Sunday, March 31, 2013

King Kong (1933) (Movie Review)


     Throughout the whole month, I’ve reviewed every single theatrical movie that revolved around the giant ape King Kong. It should come as no surprise that I chose to close things out with the original masterpiece that started it all. To refer the 1933 “King Kong” classic as the greatest entry in his cinematic franchise would be a gross understatement … because “King Kong” truly is was of the great motion picture classics ever made. Back in the early 1930’s, film in general was still in its infancy, and even sound movies were very rare. This was the achievement that pioneered the whole special effects industry, and proved that cinema is a medium best suited for fantasy, adventure, imagination, and escapist thrills. I always viewed movies as a means to see things that could never exist in real life, and this right here was the film that kicked down the door, and inspired generations of filmmakers. Now, I’ve truthfully never looked back on “King Kong” as one of my personal favorite movies or anything like that, but it is a movie that I’ve always respected, and have certainly enjoyed on repeat viewings. Actually, for a guy that loves big summer blockbusters, big special effects and big action, I’m always surprised that 1933’s “King Kong” remains just as entertaining an experience as it is. There’s never a boring moment, as the buildup in the opening is strong, and everything else is just an exciting adventure that never once lets down.


     The excitement begins with an ambitious filmmaker named Carl Denham, who’s dead set on delivering out-of-this-world excitement to viewers. Once he comes into position of a map to an uncharted island, he decides it would be the perfect spot to shoot a winning motion picture. Into his midst walks a penniless young woman named Ann Darrow, who’s just looking for a direction in life. Taken by her beauty, Carl encourages her to be an actress, and subsequently take the lead role of his movie. The journey is soon underway, but the mysterious Skull Island might be more dangerous then they realized. It’s the home of carnivorous dinosaurs, aggressive natives, and a giant gorilla named King Kong, who’s viewed as the lord of the land. The natives see the beautiful Ann as a perfect sacrifice for their figurative ape God, and thus she’s captured and presented as an offering. Upon their first meeting, Kong takes a curious liking to her, and takes Ann as some sort of prize. The remaining team set out to rescue her, and battle waves of ferocious dinosaurs along the way. To make matters worse, Carl Denham now realizes that his picture is in ruins, and looks to Kong as a new means of making a big hit attraction.


     On the surface, this may seem like a basic set-up for an adventure movie on a mysterious island, but it’s also, in its own right … a tragic romance. 

In fact, “King Kong” could be viewed as one of the first classic film versions of “Beauty and the Beast”, which is sited all throughout the movie. We have a beautiful woman taken away by a monster, not because it’s evil, but because it’s longing for a companion in a lonely and savage world. The girl in return can sympathize with the monster, but she can’t give him her love in return. In the end, it’s the beast’s desperation to have this girl that leads him to his unfortunate, yet inescapable demise. Further remakes of “King Kong” would deepen the connection between woman and beast, and in my view, they were far goofier as a result. This movie keeps it very simple, and truthfully, I think it works better when I can just sympathies with a monster acting on some kind of internal instinct, rather than a cringe romantic connecting between a woman and a giant gorilla. Fay Wray is all around very likable as our female lead Ann, and she’s a key component to why the film works. She’s nothing deeper than a pretty damsel, but brings the role to life in a way that makes us care for her. There’s also subtlety in the performance, where through certain looks, she knows Kong has feelings, and she regrets that she can’t convey anything back to him. Robert Armstrong is also very charismatic as Carl Denham, and personally is my favorite character in the movie. He so easily could have been the one-note greedy business man, and while his actions are obviously questionable, you can tell there’s still a good man underneath the thrill obsessed filmmaker.    


