MovieBob Reviews - KONG: SKULL ISLAND -

Kong: Skull Island is a movie I expected to mostly like and ended up mostly liking. Granted, I acknowledge I’m an easy mark for exactly this kind of nonsense: When a movie opens with lost islands, hidden civilizations and “Hollow Earth Theory,” chances are good, I’ll have a good time with it. If said film also decides to a giant monster movie? As far as I’m concerned, the work’s already done – I’m going to be onboard.

And I was overall very much onboard with Kong: Skull Island. This isn’t a great film, but it’s a good one: It delivers on the premise, it’s very well directed, the cast is performing admirably even if their roles are (by design) essentially disposable. And even though it’s clear well before we get to the obligatory post-credits scene that we’re mostly doing tentpole-franchise world-building work here the whole thing holds together just fine as afternoon-matinee creature features go. It doesn’t even feel too long or in too much of a hurry to cram in too many set pieces – which puts it well above most other big FX-driven blockbusters we’ve been getting lately.

It must also be said: Even though I feel like I’m playing into the marketing machine by even bringing it up… yeah, it’s quite a lot better than the Godzilla remake (to which it’s meant to serve as a nominal prequel) was, largely thanks to a near-complete lack of pretense and a palpable sense of joy at reveling in the possibilities of the giant monster gimmick. The whole broader enterprise still feels like it’s missing a central sense of “self” or a unifying theme (as in the first wave of Marvel Universe movies were building to the very specific idea of The Avengers whereas this yet unnamed Kaiju-Universe is building more ambiguously toward “Hey! Various monsters will at some point meet each other!”) but complaining too much about that feels like penalizing B-movies for being B-movies.

It helps that the setup is pretty novel. This isn’t a “sequel” to King Kong so much as it’s a “reworking” of the basic setup: It’s the early-70s in the last days of the Vietnam War instead of the 1930s, Kong is an unambiguous good guy instead of a monster we can kind of get behind (if we overlook all the women he was apparently perfectly okay having sacrificed to him until he finally got a blonde one) and the whole Beauty & The Beast quasi-romance thing is 99% gone from the story to make room for more action and monster mayhem.

The basic idea is that John Goodman is the founder of still-nascent Monarch (a shadowy quasi-government agency dedicated to monster hunting, in case you also forgot everything that happened before the final ten minutes of Godzilla) who wants to prove that giant monsters are actually a thing and believes that the newly-discovered “Skull Island” is the place to go looking. He’s able to talk the U.S. Government into giving his team a military escort on the premise that claiming an island full of monsters might be a nice “pick-me-up” for everybody now that the Vietnam War has come to a downer ending. What they don’t realize is that Skull Island is actually an access point to an underground lair of giant man-eating lizards held in check only by the island’s alpha-predator protector Kong, so when the army shows up to agitate things he attacks them. And everyone winds up in scattered teams all trying to get to the same extraction point.

One team mainly consists of Tom Hiddleston as a good-guy mercenary, Brie Larson as a photographer and Jing Tian and Corey Hawkins as part of the Monarch team; while the other is the (mostly monster-chow) army detachment led by Samuel L. Jackson as an unhinged Colonel who decides that killing Kong will help him feel better about being denied a “win” in Vietnam – eventually joined by John C. Reilly as a wacky Navy pilot who’s been stranded on the island since World War II. Reilly is pretty much the non-monster reason to see the movie; the only one whose character feels like he’s there to BE a character first instead of mainly moving the plot forward (though Shea Wigham does what he can in as Jackson’s underwritten foil). He’s one of our great living character actors, and this kind of cleanup batting is exactly why the job was invented.

Honestly, what I enjoyed most about this is that it’s a throwback monster movie but not working the same angle you always see in the genre. It’s not really doing the Japanese Kaiju aesthetic like Godzilla and Pacific Rim or the Jurassic Park science-gone-bad thing or even making a direct reference to the original King Kong. If anything, the reference point here feels mostly akin to the 70s Doug McClure monster-movie cycle (AT THE EARTH’S CORE, LAND THAT TIME FORGOT, WARLORDS OF ATLANTIS) which is a weirdly untapped moment in the genre that I’ve always had a lot of affection for.

But that’s kind of also where I have reservations: Kong absolutely feels like the super-expensive version of a goofy old B-movie, but… at this level, it loses the low-tech charm that makes those films so endearing in the first place. Sure, seeing hundreds of millions of dollars spent on a screenplay that would’ve been right at home back in the old drive-in days is kind of a novelty in itself; but I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I would’ve enjoyed this even more if it really was just a guy in a dumpy gorilla suit stomping around on miniature sets. And wrestling with foam-rubber monsters – especially since even with all the special effects it still adheres the standard goofy monster movie logic where you can hear a mountain-sized gorilla coming from miles away unless the scene requires his presence to be a surprise, or any body of water being able to conceal any size monster with no displacement, that kind of thing.

Still, I can’t deny that it’s a fun movie and I enjoyed it, even if there isn’t much to it. And I can safely say that if I’d seen it when I was eight years old, I’d probably have watched it 50 more times.

MovieBob Reviews - KONG: SKULL ISLAND -

MovieBob Reviews – KONG: SKULL ISLAND –


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