REVIEW: ‘Kong: Skull Island’ is a warm familiar place

Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts

Writers: John Gatins (story), Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler), Derek Connolly (Jurassic World), Max Borenstein (Godzilla)

Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, John Goodman, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Richard Jenkins, Jing Tian, Toby Kebbell, John Ortiz, Shea Whigham, Thomas Mann, Marc Evan Jackson, and John C. Reilly

Run Time: 118 Minutes

Studios: Legendary Pictures (Godzilla), Warner Bros. Pictures

Budget: 185 million dollars [the new 150 million, which was the new 100 million]

“…for your health!” John C. Reilly proves his character actor strengths for decades to come!

Review: King Kong (2005) is one of my all-time favourite movies. On re-watch I noticed the several benefits that come from the singular creative vision that Peter Jackson’s Wingnut films brought to that film. It had the distinctive look of a Norman Rockwell painting, had a throwback vibe (per its 1930’s setting), was slower paced in parts than most blockbusters and had Oscar-winning special f/x (in a tough year no less). That movie has a strong identity. 12 years later, Skull Island maintains a slightly different look than its blockbuster contemporaries with a yellow-orange tinged colour palette, [reminiscent of chief influence Apocalypse Now] but the rest falls on basic card of Hollywood blockbuster Bingo.

Lets go through the motions. #1 You have an under-qualified indie-director doing a blockbuster as his sophomore film, same as; The Amazing Spider-Man, Jurassic World and Godzilla. Plucked to direct a larger than life 185 million dollar budgeted film [same number as Star Trek: Beyond & X-Men: Apocalypse]. The movie aims to be the next hopeful stop on a franchise train [like Doctor Strange, and The Legend of Tarzan], or shared universe [like Deadpool or Civil War]. The film sports at least three screenwriters, similar to Logan, Independence Day: Resurgence, and Assassin’s Creed; likely for story composition, shooting script, and a rewrite polish a process to sand down any edges the film might have, complete with an indistinct score likely made from a temp track that sounds like every other movie of its time. It’s co-financed by China, and there’s a post-credits stinger teasing the next film in the series. Whether or not you enjoy Kong comes down to how much you enjoy most blockbuster movies nowadays.

I enjoyed Kong: Skull Island despite its predictability. It’s difficult to argue how smooth the ride is. Among the merits of the movie is its casting which makes up for the lack of characterization by having recognizable or at least prolific actors in several roles which made me feel more attached to them. Actors like Jason Mitchell (Straight Outta Compton), and John Ortiz (Fast & Furious) aren’t given a whole lot to do other than act nervous around CGI, but its nice to see them get work. The action scenes are clear and well staged; particularly a fortification sequence set in a skull graveyard that balances exactly the tone the movie is going for; with its standout colours and tounge-in-cheek badassery, it goes on for just as long as it needs to and has style. It’s not too memorable, it’s by the numbers, but those numbers are solid.

L. Jackson does good work here.

Tom Hiddleston continues to prove he shouldn’t be a lead actor, Brie Larson doesn’t get much to do other than collect a paycheck, John C. Reilly and Samuel L. Jackson are old pros and know exactly what kind of movie they’re in and how to act opposite effects. As an odd but effective addition, Toby Kebbell who has been giving great performances in middling CGI adventures for this entire decade (Prince of Persia, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and Wrath of the Titans) plays his small role as a downed G.I. cut off from everyone else oddly serious, in a slow contemplative tone. It’s surprising he makes so much out of it, balancing the kill everything that moves attitude of Jackson’s character and the live and let live motivations of Hiddleston’s. It’s a thankless part that nonetheless stood out to me and was more impactful than say, John Goodman’s role.

This is a movie that was made to make money, but fortunately no one here completely phones it in. Everybody puts in their time; from an inexperienced director proving surprisingly handy with effects, to game character actors and some sound technical and craft work. Its worth watching just to see where Hollywood is at right now but beyond a few set pieces there’s not much more to look at.

Rating: 77/100

Tidbit: How are 2 impassive creatures such as Godzilla and Kong going to fight each other in 2020? The film still doesn’t have an answer to its Batman V. Superman style dilemma.


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