       While King Kong in general will always be regarded as one of the all-time greatest giant movie monsters, there’s a lot more to him than just another giant monster. From the technical side, King Kong is brought to life masterfully through stop motion effects, as well as full scale animatronic hands, feet and a giant robotic face for close-up shots. While he’s never exactly looked real, Kong always felt very alive, largely thanks to select facial expressions, and an animalistic behavior. You can tell Kong is a creature motivated by feelings, but he lacks the intellect to know right from wrong, which in turn makes him all the more unpredictable, and potentially dangerous. It also makes us feel more sympathetic toured him whenever he gets himself into trouble. Thematically, this version of King Kong remains the darkest, as it’s mostly focused on the situation of being either trapped or pursued by a relentless creature that can’t control its emotions.


      Actually, the whole tone of the movie is a delicate balance between exciting adventure and grim horror. While it’s easy to brand this movie under the category of adventure-fantasy, lets also acknowledge its status as a horror movie, and one of the best of the whole decade. Sure, it doesn’t have the same Gothic look and tone that’s typically associated with the horror genera, but it still fits the category in other respects. For instance, Kong in this film is far more savage, and violent. The scene in which he terrorizes the native’s village was considered very disturbing for its time, especially the close-up shots of him putting people in his mouth. There’s also a scene in which Kong kills at least twenty team members crossing over a gorge on a log, which was considered a gruesomely high body count for the time. 
Even the effects were so new, and intense that warning signs were placed outside the theater stating that if you have any kind of heart condition, you shouldn’t watch this movie. While this movie obviously won’t be scaring any modern-day viewers, it was never the less an intense experience for an early decade of movie goers. Also, this movie contains more screaming then most typical slasher films. This especially applies to Fay Wray’s bloodcurdling screams, which are some of the most famous of the whole genera. It’s also worth noting that giant movie monsters didn’t become common place until the 1950’s. Thus, King Kong was frequently roped in with the only other popular monsters of the time … namely “Dracula” and “Frankenstein”.


     The black and white look also helps give the jungle setting a very ominous and foreboding atmosphere. On that note, for an old B&W movie, it still looks gorgeous to this day. The map painted backgrounds are epic spectacles, and the jungle setting is very submersive. 

Part of the appeal comes from knowing that most of the environment was built by hand, and the detail on display is stunning. The whole film is shot with a sense of awe and wonder, and even select camera movements were quite innovative for the time. Now, back in 1925, there was a silent picture titled “The Lost World”, which featured stop motion Dinosaurs that were created by one Willis O’ Brien. The creature effects in that film were extraordinary accomplishments, but it’s here in “King Kong” where Willis O’ Brien's creature effects really shine. Just like Kong, all the Dinosaurs featured in the film are stop-motion, and every encounter with them is down-right thrilling. My favorite scene of all is Kong’s battle with the T-Rex. This was the first truly classic monster battle ever captured on film, and it still holds up as an exciting sequence, with a memorable finishing movie of Kong breaking its jaw. Now, ever sense the very first Tyrannosaurus Rex skeleton was found and assembled, it’s had a distinguished reputation as one of the most famous carnivores of all time. So to see the legendary T-Rex back in his prime of fame, get bested by this giant ape, it really helped put the spot light on Kong as a force to be reckoned with. 
        


      Once we segue into the third act, the movie takes on a new identity as we switch from an island adventure, to monster on the loose in a big city. Once again, the details on display are outstanding. For instance, when Kong attacks the train, you can look closely and see stop-motion people crawling out the windows. It’s still an exciting spectacle all these years later, with detailed models, and an elevated sense of urgency that never lets down. This is also when all the most effective horror moments come into play, most notably the scenes with Kong’s big hands reaching into apartment rooms, and grabbing helpless female victims. The iconic climax on the roof of the Empire State Building needs no comment. It’s one of the most influential, and imitated action sequences in film history. Looking back, it’s really cool to see all the camera tricks and versatile energy on display. It’s also quite tragic seeing Kong get gunned down by the plains, and it closes the film on a high note.  


