Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Review: Kong - Skull Island

Kong: Skull Island (3D)
Cert: 12A / 118 mins / Dir. Jordan Vogt-Roberts / Trailer

"Mark my words", John Goodman's faintly shady conspiracy-theorist character opines in the film's opening moments, as his cab pulls up outside the White House in 1973, "there'll never be a more screwed up time in Washington". A customary beat is left for audience chuckling, during which I thought Oh, so that's how this script is going to be, bringing the razor sharp jibes that only a $185m, 12A-rated, studio blockbuster with three screenwriters would even dare…

Yeah, in case you hadn't heard, Kong's back. And aren't Warner Bros happy about that? Their marketing campaign of having our eponymous primate fully appear in pretty much every trailer, robbing the film of any Reveal™ it may have thought about, is matched only by the decision to have him also appear about three minutes into the movie itself. Of all the criticisms which can be levelled at Skull Island, 'seeing too little of King Kong' will not be on the list, at least.

So, something-something-Unchartered-Island™, something-something-Government-Backed-Hand-Picked-Expedition-Team™, something-something-Secret-Agenda™. You know how this works, you've seen pretty much every monster flick of the last thirty years, right? The script sasses its way along, the first act writing cheques which the second and third won't be able to cash. Every six minutes or so the movie will drop its smartassery to lay some exposition, every bit as hackneyed and/or mechanical as the situation requires. Meanwhile, Henry Jackman's hastily reworked Winter Soldier score is punctuated all too frequently by a Needle-Drop™ soundtrack of conveniently iconic early 70s hits. Often this is literally the case as the gang of hardened Vietnam veterans and survival experts have brought a portable record player onto their expedition. As well as, y'know, records.

The soldiers, the scientists and The Girl One™ go deeper into the jungle, slowly realise that Kong probably isn't the bad guy, and find The Crazy Old Man One™ en-route (John C. Reilly being inexplicably the best thing about the film, despite being the worst in the trailers). By that time there's trouble in the group and armed bickering ensues. They then try to get out of the jungle anyway, and monsters start fighting each other in earnest. And the more monsters appear on screen, the the less any of it matters. An incredibly strong cast and occasionally fantastic cinematography are wasted on a slightly camp, borderline-animated farce. And don't even try to frame the events against any kind of logic or reason*1.

Despite being meticulously designed and detailed, there's a weightless quality to the Skull Island's non-human inhabitants which echoes the screenplay's lack of emotional engagement. There's no danger to be felt here, no joy, and despite the heavily applied 3D, certainly no depth. Rarely have creatures so definitively wild felt so utterly harmless.

To be fair, the film is fairly competent at what it does.
I just found what it does to be fairly boring.

Oh, and there's a thing after the credits, to add insult to injury.

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
The Lost World, Aliens Vs Predator, Independence Day, Godzilla.
Although if you enjoyed those, you don't need to watch this

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
You may as well, it'll have even less impact on your TV.

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
…be a hundred-foot tall rights-grab and franchise kick-starter?

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
This has got Brie Larson in it.
She was in Room, for crying out loud

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?
Oh, probably not.

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
I didn't hear one, although I could well have missed it.
There's a lot of shrieking in this movie

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Mace Windu's in this, hamming it right up.
And so's that additional voices guy from The Old Republic.

Although credit where it's due, it's more impressive that the film's got Nick Fury, Captain Marvel and Loki on the same call-sheet…

And if I HAD to put a number on it…
And that's being kind, frankly. This is a film which I know will go down in my estimation, over time.

*1 I'll ask the questions so you don't have to:
• Reilly's Marlow says that Kong is still growing, but when we see the skeletons of his monkey-parents, they're only about 100ft, the same as Kong. Is this a throwaway line to explain why the ape will have to be bigger, if he's to rumble with Godzilla further down the line?
• How come we have a misty and overcast day on the river, as a flock of pseudo-pterodactyls snatch then tear apart a hapless explorer, all artfully silhouetted against a golden sunset which clearly isn't there?
• Why do we have vintage-effect footage of [REDACTED]'s tearful return home at the end of the movie, but with camera angles from inside the house as well, even though it's meant to be a surprise reunion?
• Why did I bother to remember these questions when it's clear that nothing in the film actually matters? [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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