Jack Watches: Kong: Skull Island

Jack likes to see a talkie at the local cinema at least every few weeks. Sometimes he even sees them at home. This is his film column detailing his thoughts on the latest film bouncing around his brain.

Every now and then I like to go to the movies with my mom, especially if a film looks interesting. On some occasions, my dad comes along too, only to fall asleep in every film he's taken to (the recent exception being The Revenant, which had him yell "OH MY GAWD" every ten minutes). Typically we like to see films that are either comedies or maybe something she would see nominated on the Oscars. However, this time we decided to see a big budget action movie together that featured a character solidified in pop fiction, King Kong.

(Warner Bros. Pictures)

(Warner Bros. Pictures)

The two of us had different experiences with the giant ape, as we were exposed to two different Kong films growing up. My mom is familiar with the original King Kong from 1933, while I watched the 2005 remake directed by Peter Jackson. However, we both had the same reaction leaving the screening of the latest retelling of the monster gorilla's tale in Kong: Skull Island, disappointment. 

It was hard at first trying to figure out what went wrong with the film. It's not terrible. There are plenty of moments that will look great in .gif form 11 months from now after enough people on twitter and tumblr get their hands on a blu ray copy. But for a film that decided to take the setting of King Kong's discovery away from the 30's and into the 70's, it felt safe and unwilling to challenge the original story.

The film at least provides a different reason for exploring the island than the standard Kong tale traveling to Skull Island for film making purposes. With this iteration, a scientist and his assistant, played by John Goodman and Corey Hawkins, push the government into letting them explore Skull Island for """science"""". They are allowed to go alongside a bunch of scientists traveling with a military escort group, run by Samuel L. Jackson playing a hardened leader who lusts for warfare. Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson join the team too and at that point I realized I was not going to remember any of the character's names in the movie.

What I did remember was at that point forward, the film decides it wants to give me a million reminders that it is set during the end of the Vietnam War. Remember that shot from Apocalypse Now of helicopters flying near the giant sun. Well this movie does, because now there's a giant King Kong behind the sun too. Do you also remember that famous scene when the helicopters play loud music while commencing a bombing run? Well it happens again when the crew arrives on Skull Island. It really felt like the film was desperate for love with these homages to a much better film.

While it has been years since I've seen the 2005 King Kong film, one important distinction that I can easily say is better than Kong: Skull Island are its use of creatures inhabiting the island. The 2005 film has a wide variety of killer monsters that vary from a T-Rex to giant worms that devour a man's head. While this year's Kong films has some dinosaurs and a giant insect, the main creatures to fear are a clan of underground dwelling fake dinosaurs with heads that looks like a skull (GET IT?)

The only character worth a damn (Warner Bros. Pictures)

The only character worth a damn (Warner Bros. Pictures)

What's worse is that I really did not care when expedition members were killed off by the various creatures on the island. Despite almost being 2 hours long, the film does not give its characters a chance to grow beyond basic character beats. The only character in the film that at least had some stakes to be interested in was John C. Reilly's character, a WW2 pilot who has been trapped on the island for decades and desperately wanted to see his wife and son again.

As far as what makes the movie watchable on some level, it would have to be the fight choreography between Kong and basically anything standing in his way. It's really entertaining to see Kong face off against more modern technology than one expects him to face, and still crush the competition. Those scenes are much more enjoyable than the human cast fighting creatures on their own. Even John C. Reilly fighting a dinosaur with a katana ends up as a let down.

I am left a bit concerned having seen this film knowing that this is meant lead into an eventual remake of King Kong vs Godzilla (1962). Having found the recent American Godzilla remake, also headed by the same production team, to be a let down, I can't help being frustrated by what's to come in the next few years. But at least I still have the superior ideal monster fight between Vin Diesel and The Rock in The Fate of the Furious film coming out in April.