      In more ways than one, “King Kong” was ahead of its time, especially considering that giant monster movies weren’t common place yet, and horror was just coming into form with the more Gothic creatures. 
There’s also one noticeable difference between Kong and his two compatriots … while “Dracula” was an important starting point for sound horror, it’s also been surpassed by the arguably superior 1958 remake. The same applies for “Frankenstein”, which despite being another big stepping stone for the genera, was also upstaged by its superior 1935 sequel “The Bride of Frankenstein”. “King Kong” however remains the unsurpassed masterpiece that none of its follow-up films could measure up to. In my view, if you have a burning desire to pursue film-making, then do yourself a favor and watch this movie. Even if it doesn’t fit into your wheelhouse of monster movies, it’s such an important technical marvel to look back on and admire. It’s also an important achievement in original imagination, as there was no real source material to base this on. With a timeless story of beauty and beast, ground breaking visuals, and innovative filming … “King Kong” maybe nearing 100 years, but it’s still an engaging experience, and one of the great motion picture classics.


I give 1933’s “King Kong” a strong 4 ½ stars out of 5.        


The End

Monday, March 11, 2013

Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011) (Movie Review)


    The 2001 remake of “Planet of the Apes” was supposed to be a jumpstart to a second series and more sequels were supposed to be made. However, that film turned out to be such a critical disaster that all other sequels were canceled. But 20th Century Fox still saw a lot of profit in the franchise and decided to reboot it in a completely new faction. The end result is the 2011 movie titled “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” and it’s easily one of the best films in the entire series, in fact I’d go so far as to say that it’s one of the best Sci-Fi’s to be released in years. Unlike its 2001 predecessor, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” is a much smarter film that doesn’t really on cheep B movie charms or lots of action scenes, in fact there’s hardly any action in the movie at all until the climax. The film also serves as an effective warning story about the dangers of science and how a medical breakthrough may seem like mankind’s greatest accomplishment, when in reality it becomes our downfall.

     The story goes like this, James Franco plays a scientist named William Rodman, who believes to have discovered a cure for Alzheimer’s. He tests his drug on a female ape that was with child, the mother was tragically killed but the effects of the drug pass on to the infant, which Dr. William takes in his care and names him Caesar. The two form a strong friendship but after an unfortunate accident, Caesar is taken to an animal control center where he’s locked away with other apes. After spending some time there, Caesar becomes a leader amongst them, gives them the same brain drugs given to his mother and leads them in a rebellion. It’s almost like a remake of “Conquest of the Planet of the apes”, right down to the ape Caesar being the ape character who leads his fellow apes in a rebellion against human kind. However there are some significant changes in this film that makes it stand well on its own, in fact this movie doesn’t even feel like its part of the same franchise. Everything feels so different and so expertly crafted that you’d almost swear it’s from another series entirely. The apes in this movie don’t even talk, with the exception of Caesar who briefly speaks.

     Even though this is a much smarter movie then many of the previous installments, it still has one factor that might seem a little too gimmicky for some. Just like with the 2001 remake, this film constantly makes reference to the original film, which I honestly think is pretty cool but it can be distracting for other people.  One of the chimps being tested on is called “Bright Eyes”, which is what the apes called Taylor in the first film. There’s one scene when Caesar is building a model of the statue of liberty, an obvious nod to the famous statue of Liberty ending of from the original. Some of the games that the apes are tested with in the labs are very similar to the intelligence games seen in “Escape from the Planet of the Apes”. There’s an orangutan who’s named Maurice, which is a nice little nod to the actor Maurice Evans who played the evil orangutan from the 1968 classic. Actually, many of the apes in this film are named after characters or actors from the original series. There’s this one bully character played by Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter series) who constantly quotes Charlton Hesston’s classic lines, including a moment when he’s spraying all the apes in their cell’s with a water gun while shouting “It’s a mad house, a mad house!” and naturally, he has to quote the most famous line of them all “Get your filthy paws off of me, you damn dirty ape!” Heck, even his first and last name, Dodge Landon is a reference to the two other astronauts from the first film.

