Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts. Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, John C. Reilly, Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson. USA, 2017. Budget: 185 million. IMDb rating: 6.9. My rating: 2.5/4. Giant gorilla vs. giant everything.
– Kong’s a pretty good king. Keeps to himself, mostly. This is his home, we’re just guests. But you don’t go into someone’s house and start dropping bombs, unless you’re picking a fight.
(John C. Reilly’s character)
It’s interesting to note once again the Hollywood’s tendency of last years to invite young indie directors for blockbuster production – Garreth Edwards/Star Wars, Colin Trevorrow/Jurassic World, James Gunn/Guardians of the Galaxy – probably hoping they will deliver a fresh breath.
And forget the bearded romantic from New Zealand, who was responsible for his own beautiful and canonical version of King-Kong. Peter Jackson, of course, was relying on the classical King-Kong story of 1933, even though with a more modern and refreshing approach. New Kong is several times bigger, stronger, more dangerous and more… boring.
Few things that are worth learning about “Kong: Skull Island” – it’s not only a franchise reboot about the giant ape, but the second movie in the MonsterVerse (the first one was “Godzilla”, 2014). Yep, Godzilla vs King-Kong and other lovely pranks, following the recent fashion of creating the shared cinematographic universe (Hi, Marvel and DC Comics!). But that is no sooner than 2020. Jordan Vogt-Roberts is in charge of the $190 million budget, the director of highly successful indie “The Kings of Summer” (2013).
“Kong: Skull Island” leaves indeed a very ambiguous impression. Surprisingly, with the cast like here (Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, John C. Reilly, John Goodman), the characters are mostly nothing more than background figures lost in the wild. Almost each oh them represents archetypical blockbuster role with a typical for this genre vocabulary – a mad scientist, military obsessed colonel, pretty brave hero, pacifist photographer… we have seen all this many times. On the other hand, it’s still great to see them a cast like this, but don’t expect some bright characters or complex personal story development – it’s Samuel L. Jackson playing Samuel L. Jackson kind of film. At least, they back up those scenes when nothing is exploding or crushing. The only exception is John Reilly, a true wild spirit of madness. He plays a pilot that crashed on the island during the World War ll, managed somehow to survive and almost got crazy with the local native population, that worship Kong as their god (let me tell you a secret – he protects them from a more powerful ene… sorry, sorry, tss. Anyway, just watch the trailer).
The weird thing is that “Skull Island” deliberately flirts with war movies of 70-s and 80-s about the war in Vietnam. Here and there we hear ambiguous phrases about the war (“we didn’t lose the war, we abandoned it”), enemy, human role on the Earth, but… they lead nowhere. Even the movie poster is a reference to “Apocalypse Now”. And whether it’s great to hear David Bowie and Jefferson Airplane during the stunning island views, but at a certain point this gimmick starts to be repetitive. In any case, all this flirting with the pop culture, modern blockbusters, war history and nature protection look rather curious, but somehow strained and forced.
Another ambiguous moment – the woman and beast relationship story line. What makes the classic King-Kong story so touching and remarkable? He is, in fact, a tragic character. If in 1933 the viewers praised the death of the beast who kept a beautiful young woman (at that time Kong was somewhat of a personification of the America’s white population fear of black population), and then in 2005 they cried because of his unfair fate, then keep in mind that now we don’t have to worry at all. Neither Kong nor women characters (there are actually only 2 of them!) do not have any memorable character and are barely connected. Kong’s role here is pretty simple. He is a giant gorilla. The defender of his land. Point. So if you expect some kind if depth or drama – forget it. A woman photographer (Brie Larson, Oscar 2015 for “Room”) is here only to dilute the company of men, wear a tight T-short and keep her eyes wide open while seeing local wonders.
For the dessert we have special effects and CGI. Here the movie of course should be praised. Not only Kong but all other monsters – and believe me, there will be lots of them – are created with love and care. If only same attention was paid to the human characters of the film! Interestingly, Kong himself appears already in first minutes of the movie – probably the studio took into consideration the criticism of Godzilla and Jackson’s version of Kong, where the viewers had to wait for 1 hour (!) before the monster’s appearance. So be prepared – there will be lots of Kong himself, the fightings are long, bloody and devastating, the design of other monsters is impressive. From giant octopus as Kong’s lunch (yes, literally) and huge spiders to skyscraper-sized lizards. The picture is brisk and juicy, and even without the monsters themselves there are things to see. By the way, mostly the film was shot in Vietnam.
Worth watching? New King-Kong is surprisingly simple and brutal. If you want to enjoy 2 hours of stunning views where a giant gorilla is beating thoroughly drawn monsters and scatters the helicopters like tennis balls – welcome! Add great John C. Reilly with his mad sparkle in the eyes, that greatly dilutes an overall pathos and all these ambiguous attempts to flirt with 70-s pop culture and war movies. Everybody else can go straight to a wonderful version by Peter Jackson, that by no means looks dated visually.
Watch instead: pay attention to mostly unknown (and great) “Monsters” of 2010 – it will easily pin down both Godzilla and Kong through caustic social remarks and the fragility of human relationship with a giant alien octopus invasion happening in the background. By the way, it was shot just for $500,000 by Gareth Edwards – yes, that guy who later was invited by big bosses of Hollywood to direct “Godzilla” and “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”.
P. S. “Pacific Rim” was way cooler and more creative as a movie about giant things beating other giant things. But “Kong: Skull Island” grossed pretty well, so… let’s wait till 2020.