Friday, March 10, 2017

KONG: SKULL ISLAND -- A Quick Review

Warner Bros./Legendary
Look, to get this out of the way... look at the poster. They're not even being subtle about the fact that they wanted to blend in as many nods to Apocalypse Now as possible to this film.

Also, the helicopters, formation of the soldiers, and Kong himself form the shape of a skull, don't they?

You're subtle, marketing department. You all get a cookie.

Now, as a fan of the 1930s original, what did I think?

Is this Kong a king?

My rambling thoughts after the ol' break, to protect the sensitive to spoilers.

First off: Kong gets the best entrances. Every time he shows up onscreen, it's a Moment, with a capital M.

We start in the 1940s, and two pilots -- one Japanese, one American -- fighting on an island on which they'd both crashed. Their fight attract's Kong's attention in the biggest way, and that's our first introduction to the giant ape; he shows up to tell them to knock it the hell off. (Someone sold this as symbolism. "Nature demands man stop fighting." No? Too much? Okay, let's move on.)

From the introduction we move forward a few decades, to the era of the Vietnam war.

We meet Randa (John Goodman) and Brooks (Corey Hawkins) -- these two get some of the bulkiest exposition dumped into their dialogue. It's not subtle in any way, but it is a throwback to the pulpy tone that this film is reaching for, and it does go by fast. ("Why do we need him?" "Are you going to lead us through the jungle with your Yale degree?")

These fellas want to go to Skull Island, and they're also part of MONARCH -- the organization seen in 2014's Godzilla. Nice thread to tie in there!

They need a military escort -- which is good news for Col. Packard (Samuel L. Jackson.) He needs a fight, and isn't ready to leave war behind. (And his beliefs come out later in ways that make him sound of the same cloth as Jack Nicholson's character in A Few Good Men.)

The island is approached by helicopter, and Kong's attention is aroused -- he takes out the helicopters (which are dropping bombs for "geological research.")

The bombs can wake up nasty monsters, so Kong gets irritated. And since he kills some soldiers... Packard turns into Ahab. But flushing Kong out -- to prove the existence of monsters -- that's all on Randa.

What a tangled web, eh? Don't worry, you'll get it.

This is pulp. Pure pulp.

From Kong's design (which I didn't love -- he's standing erect, looking a bit more like a man in a gorilla costume as a gorilla... although he bears a little resemblance to a juvenile gorilla, I suppose) to the color palette -- pulp, pulp, pulp.

At one point, Kong uses a large, crashed ship's propeller as a shiv. Pulp!

At another, a man is carried away by pterosaurs that shouldn't be able to lift him into the sky, but do anyway! Pulp! (This is the second thing to remind me of the Jurassic Park franchise, by the way, the first being Jackson recommending folks 'hold onto their butts.')

We have Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson as... ostensibly the leads, but there's no romance to this story (thankfully, and no place for it.) Larson plays a war photographer, Hiddleston a tracker (to get them through the jungle.) Really, they're both just plot service, but at least engagingly so.

There are giant critters on the island beyond Kong (the mention of ants is one of the biggest laughs in the movie, you'll see why.) Some of these giants include buffalo, spiders, walking sticks, an octopus, and whatever the main monster foils for Kong are. The wingless wyverns.

John C. Reilly, as the surviving WWII soldier Marlow, steals the show. And he gets the ending he deserves, over the end credits. (Stick around for those.)

I'm getting into too much tell, here.

This was the movie I wanted to be. Kong, on Skull Island, fighting monsters. He matters every time he shows up, and he's the subject in some beautiful shots. (Glowing eyes, approaching through the mists in the moonlight. Or leaping into action from a mountainside. Or framed against the moon... so many.)

The great music, the strong colors, the locations... it all felt period accurate in a period that you don't typically ever get to see represented in movies like this. Did it feel like a 'Nam movie spilled over to a monster flick? Yes.

If you've ever wanted to see a Vietnam-era American soldier perched on a triceratops skull with a heavy caliber weapon, this movie is for you.

If you've ever wanted to see a monster who has just eaten a flash camera whose flash can still be seen through its skin, circling victims in a dust storm, identifiable by brief, sinister pops of light? This movie is for you.

If you've ever wanted to see a man in a gas mask running through poison fumes, cleaving pterosaurs in half with a samurai sword... again, this movie is for you.

If you want to see a giant gorilla slurp a giant octopus' tentacles up like spaghetti and don't say "wait, I thought a gorilla was an herbivore!" ...This movie is for you.

If you've ever wanted to see Kong use a shiv... you get the picture.

For my comic reading pals, I more than once thought of Darwyn Cooke's sequence in New Frontier featuring The Losers. You know the one. I can't say that this was directly borrowed from that; in fact one scene in particular that I thought was going to reference it directly took an entertaining left turn... but there was enough happening to bring it to mind. There are worse things to borrow from, even indirectly.

As an aside, while discussing this with mad-talented cartoonist Erica Henderson, she reminded me that animals on islands evolved differently. Any animal based "hey... wait" from Kong's posture to his diet, to the crazy buffalo to the wingless wyverns from the hollow earth (okay, Marlow's name of Skullcrawlers is better)... they can all be explained away by that.

(Still gonna call shenanigans on the super-strong pterosaurs, though.)

Is this a good movie? Your mileage may vary.

It was entertaining. The characters were consistent. It took place in an unconventional time period. It was more pulpy than most orange juice.

...And best of all, Kong's coming back to take on Godzilla.

I still love the original movie best, but Skull Island was more fun than Peter Jackson's loaded remake and miles better than the 1976 version (which to this day I have yet to finish.)

Basically, I had a blast.