     Now with all of these little references and inside jokes, this movie could have easily been just another campy installment in the series that’s just one big love letter to the original but through some competent writing that focuses more on characters and more importantly on substance, this film succeeded it’s small expectations and can be viewed as a genuinely good film. First of all, I love the scientific aspects of this film and the example of how dangerous it can be. While the movie doesn’t quiet dive into the realms of really deep or thought provoking questions, it dose at least bring up some important issues. How far should we go to try and perfect something that was never meant to be in our control, can we handle that responsibility, is this human progress or are we just opening Pandora’s Box. Its issues like this that elevate this movie above just another campy Sci-Fi, and my favorite aspect about this film by far is it’s completely different perspective of the wild animal on the loose franchise.


    In most animal attack movies, the wild animal is always the monster that needs to be killed in order for the humans to live, but in this film, it’s not so one-sided. Despite what you may think from seeing the trailer, the apes don’t try to dominate humans, there goal is simply to liberate themselves from the captivity of human kind. In fact they try their best not to kill anyone, they only kill in self defense and even in that respect there’s nothing pleasant about it. There’s a moment when Caesar defends himself against the bully character, which unintentionally takes his life and you can tell from the reaction on Caesar’s face that it really hurt him deep down to take a life. As an interesting result, you find yourself cheering for the apes. Even though you naturally don’t want to see the humans trampled underfoot, this film really gets you to care for the ape characters, and it just hurts you to see them getting beaten with bats and clubs. 


    The performances in this film are all very good, James Franco delivers a genuine and honest performance as the good doctor and the remaining cast all play their parts quiet well. But the star who completely steals the show surprisingly isn’t one of human actors, instead it’s CGI actor Andy Serkis in the role of the ape Caesar who keeps you completely captivated throughout the entire picture. Now a CGI actor is a performer who wears a blue suit that computer generated effects will cover up later, almost like giving an actor makeup that’s not physical makeup. Andy Serkis is no stranger to this craft and has played all kinds of memorable CGI characters including Golem from “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and is also known for playing King Kong in the 2005 remake. Now it may seem strange to give so much credit to an actor that’s basically one big special effect but so much character and personality come from his simple body movements and posturing that it feels like a genuinely human performance, in fact many people suggested that he be the first CGI actor in history to be nominated for the best actor award.

    Most of the remaining apes in the film are played by other talented CGI actors and it’s a unique change from the makeup that where so accustomed to seeing in these films. I was a little skeptical going in because I always prefer makeup or puppets and I didn’t think I’d get that much realism from a bunch of CGI apes. To my surprise, they looked really good for the most part and I actually began to forget that they were CG creatures. There are some obvious CGI moments like when we see Caesar as an infant but the fully grown Caesar looked very believable, as did many other shots involving herds of apes.

   The action in this film isn’t jaw dropping but the movie draws you in so well that everything feels really big. The passing of this film is especially good, nothing feels rushed and it certainly isn’t boring. Just like the original movie, not much is happening on the face of this film, in fact the apes don’t even make their big escape until the tail end of the film. But the characters, story and tone hold your attention so well that you don’t even pay attention to the films lack of big specials. That’s not to say the film doesn’t have its power house moments, the climax on the Golden Gate Bridge is riveting and will certainly please anyone wanting some action. My only complaint was the way the film ended, there was so much build up as to what was going to happen in the end, but then the apes all reach their destination in the woods and the movie just seems to stop. It’s like, "What the heck", you’re stopping it right when things got really intense and interesting? We also reach a plot point that some tock-sick gas got loose from the lab and have begun to infect humans across the globe. The apes are immune to it, so this naturally sets the stage for them to become the dominate species on the planet without the need to go into battle.        

    
    Overall, this was a very good movie that took an old, deflated franchise and gave it new life again. Most people would still call the original the absolute best, but personally, I think this this one is better. Rupert Wyatt’s direction is just so precise, stylish and everything else just feels so professionally handled. More than anything, I love that while this film has its share of impressive special effects, this doesn’t feel like a big special effects picture, it feels like a genuinely good film, with characters that hold your attention and a story that keeps you guising what the outcome might be. It’s the kind of film that I hope Hollywood would make more of, something that doesn’t go straight for non-stop action and visual effects. Now the movie isn’t a landmark masteries or anything like that, but it is still very well constructed, delivers a rich warning on the dangers of science and offers an interesting new perspective regarding the wild animal on the loose franchise. I give “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” 4 stars.

