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Kong: Skull Island (2017)

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Score: 6/10

Genre: Action, Adventure, and Fantasy Running Time: 2 hrs.

Release Date: March 10th, 2017 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts Actors: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John C. Reilly, John Goodman, Corey Hawkins, John Ortiz, Tian Jing, Toby Kebbell, Shea Whigham, Jason Mitchell, Richard Jenkins

F

or the first time in four, official, theatrical versions of the mighty King Kong, the beast is seen almost immediately in the opening moments. But with the prevalence of trailers and advertising materials, this new vision (and his appearance) isn’t much of a surprise. He’s essentially shifted from a jumbo silverback gorilla to a towering Bigfoot (the difference being in his posturing and movements). His size has increased tremendously, not only to match Godzilla – for when the production studios inevitably match these properties together – but also to best the previous iterations, most obviously in attempting to top Peter Jackson’s epic take on the character. Strangely, the escalation in mass is nominal in significance, as the computer graphics haven’t improved for Kong’s purposes enough in the last 12 years to render an entity more impressive than before. He’s different, but not better.

Founder of exploration company Monarch, Bill Randa (John Goodman) succeeds in funding his latest expedition to map a mysterious region in the Pacific. Gathering together a diverse team of adventurers, including biologist Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins), anti-war photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), and expert tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), Randa heads to the perpetually storm-encircled Skull Island with a full military escort led by overzealous helicopter division leader Lt. Col. Packard (Samuel L. Jackson). Once there, the pioneers immediately lock horns with the colossal primate guardian of the remote haven, and are left scattered in ruins across the island. Reforming into two groups, Conrad attempts to guide his band of civilians to safety while Packard determines to lead the remaining soldiers into battle against the newfound opponent.

“What imaginary monster are you hunting this time?” Instead of focusing solely on bringing Kong back to the big screen for a fresh, exhilarating adventure, this latest turn continues to hint at the existence of additional earthly and extraterrestrial, massive, ancient species, as if regularly setting up potential for sequels and spinoffs. This preoccupation lends to oddities in the other specimens on Skull Island, which resemble uninspired aliens from recent sci-fi monster movies. Although the filmmakers hoped to change things up a bit with derivations on the classic T-Rex showdown, the substitutions end up lacking the grandiosity this cutting-edge reimagining should have realized.

Further bogging down the time for breathtaking gargantuan clashes is an abundance of characters, most of whom have no reason for being in the film. Tian Jing as San, a geologist, is one of the prime examples for pointlessness; she utters all of three lines, one of which is nearly unintelligible due to her accent. Even if her casting is as a constituent of diversity, the triviality of her part could be considered more insulting than inclusive. Here, she shares screentime with scientists, a platoon or two of soldiers, pilots, a tracker, politicians, company men, field experts and field supervisors, a war photographer, a biologist, naval officers, natives, and even semaphore guys. With this number of roles, it’s difficult to care about any of them, especially when the majority is destined to become simple fodder for enraged behemoths.

And yet, there’s something entirely amusing about the change in time periods, beginning with notes on WWII before transitioning to the aftermath of Vietnam. If the original Godzilla films were spawned from the fears of mutative nuclear fallout after WWII, “Kong: Skull Island” presents the titular titan as a metaphor for the anxieties of Vietnam’s returning servicemen. Unfortunately, the symbolism goes too far, stressing and reiterating each reference until the picture virtually becomes a full-blown war movie – complete with numerous nods to “Apocalypse Now” and its very own Colonel Kurtz (in the form of John C. Reilly as the comically loony Hank Marlow). If “Aliens” was an artistically, extraordinarily subtle nod to Vietnam’s terrors and surprises, “Kong: Skull Island” is the exact opposite in its extreme blatantness (from the imagery to the locales to the weaponry to the soundtrack).

Fortunately, much of the adventure remains enjoyable, particularly as troops are picked off one by one, or engage in fiery firefights against ferocious enemies; frequently, the film is reminiscent of “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” in its action and thrills. But it’s difficult for these sequences to completely negate the boilerplate dialogue (there is a wealth of little jokes and small talk, most of which falls completely flat), the overlong running time, the overblown characterizations (Samuel L. Jackson’s Packard is the biggest offender, routinely transforming into something less believable than Kong himself), or the feigned heroism and martyrdom (all unnecessary and riddled with artificial posing). Also disappointing is the use of light, fluffy, playful montages – with the one on the boat ride to the island being the worst of the bunch, as it marks a ludicrously silly scenario that all four adaptations have inexplicably opted to include.

– The Massie Twins

 

 



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