it a “great” film, but it’s still an enjoyable, fun trek.

The primary reason why people would come to watch this film is to see the title character in action. Kong himself doesn’t disappoint. The sequence with him taking out the helicopters was excellent and rivals Godzilla’s grand airport entrance in the 2014 film. The music going silent when the tree struck the first helicopter changed the mood drastically, and as one by one each helicopter was destroyed the viewer got a sense of how ferocious Kong was. This is his most violent portrayal yet, and in this early scene the viewer actually begins to think that Kong might actually be bad in this one. The story smartly destroys that thought later on. The writing perfectly balances Kong’s gentleness with monstrous ferocity.

Again, his big scene with taking down the helicopters was incredible. It featured some of the best cinematography and editing ever in a monster movie. It’s actually a shame that the very first scene in the film featured a full face shot of Kong, because the helicopter sequence later on would have been a much better way to first show the character. Kong commands a presence every time he’s on screen, and the film features him a lot, which is a nice change of pace from monster films hiding the beast for extended periods of time.

Like in the previous King Kong films, Skull Island is home to many dangerous creatures. Unlike the previous films, the creatures in this film aren’t ones we’d find in a book. Instead, they’re either abnormally giant (the spider) or completely brand new, such as the Skullcrawlers. The creatures are used to great effect. The spider sequence was very well done (it features one of the creepiest deaths in a monster movie) and how the characters managed to overcome it was pretty smart. There’s even a giant octopus which Kong battles. (It reminds the viewer of his encounter with another giant octopus in the original King Kong vs. Godzilla.) The Skullcrawlers are the film’s primary antagonists, and they are really well utilized. They’re genuinely creepy and also command a presence. (The quick death scene of a character turning around only to be chomped by a Skullcrawler was something straight out of a horror film.)

Of course, the climax couldn’t feature Kong simply taking on a bunch of little creatures. The final battle featured a giant Skullcrawler. It got some quality buildup beforehand, and it doesn’t disappoint. It takes what made the little ones creepy and amplifies it. The fight was very well done. The battle is brutal, the setting is used to great effect, and above all else – it’s satisfying. There are no extended cutaways, there are some surprises, and it’s just fun to watch as a moviegoer and as a longtime kaiju fan.

The main thing the story suffers from is an unnecessarily light tone. There is some seriousness to the atmosphere, namely when the music stops when that tree struck the helicopter. Despite scenes like that the story appears more on the light-hearted side at times. John C. Reilly’s character for example kinda takes the viewer out of the realism at times with his dialogue. With horrific deaths taking place on an unknown setting, it seems like the overall atmosphere should be consistently more serious than what it is. Perhaps the idea was to differentiate itself from Godzilla, since that film was completely series from beginning to end. This is not to say Skull Island is a comedy, because it isn’t. A more serious tone throughout just could have been better.

rs_1024x429-170309080812-1024.kong-skull-island-6.3917

A rather big drawback is that the Island natives don’t really do anything in this film. It felt like they were just there for tradition’s sake. (They barely do anything other than stare and nod.) An additional 10 minutes could have been added to explain more about their relationship to Kong and the fascinating backstory only briefly mentioned. Moving on to the characters, the film features a cast with quite a few familiar names. Just about all of them are fun to watch. (It could be a fun game counting how many zoom-ins they give Samuel L. Jackson.) Ultimately though, there’s no standout performance. Maybe it’s assumed that simply having these big name actors on screen is good enough. (We have Tom Hiddleston grabbing a sword and slashing like a samurai.) The characters needed to be fleshed out just a little bit more.

The pacing is solid. Some of the early scenes on the boat were a little on the boring side, but it doesn’t take too long for the characters to arrive on the Island. There’s just the right amount of Kong scenes and humans, whether the latter be talking or running away from another creature. The soundtrack has some great moments. There’s also some classic music thrown in the mix, being set in the 70’s. This is used to great effect in the helicopter sequence.

Overall, Kong: Skull Island is a worthy addition to the large catalog of monster movies. Director Jordan Charles Vogt-Roberts’ vision of Kong is truly special. The ape steals the show, having the perfect balance of being the kind creature viewers have come to know and displaying monstrous ferocity. If Kong had a reputation of being on the weaker side before, this film changes that. The other creatures are really cool to watch, especially the Skullcrawlers. The big one made for an excellent final boss, with the actual battle being a satisfying finale to the story. The characters aren’t bad. They’re fun to watch, and are given enough personality to keep them from being dry. Still, they could have used just a bit more development. Some of the lighter elements and humor didn’t work, but they don’t ruin what is Kong’s most explosive film yet.