Planet of the Apes (2001) (Movie Review)

                                                                                                             
    Almost 30 years after the sequel “Battle of the Planet of the Apes” concluded the franchise in 1973, there was a remake of “Planet of the Apes” in 2001 which brought the series back to the theater. Around the mid 90’s, Hollywood has tried to remake just about any classic that would probably make them a lot of money and even though remakes have been around for ages, it’s the current generation that’s really trying to exploit any classic they can. This remake in-particular is often regarded as one of the lesser remakes to come out in recent years. Personally, I don’t think that this film is nearly as bad as other remakes like “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”, the 2010 remake of “Clash of the Titans” and it’s especially not as bad as the 2005 remake of “King Kong”. But in regards to this film, it isn’t nearly as good or as smart as the original “Planet of the Apes”, but in all honesty, this one’s a little more fun to watch.
    The movie begins with an awesome opening credit sequence, with a foreboding overtone, eerier music and lots of cool imagery. We then begin our film on a deep space, science station where astronauts are training apes to fly shuttle pods. It doesn’t take long for me to get suckered into all these simple, Sci-Fi charms, the sets are cool and the visual effects are quiet impressive without going to over bored. Forgive me for getting a little off topic here but there’s something that I quickly want to address. So many Sci-Fi’s today are so bloated with over the top special effects and over the top action scenes but it’s such a breath of fresh air in a film like this where it’s a spectacle to look at, but in a simple way. The design for the space station is cool but it’s not over blown with too much stuff to look at and for what it’s worth, I hope more blockbusters take this simple, impressive approach rather than trying to be the biggest, most explosive Sci-Fi ever made.
   Back to the plot, there’s an astronaut named Leo who’s tired of sending chimps out to study space anomalies and after one chimp disappears in an electromagnetic storm, he takes it upon himself to retrieve his ape and study this mysteries phenomenon. The storm then triggers a worm hole that sends him thousands of years into the future, where the planet is over run by apes and the humans are being trampled underfoot. Once again, our stranded astronaut makes friends with two apes, escapes the ape city with a small group of humans and ventures across the planet into a forbidden area, where they learn how all of this came to be. Meanwhil, an evil ape named Thade is determined to hunt him down and kill him to ensure that no other ape learns the true origins of the planet.    
   
     As you can tell, the plot is very identical to the original, however there are significant changes in this version. First of all, the humans talk in this movie and aren’t the same mute creatures from the original, these humans can also organize their own culture and even armies. The apes on the other hand still talk but they don’t act like intelligent creatures, in fact they act like actual apes. They leap around, crawl all over things, make strange monkey sounds and always explode in crazy, animalistic states of rage. It doesn’t make any logical sense when the apes argue that their superior to humans because the humans are just as smart, if not smarter than them. Remember how I said that the original was a smart film with thought provoking questions regarding our culture, well this film is the polar opposite. It’s far sillier, with more of a man versus monster story and lots of B movie overtones. But that’s honestly why I can slightly appreciate this remake. Anyone wanting a smart, logical, Sci-fi can watch the original and anyone wanting a fun, action packed Sci-Fi can watch this instead, so they both balance out.  
    Now that’s not to say that this film doesn’t have some big problems either and one of the most obvious is the lead character Leo. He’s bland and dull but he’s also a really selfish jerk. Throughout, most of this film, he just wants to get back home and I honestly can’t blame him for that but at the same time, he gives no thought or concern for anyone else on this planet, he doesn’t really care about the situation that the humans are in, he doesn’t really care that he has the capability to help the others in this crises, even when the ape characters try to talk to him and understand him better, he just brushes them off and gives direct, even harsh responses to them. Now there is a moment later in the film when he acknowledges that he’s been a selfish jerk that only thinks of himself but it comes so late in the film and “Planet of the Apes” isn’t supposed to be a redemption story in the first place, so why bother make his character like that. 
                               
