Kong:  Skull Island

Image courtesy of Warner Brothers/Legendary Pictures

Kong: Skull Island

| published March 14, 2017 |

By Cameron Dale, Thursday Review contributor

Hollywood may never quite get King Kong right. At least not after the ancient first film hit the screens in 1933, almost 85 years ago. Poor Kong will just have to continue beating his chest, snarling with gargantuan teeth, and looking pitiful each time he is shot with high-powered weapons. This, even as the impact of the special effects get better with each passing decade.

Still, we have said it before in these web pages: special effects and digital mastery can only take a movie so far; good filmmaking still requires a good story, effective scriptwriting, poetic cinematography, and a decent editor.

I saw Kong: Skull Island this past weekend, only days after its much-heralded release, and I am forced to concede that I may have lost interest in the movie after the first hour. Spoiler alert: I have probably lost all interest as well in what is sure to be a new “franchise” from this massive flick: the movie’s credits, I had learned online, include a grand but overreaching teaser for many sequels to come, including larger-than-life UFC-style match-ups between Kong and other mutant giants, such as Godzilla, Rodan and some sort of Kraken.

Indeed, reboots are the business model rage since they help Hollywood insure a repeat audience for years and reduce the hassle of hiring skilled writers and other annoying creative types who demand at least $15 per hour for the time. Such is the case with Kong: Skull Island, and such will be the case with all sequels to follow along this new footpath.

Short version: this movie—directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts—is big, noisy, and chock-full of cliché action movie stunts and horror movie freight gags. The oversized gorilla has a rebooted coif and chillingly enhanced snarl, and seems to be larger and taller than all previous film Kongs. Sports steroids, no doubt, or many trips to Gold’s Gym.

On the other hand, this movie is shockingly thin on motivation, storytelling, and the quaint notion of something called “plot,” a factor I was once forced to learn while a student in high school and at Auburn University, but which is apparently unnecessary in the offices and rooms where scripts are written. The size, scope and intensity of the special effects and the deafening noises appear to be a near-Freudian attempt to overcome lack-of-substance in the meat-and-potatoes department. Ignore that man behind the curtain; keep your eyes and ears fixed on the smoke and fire.

Plot summary of the opening teaser: during World War II, a brief but violent dogfight between an American pilot and a Japanese flyer takes place over a remote island in the Pacific Ocean. Both pilots eject, parachuting down to the island, where the two find each other and resume at close range. But their duel to the death is interrupted by a giant creature, forcing both to flee on foot. Decades later, in the 1970s, a team of military, geological, biological and mercenary sorts—along with some skilled helicopter pilots with Vietnam era experience—are assembled to assess a newly-discovered island, dubbed Skull Island (which turns out to be the same one in which the WWII combatants fought their epic hand-to-hand fight). Using high-powered bombs, the team drops explosive ordnance liberally in an attempt to find caves, sinkholes, or caverns among the rugged, often vertical terrain. Predictably, all this heavy booming and tooth-rattling bamming rousts a giant ape from his slumber, and all hell breaks loose.

The plot then recycles all the known people-trapped-with-horrific-monster gags: think of Predator or Alien, fused upon Jurassic Park, and you get the general idea. In fact, despite the rebooted Kong, the movie has not one original idea in its arsenal. The movie also includes fights between Kong and other mutant-giants, including a 30-foot tall stick bug (not stink bug), a giant spider, a giant squid, huge bats, and even a giant water buffalo.

Still, it was entertaining when viewed in the context of “big screen.” Anything related to mega creatures (Kong, Godzilla, the Incredible Hulk, Donald Trump) should be experienced on the widest-possible screen and with the most enhanced sound levels possible. Plus, the ensemble cast is enjoyable and watchable: Samuel L. Jackson (can’t go completely wrong with him), John Goodman, Tim Hiddleston, Brie Larson, and John C. Reilly—who reprises Dennis Hopper’s famously manic, quirky character from Apocalypse Now.

Sequels using some of the same cast will surely follow very soon, and it is not clear if the new writers intend to follow-up with a more traditional capture-and-voyage-to-New York episode, or if we will go directly to the monster-versus-monster dust-ups already hinted at in Skull Island.

The movie was filmed on various locations, including Vietnam and Hawaii, with sumptuous cinematography by Larry Fong.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Gold Delivers Classic McConaughey; Cameron Dale; Thursday Review; February 22, 2017.

Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them; Cameron Dale; Thursday Review; December 2, 2016.