Kong: Skull Island (2017)

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I really had no high hopes for this as I ventured inside the cinema, but surprise surprise, I came out with a bounce in my step and if nobody were around I would have beat my chest and roared.

A diverse team of scientists, soldiers and adventurers unites to explore a mythical, uncharted island in the Pacific, as dangerous as it is beautiful. Cut off from everything they know, the team ventures into the domain of the mighty Kong, igniting the ultimate battle between man and nature. As their mission of discovery becomes one of survival, they must fight to escape a primal Eden in which humanity does not belong.

Kong is the second movie in the MonsterVerse series, following Godzilla (2014). The latter is a bit of a disappointment – the monster element is fine, its height used to great advantage and the huge vistas of mayhem and destruction is a young kid’s wet dream. However, I couldn’t wrap my head around the heavy-handed and joyless storytelling. The human component felt neglected; they barely registered a presence beyond the crazy one, the screaming one, the gung-ho one, the running one, the brooding scientist whom no one bothers with but still keeps around for some alternative voice. I find all the big-name actors very cardboard-y and lifeless. It also didn’t help that the story is so fatiguing with so much overbearing self-importance. Fast-forward to 2017’s Kong, I would love to say the filmmakers have learned from their predecessor, but in all honesty I can’t. However, Kong is a lot more entertaining than Godzilla and for a B-grade movie it embraces its shortcomings with finesse. This is a blast!

Kong has the right blend of silly humour and all-out monster action. Yes, the human characters still feel hollow, the exposition can be clunky and the story is unoriginal and riffs off Francis Ford Coppola’s sublime Apocalypse Now, but it is plain dumb to expect the ensemble cast and screenplay to hold up during award season. What this is is a good ole pulsating monster mash of fun. There is a wee bit pressing of genre refresh button in that Kong doesn’t fall for a white woman which will lead to his downfall and the sandbox playground is no longer a skyscraper city but Kong’s Eden home ground, which is home to a multitude of humongous creatures. It is getting increasingly tiresome to see another city getting devastated, so it is refreshing to see a straight-up survival movie on an island where the human beings aren’t on top of the food chain. The star is definitely the lonely God, Kong and the rest of crazy inhabitants of Skull Island. The visual and sound effects are stellar, and most importantly, the action doesn’t feel repetitive. Each time Kong goes mano a mano against another monster, there isn’t that dreaded been-there-done-that feeling. My fave is definitely Kong having an octopus sashimi for lunch; definitely won’t be forgetting that for a while, especially when I am chewing on a tangy squid or octopus.

The impressive ensemble cast plays second fiddle to Kong and his monster “friends”, and they seldom rise up beyond a distinctive character trait. Tom Hiddleston as John Conrad has to be some kind of convenient homage to Joseph Conrad whose Heart of Darkness is obviously an inspiration. Brie Larson, after her award-winning turn in Room, shows off different levels of seriousness. Samuel L. Jackson almost had time to utter his famous muthafcuking line. John Goodman plays a corporation type with affable charm. John C. Reilly obviously had the most fun playing a WWII pilot marooned on Skull Island for decades. Then we get a myriad of soldiers playing fodder and meals for the inhabitants of the island. This being a partially financed movie by China, we also get a completely disposal China actress doing “I don’t know what”. Sure, the complete cast doesn’t get much of a chance to shine, but they are definitely colourful and not bogged down by an overly important story.

Remember to hang back for a post-credit sequence that entices a neat future prospect. After that you can stand up and beat your chest with animalistic confidence and shout “All hail the King!”

 

3.5 / 5

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