    The remaining characters are either okay or just forgettable, Helena Bonham Carter in-particular dose a good job in the role of the lead female chimpanzee but her character is only lead by the nose and only occasionally offers something significant to the film.The late Michael Clarke Duncan also plays a big, tough Gorilla and is honestly the best character in the film, but that’s simply because Michael Clarke Duncan is the perfect actor to play a mighty ape soldier. The villain Thade is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, he isn’t nearly as sophisticated as the enemy from the first film and is far wilder, like a savage monster. However, his makeup is great and Tim Roth dose a good job in the role but at times, this character is just a little too over the top for the films own good.  
 
   There’s lots of nods and tributes to the first movie that might annoy some people but others may enjoy these little in-jokes. For example, there’s a scene when one of the gorillas say’s “Take your filthy hands off of me, you damn dirty human”, which is a throwback to Charlton Hesston’s classic line. Speaking of Charlton Hesston, he makes a brief cameo in this film as an elder ape who says he “damn’s all humans to hell”, gee that line also sounds familiar.  

    I supose I should mention that this film was directed by Tim Burton of all people, who just doesn’t fit with this kind of movie. Don’t get me wrong, I love Tim Burtons movies but he’s more of a surreal, innovative director, not one who dose big budget Sci-Fi blockbusters. But he uses many of his trademark quality’s, Danny Elfman dose the music and it’s the first of his movies the feature Helena Bonham Carter, who would later star in every one of his movies that followed after this. On a personal note, even though none of Tim Burton’s movies aren’t directly connected to each other, I always like to believe that all his films took place in the exact same universe. But “Planet of the Apes” unfortunately renders that statement impossible.      


   One great thing that can be said for this film is Rick Baker’s stellar ape makeup. The original had some great makeup too, but in this film, the detail and esthetics are so precise and cool that you honestly begin to forget that there people in costume. The action is exciting and fun to watch but it's nothing jaw dropping either. None of the action will blow you mind but it’s just enough to keep you entertained. The climax is also quiet good, with plenty of explosions and brawls with armies of apes fighting armies of humans. It's far better then the final battle in "Battle for the Planet of the Apes" and leads to a relatively strong final dual between the hero and villain. 

    Unfortunately, the ending is one of the stupidest I’ve ever seen and that’s quite an accomplishment. (Spoiler Alert) At first it doesn’t seem too bad, the apes and humans make peace with one another, Leo is excepted as a friend amongst them and even an attractive young girl has fallen in love with him. But for some reason that’s not good enough for him, so he leaves the planet in a functional shuttle pod in hopes to find his way home. Too bad for him because he gets caught in the storm again, which sends him to an alternate reality Earth, where apes live in Washington and at the Lincoln memorial, the statue of Abraham Lincoln is now Ape-raham Lincoln. Remember how the first movie ended with the frightening image of a sacred landmark like the Statue of Liberty in ruins, well, this is just plain stupid. 

        Overall, this isn’t a good movie by any means, but I don’t think that this is all that terrible either. It has its problems and stupiod scenes but it still has it's worthwhile entertainment, plenty of B movie charms that easily win me over, some note worthy production qualities and for all the films short comings it dosn't ruin the series.  Plus, the next movie is so good that this movie just dosn't mater, but I'll talk about that next time. I give the 2001 remake of “Planet of the Apes” 3 stars.   

Kong: Skull Island (2017) (Movie Review)

(NOTE: This post has been replaced with a review of a 2017 movie, just to keep consistency with all the King Kong movie reviews of the month)


    Shared cinematic universes are all the craze now, but it’s nothing new, as some of them date as far back to 1931 with Universals shared monster verse that began with “Dracula”. Another early shared movie universe was Japan’s giant monster series. It began in the 50’s with “Godzilla” and continued with countless other giant monsters that all shared the same franchise. Even America’s King Kong became part of Godzilla’s shared monster-verse for a while. Years later in 2014, the giant monster series was rebooted here in America with a new version of “Godzilla”. Following after it’s modest success, the series continued with a new King Kong origin film titled “Kong: Skull Island”. The time seemed right as it’s been twenty-three years sense the last theatrical Kong movie, and as part of this new shared universe, it had the potential to give us something we’ve never really seen from the ape’s previous films. What really got me excited was the title “Skull Island”, suggesting that this will be a different kind of Kong experience then any of the previous remakes, which all mostly copied and paced the original film. 


