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 the 1933 classic “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.

King Kong Escapes (1967) (Movie Review)

    1933’s “King Kong” was a mile stone in motion picture history, and fresh off its success, Japan was eager to have its own movie version of the giant ape. So, throughout the 30’s, there were several attempts at Japanese Kong films, but all prints of them have been lost, with the exception of some still publicity photos. Then after the smashing success of 1954’s “Godzilla”, an opportunity finally arose to bring King Kong into Japans giant monster movie franchise. The result was the 1962 crossover “King Kong vs Godzilla”, which was a smash hit, and set the stage for more solo Japanese films staring King Kong. However, despite finally getting Americas giant ape under their banner, only one Kong movie followed in 1967 titled “King Kong Escapes”. This wasn’t a sequel to the previous Godzilla crossover and was instead an adaption of the animated Rankin/Bass TV series titled “The King Kong Show”. It’s certainly a rarity to have a Japanese produced King Kong movie without the inclusion of Godzilla, so let’s see how his final appearance in the East took shape.  

     Despite having no continuity to the previous films, the people featured in “King Kong Escapes” still refer to him like Kong’s had a destructive, yet mysterious history. The story revolves around two human villains named Dr. Who and Madame Piranha … ha ha ha, we all chuckle … who are both using a giant robot modeled after Kong’s likeness. 

This Robot Kong has twice the originals strength, but it wasn’t initially built to fight its counterpart and instead is being used to dig up a rare substance called “Element X”, which will give both of our villains the power to rule the world. If this set-up sounds like a really terrible and cheesy James Bond movie, you’re not too far off. The sinister Doctor was actually based on many of Bonds adversaries, namely Dr. No and Blofeld. Although personally, I think this guy would fit right in with the campy villains of the Flash Gordon universe. Madame Piranha by the way is played by Mie Hama, who was fresh off of playing a Bond girl in one of my favorite 007 movies “You Only Live Twice”. The whole film just has this distinct James Bond feel, and there’s several little scenes that could have easily been lifted from any one of his early movies. As for the real King Kong, he’s discovered on a far-off island by a group of Americans on a Naval ship. In typical Kong fashion, the giant ape makes a connection with a beautiful blond girl, who’s a member of the crew. Meanwhile, the Robot Kong fails to dig for the element, and with little options left, the villains capture Kong from his island home, and brainwash him to do their bidding. They also capture the girl as a fail-safe to keep Kong under their control. 

      Just like in the previous Godzilla crossover, Kong is featured as a rubber suited monster, but man oh man … he looks terrible in this movie. It really looks like a costume on loan from a Halloween costume shop, and he has this silly cartoon expression to go along with it. As for his mechanized opponent Robot Kong, he’s actually a unique rival for the mighty ape. He’s the only original giant antagonist to battle Kong, and he even pre-dates Godzilla’s more famous evil robot counterpart Mechagodzilla by a good six years. Having a giant rival that mired Kong’s appearance was actually a credible idea, and I like how it’s utilized in the film. When Kong see’s his robot duplicate for the first time, it see’s the thing as one of his own, and even tries to be friends ... which obviously doesn’t work out. The effects on display are all in that same cheesy fashion, with obvious model sets and battle vehicles that are clearly remote-control toys. Truthfully, even though it’s ridiculously corny material, there’s still this charm and appeal to the craft that I just can’t shake.

      Lets also take a moment to mention Kong’s other opponent featured in the film, the T-Rex creature called Gorosaurus. 

This was a regular player in Japans giant monster series, and would even appear in the 1969 Godzilla movie titled “Destroy all Monsters”. Heck, that movie even features stock footage of Gorosaurus, which is lifted straight from “King Kong Escapes”. The battle between Kong and Gorosaurus is another delightfully cheesy rubber suited monster fight, and its actually kind of a treat to see Kong battle something else from the Godzilla franchise. Gorosaurus’s signature move is a drop-kick, which he repeatedly uses on Kong. There are also some amusing winks to the original “King Kong” movie, like a shot with the Blond girl in a tree branch, while the monsters battle in the background. Also, just like the original T-Rex, Gorosaurus gets his jaw snapped open, but this is a G rated death by comparison, as it features foam coming out the mouth as opposed to blood. Yet another call back to the first movie is a scene in which Kong battles a giant Sea-Serpent, which is another amusing highlight.

      Rhodes Reason is our main human star, and plays Commander Carl Nelson. For such a campy film, he does a commendable job keeping a straight face, and plays things just serious enough without being a stick in the mud. The character is also very similar to another navel character named Admiral Nelson from the 1961 Sci-Fi “Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea”. Of course, we can’t have a King Kong movie without an attractive blond girl, and this time it comes in the form of Linda Jo Miller. She’s your typical damsel stereotype, and her performance might just be the worst of any Kong love interest. Even her relation with Kong is the most underdeveloped and rushed, as she has instant control over the giant ape the second she’s rescued. I wasn’t joking either when I stated she has complete control over him, … like, Kong basically obeys every one of her commands.

      In the end, the movie lives up to its title, and we see Kong escape the captivity of the villains. Just like in the last movie, Kong makes his way to Tokyo and goes on a rampage. The one difference between this film and any other Kong movie is that the military actually lays down their fire arms and gives the blond girl a chance to calm him down. Unfortunately, just as the day seems won, Robot Kong appears on the scene, kidnaps the girl and forces Kong into a final battle to the death. While this rubber suited monster brawl isn’t nearly as amusing as Kong’s previous battle with Godzilla, it’s still solid campy fun, and I really like the duality of both the new and familiar on display during this climax. We once again have a finale set on a tall tower, with a blond girl taken away by Kong, but this time we also have Kong coming to the girl’s rescue. It’s probably the only Kong sequel to feature a climax with two Kong’s battling over a girl while on top of a tall building.    

      When all is said and done, “King Kong Escapes” isn’t nearly as memorable as other installments in Kong’s line up, but I have kind of a soft spot for it. There’s definitely a campy charm to the experience, some worthwhile highlights, and it’s something to savor as it’s Kong final Japanese produced movie. While there were definitely plans for future Japanese Kong movies, his scripts kept getting switched out with Godzilla, and eventually the studio lost the rights for Kong. It was a short lived, but enjoyable goofy collection of rubber suited monster flicks. As for “King Kong Escapes”, while I’ve always found it some-what appealing for its campy charms, it’s also never stuck with me as anything really special either. I’d only recommend it to fans of this genera, because anyone else would probably be either bored or turned off. Not a great film, but just recommendable enough to those of use that enjoy campy monster flicks.

I give “King Kong Escapes” 2 stars out of 5.             


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.