Ah a freshly rebooted monsterverse, no not that dark monsterverse…that’s some other rebooted franchise wannabe. This is a different rebooted monsterverse from Legendary Entertainment, not to be confused with the multitude of other cinematic universe franchises, failing or otherwise (ugh!).
As this is yet another reboot attempt Legendary and its director decided to go a slightly different route for this monster mash. That slightly different route was setting this movie in 1973 towards the end of the Vietnam War. Basically everything you’d expect to happen in a Kong movie happens here (bunch of military and scientist types go to explore mystery island, find monsters, double cross, fight for survival etc…), but its in 1973 during Nam. Now I initially thought this was quite a neat idea because it was different, and because they did a really good job for the first half of the movie making it look like a Nam war flick (loved seeing all the retro gear).
But dare I say that maybe, just maybe, they went a tad too far in trying to make this Nam element look as authentic as possible. As I’ve already said the movie does look great, they have recaptured the mood of many Nam flicks perfectly with the grubby visuals, presumably using a specific type of film to get that retro look or just fiddling with it in the edit. You could easily be mistaken for thinking you were watching a Nam flick from the 80’s. All the regular Nam cliches and stereotypes are all present and correct with the soldiers and their goofing around, their personally modified military attire, their language, the sweeping camera moves to capture helicopters in flight, the way the soldiers ride their vehicles etc…It all looks really really good.
Thing is I couldn’t help but think to myself, this is a King Kong movie, not a Nam war movie. Are you trying to make a monster mash movie here or just recreate the Vietnam war era? This leads me to another little peeve of mine, the soundtrack. Again, I realise the movie was set during Nam, I realise the director and co were going for an authentic vibe, but Jesus Christ the constant music playing became annoying. Yes we get it, this is during the Vietnam war, you really [b]really[/b] didn’t have to have the soldiers playing music for the start of every new scene. Overall I just thought they were trying a bit too hard with this section of the movie.
Anyway, the Nam section comes to an end and we enter the meat of the movie. We reach the mysterious Skull Island that is shrouded by a massive swirling storm, keeping it hidden. OK so the storm has kept the island hidden from sight but you’re telling me no one had ever seen this massive storm before? No one has ever ventured into it out of scientific curiosity? And how does this perpetual storm remain in place?
Skull Island itself is a lush Jurassic Park type affair that is infested with all manner of giant beasties. From huge spider-like insectoids with legs that look like bamboo. Another giant bug-like insect that can camouflages itself as a felled log. A giant squid living in the island waters apparently. Mega sized…errr…ox? And of course the main beastie baddies which look like large reptilian creatures with an exoskeleton covering their faces (Skullcrawlers). The creatures were imaginative and well designed but more importantly believable. Although, you still have the issue of when these creatures battle each other there doesn’t often appear to be consequences, initially. When Kong fights the large reptilian Skullcrawlers (or anything) he’s throwing them around, beating them with tree trunks, stomping on them etc…but they just keep getting back up apparently unharmed. The old tactic of throwing the opponent happens often in these movies, we see this in superhero flicks too. Of course Kong eventually kills his opponent but they like to drag these things out.
The same can be said for the human characters that whip out their guns and barrage these creatures in a hail of bullets. Yet nearly every time these creatures don’t appear to be affected by the gunfire (which I don’t understand). No matter how big or powerful the gun, they never seem to do anything against these monsters, yet the humans keep relying on their guns. Its like…don’t they see the guns are having no effect? I realise that’s all they’ve got but dude come on, stop firing and get the hell outta there. That’s not to say it isn’t exciting to watch, its just dumb at the same time. Its kinda like the numerous times that Kong appears out of nowhere and surprises a human character. How in the hell does an ape of that size manage to casually walk around and not draw attention to himself? At the same time how could anyone not know this mega sized, 100 foot tall, bipedal ape was coming in their general direction??
As for the human characters, well they’re all a predictable, dull, hollow bunch really. Samuel L. Jackson plays the patriotic military leader who’s basically gone a bit off the rails seeing his men killed by Kong, thusly he is obsessed with killing Kong. Yep despite all the odds this guy simply doesn’t take no for an answer, he’s gonna take down Kong and that’s that. Tom Hiddleston plays the good looking, heroic, macho adventurer in a tight t-shirt that can do no wrong and saves the day. Brie Larson is merely the attractive female that still manages to tame Kong even in this movie.
Something that felt completely outta place and crowbarred in. John C. Reilly is your standard marooned bearded bloke who’s gone a bit loopy (kinda like Alan Parrish outta ‘Jumanji’). And John Goodman plays the devious Monarch official who lies to everyone about going to Skull Island (he’s basically Burke outta ‘Aliens’). Then throw in some random diversity box ticking for some other background characters who literally didn’t need to be in the movie.
We do see the native people of Skull Island and their home but unfortunately that is not explored in any real way. We get hints at their lifestyle, how they somehow survive, their culture etc…but nothing more. They are just there to help the plot along. Most of the US troops are faceless expendable monster fodder bar one or two, but you don’t really care about any of them. One soldier decides to kill (or sacrifice) himself towards the end, no clue why he does this, he just does presumably because the director thought it would be cool? I dunno. Then in the climatic battle between Kong and the mega (Queen?) Skullcrawler, I noticed Kong somehow manages to rip out the creatures innards with the same hand he’s holding Brie Larson in. Or so it seemed to me.
I haven’t mentioned the visuals simply because you should all know by now they will be good, very good. Kong looks incredible, the other creatures look incredible, the island looks beautiful and the action is extremely agreeable. There is also a reasonable amount of blood and gore here too which was a nice surprise, certainly not for the family this one. Overall you don’t actually get much Kong for your buck (much like ‘Godzilla’) so there’s that. Although the finale throwdown is highly gratifying (lots of throwing being key here). You obviously spend much more screen time with the human characters, but alas they are all pretty throwaway in my opinion. There are too many characters, we don’t get to know them and in the end you simply don’t care about them. The off-kilter humour at times also did not help.
If I can say this, the 2014 ‘Godzilla’ movie felt like a slightly more sensible affair, a touch more of a monster action thriller vibe about it. This movie has more of a comicbook vibe about it if you ask me. It felt a bit more silly and leaned more towards something like 1995’s ‘Congo’, mixed with bits of ‘Apocalypse Now’ or any number of Nam war flicks. And of course we have the usual issue of this movie coming across more as filler for a bigger better movie later on down the line that features a famous giant reptilian monster. That’s not to say this was a bad movie, its not, its essentially about King Kong punching and destroying stuff, how is that bad? Well its not, its fun and it looks cool. Unfortunately that’s about it, overall its very shallow, tonally mixed and is clearly riding Marvel’s coattails…but I did enjoy it.