Kong: Skull Island
Time/place: 7:00 showing Thursday at Cinepolis Vista with Sydney
THE OPENING CREDITS:
Have you read my review of 2014’s Godzilla movie? Well, if not, go ahead and skip back in time by way of that prior link, and give it a perusal; I’ll wait. My affection for Godzilla as a movie is sincere, but I am under no illusion that it isn’t very much drenched in nostalgic joy. That movie hit every chord the little kid inside of me want it to, while still appealing to my adult sensibilities. Now, three years later, I am feeling pretty much same way yet again with another beast of my childhood past — King Kong! While Godzilla is the more serious, indifferent, destructive monster, Kong is the big-hearted ape of tragedy. These movies were a massive inspiration to young Mark, from the stop-motion and puppetry, to the adventure told through story, and while Godzilla was very fun and exciting, even as a little kid I knew that King Kong was ultimately a sad tale. In the 1933 original, when Kong stands alone atop the Empire State Building, I felt my sadness grow with every painful bullet hit he takes from the surrounding planes. It wasn’t simply akin to my losing a fun beast, such as how watching Jabba the Hutt die in Return of the Jedi was always kind of sad for me to watch, but it’s genuine tragedy because Kong is ultimately a good guy… just pushed the wrong way. As the trailers and marketing for Kong: Skull Island came trickling out, my excitement was palpable — but so was my interest in whether or not Kong would still be the misunderstood hero.
I re-read my Godzilla review for a refresher, and was reminded of just how much I genuinely liked it — even aside from the boyish excitement. Kong: Skull Island is not quite at the same level, I think… but it is also a very different movie. Godzilla was very much the “first” movie in a series; it had an old friend to reintroduce to the movie world and so it took its sweet time building the anticipation and teasing its final payoff. It was also establishing the ground rules and the existence of this new monster-movie-world. Kong is able to sidestep this process, then, and dive right into the action, because it’s a sequel. And oh, does it dive in. Godzilla is a story about him coming into our world, but in Kong: Skull Island, it’s a tale about us going into his. That is, in fact, a theme that works throughout the movie (both subtly, obviously, and spoken out loud)… one doesn’t go into another’s home and start dropping bombs unless one is looking for a fight. The thematic depth of this movie is fairly shallow, though, but it is on par for what it should be. As with the prior movie in this new series, if Kong took itself too seriously, it wouldn’t work — instead of being a fun monster mash, it would be a very heavy picture, laden with multiple human deaths the audience is left to emotionally grapple with. While the human deaths cause by Godzilla were more peripheral, Kong and his island of monsters squish and tear apart many a poor human right in front of us. But that’s what one expects to see here. The fantastic irony of Kong being the monster with the most heart is that he is also the more intimate killer. Godzilla knocks over a building; Kong eats someone.
Kong: Skull Island is an adventure movie. If you remember the black-and-white original, a huge chunk of time is spent on Kong’s island with dinosaurs and big bugs before the big ape is captured and brought to New York. This time, the story IS the island. The trailers haven’t hidden much; this really is the monster island spectacle the advertisements have portrayed. It’s not all action, though. A decent amount of heart comes out through a couple of characters, and while it isn’t very deep, the humanity is certainly there.
Our new Godzilla is enormous in a way he’s never been before, towering roughly 300 ft. tall, but Kong ain’t no slouch in the size department, either. He’s said to be about a third of Godzilla’s height, at 100 ft., but due to his more immediate interactions with humans and his existence in the jungle atmosphere, he looms large. I giggled so many times while watching this movie, simply due to glee of his sheer size.
The only slight complaint I could muster is regarding the script. Namely, the dialogue. During the run of the movie, there are several moments in which a line is way too on-the-nose or even a little awkward in how bold it wants to be in juxtaposition to how it actually just sits in the air without as much oomph. While the latter might also fall on the shoulders of the director, there are several themes and concepts throughout the movie that would have been served just as well without being spelled out directly. This didn’t necessarily take away from the movie, as I was there to see my beloved Kong enter this new world of giant beasts, but this is the one element that keeps Skull Island at a slightly different level than I felt Godzilla reached. I have yet to watch Godzilla again, though (doing so this weekend, though, inspired by last night), so my first reaction may have been slightly skewed by the nostalgic glow… but either way, this is the only flaw I really found in a movie that otherwise didn’t try to be more than it was.
What the movie lacked in verbal creativity, though, it made up for visually. The many creatures that pop up in this flick are a far cry from the simple dinosaurs that roamed the 1933 version’s island. The organic discovery of many of these animals creates an almost safari expedition feel… a stranded, we-gonna-die expedition, but an expedition nonetheless. While sometimes these creatures are on the attack, of course, all but one are exceptionally animal-like, in that they aren’t vicious kill-machines. Kong is our hero-with-a-heart, but I really appreciated a couple of the other beasts that pop up, just living their lives. This is also a really beautiful movie, as well. And no, I’m not talking about Tom Hiddleston’s dreamy gaze. Okay, I’m not JUST talking about Tom Hiddleston’s dreamy gaze. So many frames of this picture are just lovely — even with that loveliness is the eyes of an angry, burning monster staring at a puny human in front of it 🙂 .
I’ve addressed, already, my nostalgic admiration for this movie, but sincerely, that is where the heart of this picture lies for me. I loved this movie because I love King Kong. I love that I spent 2 hours in the theater feeling like a big, happy kid, watching his childhood fantasies play out on the big screen. I loved that I walked out of the theater and had to summon all of my strength to not pound my chest and pretend to be a mini-Kong, myself, in the interest of not entirely embarrassing my girlfriend. Remove the nostalgic dosage and this is simply a fun popcorn movie with monsters and some fun/attractive human characters, with a dash or two of touching elements. As a near-concluding song begins to play, a temporary farewell to Kong and this world, I was a little emotional. I didn’t bawl, but my eyes definitely weren’t bone dry. I can’t say that most, if any, of you will have the same reaction — to many it will simply be a fun way to spend a couple of hours, seeing some monsters fight. For me, though, it meant a lot to see this character on the big screen… a fella I grew up with, who’d first inspired my love of movies, and who was treated in this iteration with a similar fondness and admiration by the movie-makers.
Of course, the movie itself DOES offer plenty of genuinely sweet moments. A couple of the creatures are docile and sweet, and an encounter with one who reacts not aggressively but rather somberly to being attacked hit me right in the heart. There are emotional farewells, connections made, and a couple of the human deaths actually do carry some impact.
I also want to speak to John C. Reilly’s character, and this is the right section to do it in as it is more than simply technical achievement. Reilly isn’t generally my favorite in comedies; his shtick simply doesn’t speak to me much. Here, though, he is perfect. He’s understandably crazy, but then he also serves to bring us the most heart out of any other character in the movie. Without him, this movie would have been so much less.
Kong: Skull Island is part two in what is to become an ongoing monster-movie series (which I am excruciatingly excited about), and due to its treading in already-rippled waters, it has no problem with diving right in and having fun from the get-go with monster mayhem. Even though Sydney didn’t have the emotional connection to seeing Kong on the screen that I did, this movie doesn’t bank itself on winning audiences over simply on nostalgia alone, so she and I were able to chat a lot about the many parts that we liked. Being that this is a monster movie, most of what we shared delight over were the creatures and their moments — and what more could one ask for in a good-times monster flick?
LIKE or LOVE:
Love. My personal stake in seeing this big guy on the screen is high, but even if I could distance myself from that prior affection for review purposes, why would I even want to?