      This movie begins with an opening credit montage set to stock footage of historical events from the late 60’s through the early 70’s. We then subtle in 1973 as the base point for this adventure, which I like, as it’s a different time period from the original, but still not in our present day. As one would expect, it’s Vietnam, and the movie is shot and scored just like a film from this period. I’m not sure if the filmmakers are trying to make an allegory of Vietnam in general, but it’s crafted like a Vietnam war movie. Our venture begins when an American satellite discovers a mysterious island hidden from the rest of the world, and a small team of scientists are most eager to go there and explore the possibilities. In truth, this team is secretly following the activities of giant monsters around the world, and they believe this island might be home for one such beast. The military escort on the other hand are taken by surprise, and once they have their first encounter with a giant ape, they wind up getting stranded along with the scientists. It’s soon discovered that the giant ape is named Kong, and he rules over the island like a King. Unfortunately, the military's sudden arrival and subsequent bombings on the surface have stirred up some rather savage beasts, which Kong has been trying to keep buried under ground. Now the group is divided, as some just want to get off the island safely, while the others go out for revenge against Kong after he killed so many troops in his initial attack. In short, this movie is all about an adventure on an island full of giant monsters, with big action sequences spread throughout, and not much else.


     Unlike the other remakes that tried so hard to recapture the majesty of the original, this film goes for strait forward fun, and … for me it works. The whole film is shot and edited like a stylized music video, with an abundance of slow-motion shots, a collection of popular 70’s tunes, and stylish lighting. Visually, I think this might just be the best-looking Kong film, and it’s cut together with a lot of energy. There are also some noteworthy Anime inspired visuals, which I loved seeing incorporated in this film. 
Sense this remake is based on the original live action Japanese monster series, it only makes sense to include visual callbacks to other Japanese properties like “Princess Mononoke” and “Akira”. Skull island itself is very different from any previous movie, as it trades in Dinosaurs for completely original monsters, and unique creature designs. The effects on display for these monsters is top notch, but it’s the creativity in both their designs, and how they interact with the surrounding environments that make them steel the show. There’s a really cool scene when the troops go walking through a forest of bamboo sticks, and in a clever twist, the sticks are actually the legs of a giant spider. There’s another scene in which a soldier sits on a log, which is actually a giant insect of some sort. My favorite design is the giant water buffalo creature, which is one of the friendlier creatures on the island. Actually, I really love that there’s a collection of both dangerous monsters, and peaceful ones, which allows more variety between the different creature encounters. Even the local island natives had a decent upgrade, as they were more peaceful then any of the previous films, offered our heroes a safe haven, and looked more authentic then most other film versions.


       King Kong has never been more exciting, as he’s taller, stronger and more agile then any of the previous films. The opening battle with the helicopters proves his might, whereas all other previous Kong’s always perished when battling armed flying vehicles. Visually, this film dose more things with Kong that might just be his coolest screen shots sense the very first film. Seeing him stand upright and silhouetted against a rising sun is a sheer spectacle to behold, and perhaps my favorite iconic Kong image from any film in the franchise. The downside is that this Kong isn’t as sympathetic, and the audience can’t really form any kind of special connection with him outside of his cool factor. There are moments in which the human characters will bond with Kong, which are okay, but the emotion conveyed just doesn’t resonate like it did in either of the previous 2005 remake or the original. There’s a moment when our female lead tries to free an animal from collapsed rubble, and Kong admiring her compassion comes over to help. This was meant to be the moment when Kong singles out select humans as friends, but for some reason, I’m just not feeling the connection.


