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Drew Reviews Kong: Skull Island

Courtesy of Warner Brothers

Courtesy of Warner Brothers

Drew Huddleston, Featured Critic

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Against the flaming red sun rises the silhouette of a massive ape as group of helicopters cruise towards it. The muscular gun-holding soldiers gape in horror, as the beast’s shadow is cast over them.

“Oh my god!”

“What the h*** is that?!”

“Somebody talk to me.”

“I’m freaking out!”

“Is that a monkey?”

The crackled radio conversations dart back and forth as the aircraft flies dangerously close to the firm standing beast. As the soldiers on board hysterically shove bullets into their guns, the monster clenches its hairy black hand into a tight fist.

It’s 1973.

As the Vietnam War draws to a close, a nut-job scientist (John Goodman) tries to acquire funding to explore a recently discovered island in the Pacific. Aware of the dangers that lurk ahead, Goodman’s character brings a platoon of soldiers fresh off the set of Apocalypse Now, led by Colonel Samuel L. Jackson. Also tagging along are Tom Hiddleston, a gifted tracker, and Brie Larson, an anti-war photographer ready to take pictures of the next big thing, as ceasefire is ordered in Vietnam. The team cuts themselves off from society for three days in order to learn about the flora, fauna, and geology of the island.

The first thing they do is drop bombs on the island in order to learn about its geological structure (it’s kind of hard to explain). However, the explosions are attracting a native on the island.

He isn’t happy.

The team’s helicopters are smashed to the ground by a massive ape, killing off a majority of the troops. Scattered, lost, and constantly watched, the band of heroes must fight their way through the living nightmare of Skull Island to escape the jaws of numerous oversized creatures and make it home safely.

If you came expecting to see fleshed-out characters investing you in the story, well, you’ll find most of the meat being ripped from their bones by the numerous blood thirsty monsters. I can’t and won’t ever remember any of the names of the characters in Skull Island except Kong.

The leads, played by Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson, give bland performances. Hiddleston, who does barely any tracking, just stands around, pointing a gun at things, and looking like some sort of too-cool-for-school action hero. Larson is usually running away from something while trying to look scared, holding a camera like it’s some sort of all powerful monster killing machine, or wearing some sort of sweaty tank top.

The best characters, while forgettable, are found in Jackson, Goodman, and John C. Reilly. Jackson shares many parallels to Captain Ahab from Moby Dick. He’s a blood lustful soldier who doesn’t feel alive unless he’s in danger. When the monkey kills his crew, he goes bananas, as swears that the beast will feel his “great vengeance and furious anger.”

Goodman’s character is supported by the script’s backstory and clear motivation. He’s seen Kong first hand and wants the world to know. Unfortunately, everyone else who has seen the monkey was killed by him, leaving Goodman looking like nothing more than another conspiracy theory kook. He wants the evidence that the monsters that attacked his boat exist, to end the years of ridicule he’s gone through.

Perhaps the best character is found in John C. Reilly. He’s a downed WWII fighter pilot who has been trapped on the island for 29 years, learning about its rich culture and rituals. While at times he is used to spill out exposition, he gives the best performance in the whole movie. He can be sad, due to the tragic elements written for him. He hasn’t seen his family for nearly three decades, and his best friend, a japanese pilot who crashed with Reilly at the beginning of the film, has passed on, leaving Reilly with a tribe of speechless natives. He’s a cool action hero, wielding a japanese katana in battle. But most of all, he’s hilarious. Best known for his work in comedies such as Talladega Nights and Step-Brothers, Reilly’s non-stop improv riff-raff keeps the comedic elements afloat throughout the film.

The script retreads familiar ground from previous Kong movies. The sequence where the soldiers drop bombs onto the island’s surface, while fun, is cramming the “people are killing nature” message down our throats pretty early into the movie. The movie goes out of its way to include a scene where Larson and Kong create another disposable Beauty and the Beast kind of bond found in most of the monkey king’s movies. The script does offer a lick of fun, having you tensely anticipating the gorey demise of characters. I’m not going to spoil any of the deaths, because most of them are pretty creative, and will get a good chuckle out of you.    

The action portions of the film are an absolute blast. Everything is beautifully staged, pitting the characters in harsh locations against menacing mammoth monsters. Whether it be fighting a giant spider with legs that blend into a bamboo forest or two-legged, belly crawling dinosaurs called Skull Crawlers, the monsters keep the audience engaged.

Every scene is up to interpretation in terms of the tone. I found the fight with the massive arachnid to be a much more frightening sequence, while the first time the heroes fight against the skull crawler is pretty darn entertaining. No action scene feels recycled from an earlier one in the film. This is thanks to the creative designs of the creatures and fun uses of the setting.

The opening action scene, where Kong creams the copters to the ground, kicked off the movie perfectly, due to the epic build up, enjoyable action, and gorgeous visual style that made the sequence look like Apocalypse Now vs. King Kong. The ridiculously over-the-top climax between Kong and the mama skull crawler is one of the best times I’ve had at the movies since viewing La La Land.

Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts has created one of the prettiest monster movies in a long time. His wel- timed editing is able to add humorous elements to action scenes, while also changing back and forth between storylines smoothly. However, his greatest strength is in his cinematography. Vogt-Roberts captures the massive scope of the island and monsters perfectly, like tilting the camera up, revealing a shot of the ape standing in front of an flaming red sun as a squad of helicopters drift towards him. His appropriate use of slow-mo adds tension and emphasizes cooler aspects of the action. The camera is never to afraid to get up close to the creatures, as it is aware of how good the CGI is.

Perhaps Vogt-Roberts greatest cinematographic strength is found in where he puts the camera. He places the camera in interesting spots, like a helicopter swatted to the ground the angry ape or behind a tiny pterodactyl being sliced in half by a Katana wielding Tom Hiddleston. In a couple instances, the movie briefly uses a first-person perspective. It’s never nauseatingly shaky, like in the early -016 film Hardcore Henry, making it work super well.

Kong: Skull Island, while not overly indulged in character or story, is a beautiful, loud, and all around awesome monster-mash you won’t want to miss.
Grade: B

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Drew Reviews Kong: Skull Island