Kong: Skull Island (2017)

Director: Jordan Vog-Roberts

Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John Goodman, Jing Tian, Toby Kebbell, John Ortiz, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Shea Whigham, Thomas Mann, Terry Notary, John C. Reilly

Screenplay: Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly

118 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for brief language.

 

Creating a MonsterVerse (I believe that’s the working title) is nothing new. As far back as the third entry in the Japanese Godzilla franchise showed the big kaiju taking on King Kong. But in the world of cinematic universe, at least this one is taking a little time.

Set in the 1970s, Kong: Skull Island sees a group of scientists and soldiers , led by former British Special Air Service Captain James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston, The Avengers, The Night Manager) and Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson, Pulp Fiction, The Incredibles), make their way to the mythic island in search of adventure. In the process, they learn that the island already has an owner, the mighty Kong, who does not want visitors. Other inhabitants of the island include giant monsters dubbed Skullcrawlers as well as missing-in-action Lieutenant Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Wreck-It Ralph). Now, cut off from the rest of the world and possible stranded on Skull Island, the team must find a way to escape before they are ripped to shreds by the many creatures residing on the island.

The plot of Kong: Skull Island is a rather simple one, and it may be the film’s cardinal sin. The simplicity of the put-a-bunch-of-people-on-an-island-and-pick-them-off-one-at-a-time idea feels unoriginal in a film that takes a familiar monster in King Kong and tries to break new ground with it. I can applaud the filmmakers for trying to do something original melding a bunch of the most famous King Kong works into one (seriously, there are parts of all three major King Kong films here as well as belting out references to Apocalypse Now and setting up more of the MonsterVerse). It’s safe to say that there are a lot of moving parts to Kong: Skull Island.

The film is entertaining though. The action sequences are beautifully shot and a lot of fun to watch. Kong is the star of the film and every scene that features him showcases the great motion capture work from Terry Notary (Warcraft) and Toby Kebbell (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, A Monster Calls). Kong works, and therefore the film works.

I hope that as the MonsterVerse continues to build, the filmmakers working within it try to marry great human characters with the intense action sequences the franchise is likely to be known for. Between the two MonsterVerse films we have, I find Kong: Skull Island to be a much more entertaining film, and I hope the upward trajectory of this franchise continues all the way to the long-awaited mash-up, Godzilla vs. King Kong. Kong: Skull Island is a fine action film that is great at what it needs to be great at…action. Now, if they could only make the humans more interesting, the film would feel much fuller.

 

3.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Gareth Edwards’s Godzilla, click here.

For my review of Jordan Vogt-Roberts’s Nick Offerman: American Ham, click here.

 

 

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Godzilla (2014)

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Director: Gareth Edwards.

Cast: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Ken Watanabe, Elizabeth Olsen, Juliette Binoche, Sally Hawkins, David Straithairn, Bryan Cranston.

Screenplay: Max Borenstein.

123 mins. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of destruction, mayhem and creature violence.

 

Back in 2010, relatively unknown director Gareth Edwards released Monsters, a technical masterpiece of hard work, mostly completed by Edwards himself. His handling of a difficult workload in post-production proved that he was capable of controlling a film shoot. Now, he has his hands on one of the most important releases of the year: the second attempt at an American Godzilla franchise. A daunting task to be certain, but not impossible.

Edwards’ film isn’t exactly the no-holds-barred masterpiece we have hoped for, but it isn’t 1998’s Godzilla either. This film comes in somewhere in between, with both pros and cons but still capable of triggering a follow-up. In fact, it already seems like Godzilla will be the first of a (so-far) trilogy, with two sequels on the way from Edwards himself. He seems like the kind of filmmaker to learn from his mistakes, so let’s hope for the best.

Anyway, back to this film. This incarnation of the mythos is centered around the Brody family and the effect that these kaiju, have had on their lives. The patriarch, Joe (Bryan Cranston, TV’s Breaking Bad, Argo), survives an initial event back in 1999 that takes the life of his wife, Sandra (Juliette Binoche, The English Patient, Cosmopolis). Flash-forward to present day Tokyo, where Joe has slowly slipped into madness by the many conspiracy theories he has pursued involving the destruction of his home. He quickly pulls his estranged son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Kick-Ass, Anna Karenina) into the mix chasing creatures nicknamed MUTOs. Who will come to the rescue? Cough. Cough.

Godzilla. Godzilla does.

Godzilla is a far different creature than the one introduced to American audiences in our previous flimsy attempt. This Godzilla is a heroic one. Now, Godzilla has been seen as a hero in many installments of Toho’s three series (Showa, Heisei, and Millenium).  He is a protector, and pretty damn awesome.

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Let’s talk performances here, because this is where the failings begin to manifest. We have some pretty big actors here: Taylor-Johnson, Cranston, Binoche, Elizabeth Olsen, Sally Hawkins, Ken Watanabe, and David Straithairn. The problem? The only characters with any development are Joe Brody (who doesn’t have enough screentime to carry) and Watanabe’s Dr. Ishiro Serizawa. The rest of these are wasted on character the screenwriter (Max Borenstein) didn’t bother to actually develop. Bryan Cranston carries a powerhouse performance with limited time. This is a character that delivered the most important moments in the film.

Ken Watanabe also delivers a unique performance here. As Dr. Serizawa, we see a character reminiscent of many previous characters in older Godzilla films. The doc is designed to create ambience around a creature who we largely don’t see until at least an hour in.

Who’s the star of this film? It certainly isn’t Godzilla. The beast itself doesn’t take up much screen time. I didn’t mind this approach, reminiscent of older monster movies, like The Wolf Man or Jaws, if the main characters were developed enough to make up for it. They weren’t.

The cinematography  here is gorgeous. The editing of the shots, though, drew me out of the film. Every time the MUTOs or Godzilla show up, they cut away to the aftermath. Now, I find reservations with this, as this is one of the big things about Godzilla: Destruction!

The visual effects are also top notch here. Godzilla being modeled after komodo dragons and bears makes for a beautiful creature.  I’m almost certain we will see Godzilla on the shortlist for Best Visual Effects at next year’s Oscars. Quote it.

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After reviewing all the individual pieces here, I can say that this film was far from perfect, but it showed a lot of potential in creating a franchise, which I hope happens soon, as the ending was completely left open! Give us more, Gareth! More!

Have you seen Godzilla? What did you think? Was it enough Kaiju-on-Kaiju action or were you squirming in your seat? Comment below!

 

3/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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