Wednesday, July 26, 2017

20/20: #10 Kong: Skull Island

2017, d. Jordan Vogt-Roberts - in theatre

Well, comedian Paul F. Tompkins ruined this movie for me before I even saw it with this tweet:

(Video is supposed to embed, but you may need to click the link)

Not that it actually ruined the movie, but I literally couldn't get the song out of my head throughout watching the entire picture.

Anyway, Kong: Skull Island is a silly, yet exciting picture about the giantest of giant apes on a mysterious island (some might say it's a "skull" island, not sure why), and his encounter with a group of scientists and military types (and a mercenary and photographer) in the mid-1970s, just as the U.S. was pulling its forces out of Viet Nam.

The cast is stacked starting with Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, John Goodman and Samuel L. Jackson, onto John C. Reilley, Toby Kebble, Shea Wingham, and a bunch of young character actors and expendables (and Chinese superstar Jing Tian in a meaningless background role)...not that it matters who is playing whom and for how long, they're all rather expendable, and their characters are thinner than cheese cloth.

Really, the cast is poorly developed, with the exception of John C. Reilley's character, a veteran of WWII who was stranded on "Skull Island" in the opening pre-credits flashback sequence.  So when we meet him later in the film he's bee trapped there for 30 years, living with the indigenous tribes-people there but going a bit loopy over missing home.  Had the whole film been told from his character's POV (it could have happened exactly as it did, but if it just used him as the centerpoint) it would have been an amazing movie.  As it stands, we get a puzzling motivation for exploring the island in the first place (secret government stuff, scientific research, "Monarch" tying it into the secret monster tracking organization of Gareth Edwards 2014 Godzilla feature), with Goodman leading the pack... only once they get to the island suddenly it's Hiddleston and Larson who seem to be more important without any real explanation as to why.  It's confused, almost amateurish storytelling, but when that big, huge, monstrous monkey (cough, *ape!*) shows up nothing else matters.

It's about 15 minutes in when the troops make their way through the chaotic fog and storm clouds in their helicopters, everything looking dicey instantly, until suddenly they're through and it's an unsullied paradise in front of them.  And, of course, being Americans, they instantly start blowing shit up, dropping concussion bombs to map out the terrain, which awakens the angry beast, and then the shit goes down.

Seriously, that opening Kong vs. helicopters sequence truly is worth the price of admission. Even with the muddy script and uneven storytelling that follows, they nail that damn ape.  Kong is the genuine presence and draw of the movie and the whole team seems to get that.  I believe it's Kebble doing the motion capture for Kong (while also having his own on-screen role), which he's had experience working alongsiedAndy Serkis on Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

The 70's setting allows for a thoroughly 70's soundtrack (getting in on some of that sweet 70's soundtrack action that Guardians of the Galaxy has been pulling in), which is almost a little too overbearing, often times too on-the-nose.  I swear the film would be 30% better if they had more restraint soundtrack wise.  It's in the mid way point between Baby Driver as top-of-its-class for soundtrack integration and Suicide Squad at the bottom.

It's a fun movie.  Not great by any stretch, but it had the potential to be much, much better than it was.  If I had to hazard a guess, it was that it was a rushed script, it certainly feels it. A post credits teaser hints at the Godzilla ties even stronger.  I guess we'll see how that shakes down when King Kong vs Godzilla hits in 2020.

[Read David's take - to summarize: "Now that is how you do empty spectacle !!" We Agree!]