Dan's Review: Excitement, tension violence aplenty in "Kong: Skull Island"
Kong: Skull Island - © 2017 – Warner Bros.
Kong: Skull Island (Warner Bros.)
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for brief strong language.
Starring Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Brie Larson, Jing Tian, Toby Kebbell, John Ortiz, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Shea Whigham, Thomas Mann, Terry Notary (motion capture), John C. Reilly, Will Brittain, Evan Jackson, Eugene Cordero, Thomas Middleditch (voice), Richard Jenkins, Miyavi.
Written by Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly and John Gatins.
Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts.
There are few things I can imagine that would be worse than a giant ape. Problem-solving skills, opposable thumbs, anger management issues, and the fact that most people are ethically challenged over killing one of God’s creatures, even to save a human life (Harambe, anyone?). These are the kinds of thoughts going through my limited brain while attending the press screening for Kong: Skull Island, in theaters this weekend. Senseless death is a reoccurring theme in the movie, leaving audiences to wonder where you draw the line separating who meets a bitter end and who survives.
An American and Japanese pilot crash on an uncharted island during WWII and soon learn about the 100-foot tall Kong while engaged in hand-to-hand combat. The opening credits roll, interspersed with newsreel images covering all the notable incidents relative to war and technology advances, taking us up to the end of the Viet Nam war in 1973. Bill Randa (John Goodman) is the head of the secret “Monarch” initiative, a government agency that explores hidden creatures. He recruits an expedition team the includes a former British Special Service operator named Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), a photographer named Mason (Brie Larson), an army helicopter squadron led by Lt. Col. Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) a geologist named San Lin (Jian tan) and his sidekick Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins), a scientist who once theorized something about a hidden, hollow world beneath the Earth’s surface. A team of corporate resource developers who provided some of the first satellite images of the island also join in.
When the team arrives, they immediately begin dropping seismic bombs on the island, which stirs the anger of Kong, who pretty much kills off most of the expedition and wrecks all the helicopters. Two groups of survivors emerge, one led by Packard and the other by Conrad and Mason. Their group chances upon the lone human settlement on the island, where Hank Marlowe (John C. Reilly), the WWII pilot who crashed on the island 30 years prior has been living. The two groups eventually reunite and plan to escape the island, but not before Packard insists on revenge against Kong. It turns out that Kong didn’t attack the expedition out of rage, but to protect the island from “skull crawlers,” a ravenous species of lizards that were awakened by the bombings. After some inner conflict among the survivors, a great battle between Kong and the skull crawlers ensues. The humans find out that Kong is on their side, but for most of them, it’s too late.
Kong: Skull Island is a very tense, exciting movie, full of action and incredible imagery. It’s reminiscent of James Cameron’s Aliens, with the deaths of characters, picked off one by one certainly adding to the tension. Despite such thrills, there are times when the story feels clunky and rushed, especially in the movie’s final act. Some of the characters are overdone (like Samuel l. Jackson’s revenge-minded zealotry, much like Captain Ahab), while others seem superfluous (especially Hiddleston’s presence, which comes across more like obligatory eye candy for the ladies than having any kind of unique importance). Among all the performances, John C. Reilly steals the movie, adding a little humor, sympathy and insight.
Besides being a decent action movie, there’s another mission of Kong: Skull Island you may not have expected. The movie appears to be the start-up for (yet another) cinematic “universe” in which we can expect sequels, prequels and other spinoffs. Be sure to stay all the way to the end of the credits for that setup.
Another thing to consider before seeing Kong: Skull Island is the nature of killing in the movie, which is inappropriately rated PG-13. It’s ultraviolent, with all kinds of gruesome deaths, so I’d hesitate before considering to allow small children to see it. It would seem that Warner Bros. and director Jordan Vogt-Roberts skirted the line between R and PG-13 to try and attract younger audiences, but small children might have a few nightmares from Kong (I also noticed plenty of preteen Kong toys for sale at my local Walmart this week).
One last observance. Kong: Skull Island was filmed in Viet Nam, mixing characters depicted as American Viet Nam soldiers with real Vietnamese extras. That’s a bold move considering the imagery of U.S. military being back “in country” for the first time in 40 + years. I wonder if the wounds are completely healed since the conflict and if so, can we expect more Viet Nam-era movies to be filmed in Viet Nam? It’s an interesting dynamic to consider.
Kong: Skull Island Trailer