7.5/10

 

Advertisements

KONG: KING OF THE APES “THE ADVENTURE BEGINS” Review

It’s always odd when a film or TV series doesn’t have a section on Wikipedia. Relatively unknown films like Hunter Prey (one of the greatest science fiction films by the way) has a section, but something as big with the King Kong name? The entire King of the Apes  show has been on Netflix for six days already, yet there’s no section. Not only that, but marketing has been extremely poor. Prior to its release, there was no trailer. I’ll say that again: Netflix didn’t release a trailer beforehand. Actual information had also been scarce, right up until release day. And even then, the show just released with virtually no one realizing it. If a colleague didn’t remind me I probably would have forgotten about it until I turned on Netflix. Putting these negative aspects to the side, perhaps the pilot film would actually be pretty solid. Unfortunately it’s not. It’s competently written, but in the most generic way possible.

There are somethings you know about five minutes in whether it’s going to be mediocre or not. I already knew then I wouldn’t be checking out the remainder of the episodes here, but for the sake of perhaps being the only website review on the planet for the show, I powered through. King of the Apes is produced by Avi Arad, whom is a veteran with various shows and films. Unfortunately his most recently produced cartoon was PAC-MAN and the Ghostly Adventures, and we all know awful that was. With the similar CGI and few images Netflix released, Kong sadly looked to invoke a Ghostly Adventures feel. Of course, when you’re a reviewer you have to do your best to put out preconceived notions. I also actually like the Kong films and character, so I went in hoping a new Kong show (yes there was one where he was “King of Atlantis”…which was probably better than this one!) would be interesting. Sadly it’s not.

The show’s main character aside from the gorilla is Lukas. For the first quarter of the pilot the story showcases the relationship between him, his brother, and their father alongside Kong. This was definitely a smart way to establish the status quo for present day…in theory. Everything happens so fast despite the premiere having more than a hour to develop the characters. Lukas becomes Kong’s friend abnormally fast. What’s worst however is Richard, the brother of Lukas. If you thought Caillou was a brat, this kid takes it tenfold. He hates Kong for virtually no reason on the onset. When the explosion happens in the lab (which of course was caused by his blundering) the viewer wishes he would have died right there. (That’s a harsh statement I know, but in cartoon land it’s okay.)

380__-(6)

The dialogue between the sons and father is completely forced and unnatural. The show even then tries to add deepness in a single sentence stating there was a divorce, but that plot point is quickly forgotten as the mediocre story continues. The entire point of showcasing the younger years was to show Kong’s friendship with Lukas and Richard’s rise to villainy. Richard is perhaps the most generic villain in the last few decades. All he’s missing is his twirling mustache. His motivation wasn’t clearly established back then, and it’s terrible in the present. It’s a scary thought that every episode will probably have him executing some one note plan that the heroes foil.

Quite a few of the characters have such mediocre designs. Lukas’ in particular embodies the generic “surfer dude”look for example. The voice acting is pretty awful and shows no one really cared about the product. Richard’s voice as a kid was so jarring I wouldn’t be surprised if some kids gave up after the sixth scene with him complaining. I did like the subtle building up to the giant robotic T-Rex from back then. Under different writing, this could have been fantastic, even frightening build-up. How about the action? Given the CGI nature and behemoth characters, the action scenes should be good. Unfortunately, they are incredibly lackluster. They’re more suited for a TV Y program. (To put this in perspective, My Little Pony, a TV-Y program, has better fight scenes.)

We’ll stop here. King of the Apes is incredibly mediocre. Kong himself is often portrayed as goofy rather than powerful, which longtime fans will find tough to get through. (Back in the day he could go one-on-one with Godzilla.) It’s true the show’s target audience is kids, but awful writing like this is no excuse. Why would you show your child this mindless entertainment (even calling it entertainment is a stretch) when there’s actual heart and thought put into other programs? Other shows on Netflix such as My Little Pony, Magic School Bus, Justice League, and many more offer better entertainment and makes the viewer think. If Kong had actually tried I could have forgiven it, but the problem is that it doesn’t try to be anything great.

2/10