Yeah, yeah, I know. I’ve never previously reviewed a movie, but… KONG! Seriously. KONG! It’s been a while since I’ve been this excited over a movie, and when that final trailer dropped… oh, it’s a thing of beauty. It does everything a trailer should. Are you excited yet? You should be.
I’ll be the first to say it: I’m no aficionado when it comes to movies. I know what I like and what I don’t, and that pretty much covers it. As a writer and editor, it’s sometimes hard to remove those hats when screen-watching (and my husband hates that I can predict dialogue – ‘stop ruining movies for me!’). So there’s always that small part of me that worries over my excitement for seeing something and the possibility the trailer is the best part of what I’m about to see.
Not so here. Sure, there are small issues with plot, and the under-development of Tom Hiddleston’s character (ex-SAS soldier now tracker, James Conrad), and the over-act that now seems to be Samuel L Jackson’s (Preston Packard) go to, but Kong: Skull Island (Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros) hits all the right marks for a ‘monsterverse’ movie.
The studio was kind enough to release on my birthday, so off hubby and I went to the first showing. Yep, mid-morning, and we were the youngest people in the audience. No kidding. And just a very cool aside, when in the bathroom after the movie, one of the older ladies was waxing lyrical about how she’d seen every Kong movie on the big screen since she was a kid, and she’d loved this one. Now that is a fan of epic proportions, and puts a smile on my face every time I think of it. Be this Nanna!
SPOILER WARNING. LIKE HUGE, KING-KONG SIZE SPOILER WARNING. READ ON AT YOUR OWN SPOILERY RISK.
Set in 1973 at the tail-end of the Vietnam War, this is a Kong origin story that will no doubt spawn future ‘Kong vs…’ movies. (Note: stay for the after-credits end-scene). And while some may boo-hoo this, I’m all for a re-emergence, re-imagining of the creature-feature universe. Done well, of course, but I’m fully aware you don’t always get what you want.
There’s no doubt the director/writers/producers wanted a particular feel for Kong: Skull Island, and there are clear cinematography-elements that draw on that ‘Apocalypse Now’ atmosphere (with the killer score to go with it), as well as the many Vietnam War movies of my youth (and for me, that’s never a bad thing) – the camaraderie of the soldiers is reminiscent of such, and works well.
There are factions within the crew sent to Skull Island: scientists, military, government agents, and a war correspondent (Brie Larson’s ‘Mason Weaver), each with their own agenda. Although to be fair, the soldiers just want go home, way before Kong makes his entrance. And it’s a hell of an entrance. Kong swats the helos out of the air with ease, a nod to the original Kong swatting planes from his spot atop the Empire State Building.
Now spread thin on the ground, each party must find their way to the exfil spot on the other side of the island, and battle monsters along the way. Yeah, it’s a pretty standard plot/theme for monster-military madness, but don’t be fooled into thinking this is anywhere near ‘standard’. The monsters, giants by any standard, and terrifyingly monstrous, definitely make this a survival of the fittest scenario. The fight and action scenes are jarring and gruesome and a hell of a lot of fun.
And that’s the thing with this movie, it knows what it is and it doesn’t take itself seriously. John C Reilly’s character (Captain Hank Marlow) provides the ‘comic relief’, but has more depth than you’d expect – his is a backstory that’s explored, where Hiddleston’s character is more hinted at than evolved (coulda done more with just a little, but I’ll give that a pass if it’s indulged in future movies). Reilly’s character top and tails this story – beginning with him being shot-down in WWII to his return to civilisation and the family he left behind. So in a way, you could say this is Marlow’s story, and he tells it well. Kong’s backstory is given via Reilly and the native inhabitants of the island (the Iwi people), who do not speak. Not really okay with that as it would have provided more depth.
The one real issue I did have (as did my husband) was Jackson’s portrayal of Preston Packard. That shit needed to be underplayed, not overacted. Subtlety and nuance would have done the trick here – villain the writers may have wanted him to be, avenger for the deaths of his men a great motivator, but Jackson cocked it up (I’m looking at you, director and script-writers).
As with every Kong movie, there’s the female protagonist (I won’t say lead, as she’s not), and making Larson a war-correspondent/photographer gives her more play in the arena of death she’s used to seeing (but this in no way passes the Bechdel Test— Larson and the female scientist [Tian Jing’s ‘San’] barely speak two words to each other), and can hold her own in a firefight.
Oh, and monsters, there are aplenty! From Skull Crawlers awoken from the caverns beneath the ground (and their link to the demise of Kong’s family, and a grudge that ain’t going away any time soon), to a giant Kraken-like creature, big mofo of a spider, cannibal birds, giant bats, and the ever adorable moss-covered ox.
There’s a lot to like about this movie, and some things that could have been done better, but overall I loved it. It’s my kind of movie. A perfect storm of monsters, military, mayhem, and a killer score.
As my husband said, it’s not going to win an Academy Award, but it was a helluva lot of fun.
My rating: 8/10. You’ll want to see this on the big screen, and it’s definitely a movie I’ll be adding to my home collection.
Oh, and for readers out there, writer Tim Lebbon has written the movie novelisation of Kong: Skull Island. I’ve pre-ordered mine – you should too.