    Brie Larson plays our attractive female lead who connects to Kong, and of all the blond girls who have taken a liking to Kong, she might just be the most obvious peace of eye candy of them all.

Naturally, she spends the whole film running around in a bright white, body hugging tank top, but she also has this incredible talent of staying clean the whole time she’s on this island. Despite running through all these dirty locations, or fighting off savage monsters, she consistently looks like someone ready for a fashion shoot. There’s actually a scene when she gets trapped in a monster’s mouth, Kong pulls her out, she falls into a mucky swamp, and in five minutes time, she’s calmly sitting down, and looks like she just had a normal day at the office. To Brie Larson’s credit, she’s certainly trying to give the best performance with what she’s got to work with, but it’s not much. Tom Hiddleston and John Goodman are likewise great talents, and are both a consistently engaging screen presence, but their characters are very one-note, as they each play the part of tracker or businessman, and that’s it. Samuel L. Jackson plays a military officer dead set on killing Kong out of vengeance for his fallen comrades, but that’s just it. He’s the figurative Captain Ahab, but there’s nothing of nuance beneath the surface. Thankfully Samuel L. Jackson is one of those talents that can make any character performance work in his favor, and he’s very exciting to watch. The absolute best character of the whole movie is a marooned World War II pilot played by John C. Reilly. Basically, he serves as the expositional mouthpiece who fills everyone in on the island backstory, but he also had his own personal human layers, emotional stakes, a witty personality, and John C. Reilly really balanced his quirks with some genuine charm and likability. In general, all the characters are stock cutouts with a single function or quirk, but I have no problems with the cast, and I find myself coasting along just fine with the talent on display. 


       At last we have the Skull Crawlers, which are giant lizard creatures that become the main threat for our hero’s to face. These are the only creature designs that I didn’t really care for, as every other creature looked so unique by comparison, and these just looked like designs pulled right off the shelf. 
While they functioned as deadly obstacles for our heroes to face or for Kong to fight, there was something incredibly generic about their presence, which robbed them of any real excitement whenever they appeared on screen. There is one cool sequence in a smoky waist land, where the team battle these beasts, and it’s an exciting action set-piece. The final showdown between Kong and the lead Skull Crawler is really fun to watch and features all the cool stuff a giant monster fight has to offer. There’s an awesome un-edited shot following Kong as he fights the creature, while the camera orbits the action, which got me hyped. Also, seeing Kong launch a rusted boat propeller into the monsters back was great. This might just be my favorite Kong vs monster fight of the whole series … at least, up till this point … I’m sure his inevitable rematch with Godzilla will be sensational. My favorite scene of the whole film is a mid-credit sequence in which John C. Reilly’s character returns home and reunites with his family … and even meets his full-grown son, who he’d never met before being stranded. It was a genuinely heart felt scene, and one that surprisingly got my chocked up. Of course, there’s the inevitable teaser that Godzilla and other classic giant Japanize monsters are on the way, which I suppose was exciting to see. Personally, while I’m all for seeing these monsters come together, I just don’t want to see another franchise follow Marvels winning formula beat for beat.

   
       In the end, no other film in the “King Kong” series could ever be a triumph like that first movie, so with that in mind, I always judge these follow-up Kong movies on the grounds of entertaining B films. In this regard, I find “Kong: Skull Island” to be the most thoroughly entertaining Kong installment, and I really wouldn’t ask anything more from it. The characters may have been paper thin, but the cast held their own just fine. King Kong himself may not have been as sentimental, but he was unmistakably an entertaining presence. The remaining monsters made for passively entertaining creatures, and the battles were a lot of fun. Truthfully, I think this movie was very wise to go for strait forward entertainment, as opposed to trying to recapture the same majesty of the original, unlike every previous remake that tried and failed to do so. I probably won’t be making a tradition of re-watching this film, but for a simple, entertaining waste of time, I felt this film knew exactly what it wanted to be, and I enjoyed it for what it was.


I give “Kong: Skull Island” 3 ½ stars out of 5.