Monday 13 March 2017

Kong - Skull Island

Kong-A-Thon, Live In Bone, Sea Skull

Kong - Skull Island
USA 2017 Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts
UK cinema release print.

See, this is why I love watching the odd movie every now and again. You never know when something’s going to surprise you and be an absolutely brilliant helping of cinematic art and entertainment.

I had really low expectations for this film.

The thing is, and if you read my last review you’ll already know this, I have a lot of respect and admiration for the original 1933 King Kong movie (and you can find that review just here). Most of the other movies to either feature King Kong as a character in a different storyline (such as this one) or trying to remake the original have, for the most part, been a little entertaining but mostly dull. I think my favourite of the bunch of movies to utilise the character over the intervening years since the wonderful 1933 version has been the second of the Toho Kong movies from 1967, King Kong Escapes. And, frankly, how could you not like a movie where a giant ape has to fight a giant mechanical simulacrum of itself... that’s always going to be a winning formula.

So I was pretty surprised when this new movie, Kong - Skull Island, turned out to be, pretty much, the best of the US Kong movies since the original. I went to a 3D IMAX showing of the movie at my local Cineworld and ended up having one of the best movie experiences I’ve had in a while.

The film is actually not a remake of the original as such and, if you were following the poster campaign and the not so great trailers then you’ll know the marketing people were very much trying to channel the look and feel of Apocalypse Now (the brilliant Vietnam war epic which takes Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness as its source material and then embellishes it with... almost everything else in the movie). I can see the temptation of selling the movie in this way... this film is set in 1973 when the Vietnam war ended and there are a lot of military helicopters and loud late 1960s/early 1970s rock songs blaring out as diegetic music on the soundtrack. That’s about where the similarities end here though... John C. Reilly is not channeling Dennis Hopper’s character from Coppola’s classic movie and Kong himself is certainly no Kurtz.

This movie does its own thing and, it does it very well, it has to be said.

It looks great, for a start. It’s also big and loud and has a very fast pace to it. This is not a film about bringing Kong back from Skull Island, either. You won’t see any rampages through the concrete jungle of New york in this movie. As the title implies, the majority of this film takes place on Kong’s home turf and the motivations that drive the characters are a little different too. There’s also a great cast which should have tipped me off, from just the quality of the actors involved here, that this movie was worth a look. You have John Goodman, Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson and the aforementioned John C. Reilly, to name just a few. And the way certain people are introduced into the story and allowed to develop a little before being thrown together, albeit quite quickly, is a wonderful example of character depth through brevity captured on film. Also, that whole backlash against Brie Larson’s character when the first images were released on the internet last year is totally unfounded. She may be fleshed in quick but she’s a very strong character, without being an in your face, kick-ass femme fatale and I really appreciated her inclusion as a photojournalist on this one.

If you want to look for parallels to the original King Kong, you could say the character played by John Goodman is a very distant cypher of the Robert Armstrong character and this is further enhanced by the costume design for him... but he’s not that close a comparison and neither are Hiddleston and Larson close comparisons to Bruce Cabot and Fay Wray either, for that matter. That being said, Larson’s Mason Weaver character does have a special relationship with Kong in this movie but it’s handled slightly differently while still, at some moments, being totally poignant... so I was really pleased with how this turned out.

Kong himself, actually, is great work and he reminds me much more of the 1933 Kong, despite being about six time taller and the audience will probably find an emotional connection with him (or at least this audience member did). He’s not just surrounded by a fantastic human cast either... there are some nasty species of wildlife on this island and some of them make the mythical lost spider pit sequence from the original King Kong sound tame in comparison. I was amazed this only got a 12A rating over here... I would have thought a 15 rating may have been more appropriate. There’s one sequence where a character played by Toby Kebbel (who also motion captures Kong for this movie too) sits down on a log and... ah, no way I’m spoiling this one for you but I honestly didn’t see that one coming.

A minor criticism would be in some of the scripting. It would be true to say that this film belongs to the ‘Person A says there’s absolutely no way he’s doing [insert appropriate stupid thing]... cut to a shot of Person A then doing the aforementioned stupid thing’ school of film-making and I did face palm at that cringeworthy point in the movie. While other parts of the screenplay seem quite cliché-free and tight. Almost like there’s a clear division noticeable between the multiple writers of this thing. However, like I said, a minor criticism.

I’d heard bad reports about Henry Jackman’s score to the film but, heck, I certainly don’t know why. Not only is it a good match for the monster mayhem in the movie but it’s also pretty exciting stuff. Granted it’s no Max Steiner Kong score... or even Akira Ifikube or John Barry... but it’s pretty cool and I’m suitably angry that I can’t listen to it away from the movie as, so far, there’s only a download version available. Let’s all hope that Watertower Music comes to their senses soon and release a proper CD into the wild. I really want to get this one.

From it’s opening logo audio homage to the original movie which, it turns out, dovetails nicely into an opening sequence set in 1944 (which almost plays out like a mini version of John Boorman’s Hell In The Pacific) through to a truly exciting post-credits sequence (which is supposed to set the movie up as a prequel to a big movie which came out a few years ago but which, given the characters involved in this 'must see' end sequence, really feels more like it would only work as a reboot when we get to the timeline of the next movie), Kong - Skull Island constantly demonstrates that it’s a truly entertaining blockbuster movie. I really can’t recommend this film enough to anyone who loves monster movies and Kong in particular. Don’t miss seeing this spectacle at the cinema or you might just regret it. And like I implied just now, stay past the end credits if you want to see a big hint at where the next film in the franchise is going. I can’t wait. 

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