'Kong: Skull Island'
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, Tom Hiddleston, John Goodman, Tian Jing, John C. Reilly
If it was only spectacle and size that defined a great genre movie then 'Kong: Skull Island' would have had it all- unfortunately that's not the case. Size does matter, but not over and above aspects of story-telling and technicalities other than CGI, that help make a movie experience more real and involving.
The 1933 original, the 1976 remake, and Peter Jackson's three-hour long 2005 version unveiled the big ape in mysterious fashion- exposing him gradually to the humans who end up becoming his enemies. 'Kong: Skull Island,' on the other hand, takes much lesser time to present Kong full frontal and thereafter he quite simply hogs the show. His origins (this one completely different from the ones we've seen before) have links to the 'Jurassic Park' period where monstrous creatures exist in a secretive unexposed world of their own within the confines of modern age.
The prologue set in 1944 has two World War 2 pilots crash-landing on Skull Island- one is an American, the other Japanese and they come at each other with a vengeance. The next we see it's 1973, when a group of geologists discover the existence of an unheard of island in the Pacific Ocean and set out on a mapping expedition (supposedly) with a military escort. And Vietnam gets referenced but it's not Apocalyptic by any measure.
'Skull Island' is largely about one man's quest for vengeance and it goes far beyond duty and is much bigger than his own life's worth. Much like the long forgotten 'The Land that Time Forgot,' this film sets up a perfunctory story to get all the stereophonic Dolby aided sound blasts in place- be they chest thumping roars, machine gun fire, sophisticated bombs, napalm aided fireworks, the thumping footsteps of the gigantic beasts resident on the island or the chomping off of whole humans who dare to challenge them. That's not to say the visuals don't matter. They do but it's all a little unreal and un-affecting thereof. The World War II airman who's been trapped on the island for 28 years (a woolly John C. Reilly) and his friendly band of native survivors get discovered by the stranded group that includes the tracker extraordinaire, British SAS officer James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston); a Special Forces colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) who nurtures a secretive obsession with killing Kong; a war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson); and Bill Randa (John Goodman) who believes the earth is filled with beasts who might just take over the world- so they perforce must be contained.
Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts with a script credited to three writers this film in Roberts words is a sort of parable on the United States involvement in Vietnam. And there are references galore to several classics made on that period. Most of the film is set in 1973 after the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam. A time when google maps did not exist and it therefore made it easy for us to believe in an Island that never surfaced on any man-made map. The technologies of those days are given memorable placements here so you do get an authentic feel of the times. But 'Kong: Skull Island' has a tough time staying consistent in it's ideological refrain. Personal vengeance clashes with scientific discovery and patriotic zeal and that leaves little room for compelling engagement.
The representation of Kong as protector to the native tribesmen , other dwarfed inhabitants and aggressor to the bunched -up rest who puts his survival in peril, is also not clearly drawn. How does Kong differentiate between one human and the next, especially when they all come from the same group who invaded his island and made an attempt on his life? That's a question left unanswered.
Director Roberts' intention is clearly to broad-base a shiny new franchise in place of the old- so he can take the story to Godzillion heights. Towards the end of the movie there's talk that Skull Island is no longer uncharted and therefore open to future marauding ..so you know that there's definitely much more on it's way in terms of franchise instalments. 'Skull Island' is no doubt impressive in terms of FX and CGI and has pop-culture references that could tickle the funny bone of those brought up on American culture but there's hardly any tension or adrenaline rush to be had. I just wish Roberts' had taken more pains to make this one more gainful and invigorating.
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