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[Movie Review] Kong: Skull Island (2017)

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Plot Summary: A team of scientists, soldiers and adventurers unites to explore an uncharted island in the Pacific. Cut off from everything they know, the team ventures into the domain of the mighty Kong. As their mission becomes one of survival, they must fight to escape a primal Eden.

Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts

Writers: Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein

Runtime: 2hr

Main Cast:

  • Tom Hiddleston as James Conrad
  • Samuel L. Jackson as Preston Packard
  • Brie Larson as Mason Weaver
  • John C. Reilly as Hank Marlow
  • John Goodman as Bill Randa
  • Toby Kebbell as Jack Chapman / Kong
  • Corey Hawkins as Houston Brooks

Review: by Mia

It was difficult to anticipate the release of a film that has now been remade over ten times over the course of film history. Just to be sure that I wasn’t miscounting, I visited IMDB and noted over fifteen different cases where the Kong storyline was revisited in television or film and counting. What is it about this film that encourages so many to tackle its concept? As a story, I personally tire quickly of the perceived savage tamed by undying love for a blonde damsel trope (yep, that includes Pocahontas folks). Still, I have always found Kong compelling as a character. No dialogue, little character development that you can do for a gorilla, minor role in a film that carries his name. Kong was a plot device to show the power of love and blonde beauty as well as the response of those who must protect that beauty from a raging savage. Still, he always seemed to deserve more depth as a character considering he has one of the most epic deaths of film history.

Kong: Skull Island was just another chapter in this same reel when I first viewed the trailer. I found myself drawn to see the movie only by the fact that Skull Island would clearly be the focus of this film. Skull Island has been the home of Kong since the very first King Kong film, yet I had never seen a film geared towards this habitat in the way that this film offered. Granted, I have not seen every Kong film/series released. Some I had never heard of until checking IMDB recently… Still, they offered a deeper look into the island that created Kong and I was hooked.

The film is essentially a prequel to the famous storyline we are all familiar with. If you’re unfamiliar with the original plot of King Kong, I’d suggest watching the most recent reboot: King Kong (2005), which refreshes the Kong love story with an amazing cast (Jack Black, Naomi Watts, Andy Serkis, Jamie Bell…). Although the timeline is questionable, Kong: Skull Island is set when Kong is a younger gorilla, still learning his role as the King of a treacherous island. Much like in the 2005 film, the island is full of giant predators and treacherous landscape. Unlike the older film, this film focuses on life on the island itself. When a group of scientists and soldiers team up to explore this last unknown frontier on Earth, they decide that the best form of exploration is destruction, true to the old colonizing ways. They arrive on Skull Island by helicopter and immediately begin mapping the underground landscape of the island by dropping seismic charges all across the island. That’s right, they drop bombs from their arrival point deep into the island. Fires bloom all across the island, animals burn in the blast if they’re too fast to get away, and our exploration team cheers as they discover new information from each explosion.

To their shock and fatality, Kong is none too pleased by the explosives going off across the island. I’m sure that waking up to explosions is no one’s preference, but we learn from Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), an old war soldier who’d been marooned on the island for more than two decades, that Kong isn’t just angry because he’s a monster. Kong is angry because these explosives being dropped will wake up his mortal enemies, ugly gigantic legless lizards that race along on biceps the size of oak trees. Kong comes out in true Kong fashion, smashing helicopters and beating his chest at crazed leader of the unit of soldiers: Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson). Fast forward to a few dozen deaths and predator encounters later, and we are now faced with both the fresh out of bed giant lizards and the crazed plan for revenge hatched by Preston Packard against Kong, who turns out to be the sole protector of Skull Island. We meet the island tribe once again, in a time before their menacing looks from previous films.

The tribe is a silent utopian society with no crime and no greed. They have kept Hank Marlow alive up until now and welcome in a small group of survivors from our exploration team. Here is where we learn that the natural food chain of the island places Kong at the top and humans very close to the bottom. At some point in the evolution of the island, certain predators began to defend prey against their hunters. Kong is the final result of this ecosystem structure. He is a god to the tribe and an enemy to Packard. The exploration team must determine whether Kong should die, how to survive the land of the island, and how to get to their rendezvous point if they don’t plan to live on Skull Island forever all while fighting for their lives against Skull Crawlers (what Marlow calls the giant lizards).

What I Liked:

The world building. The movie gives us just enough background to understand how these explorers get to Skull Island and then thrusts us right into the world of Kong. Unlike other movies, we get to understand Kong and see him as more than just a raging gorilla. That being said, I also like the moments where Kong goes into a rage. You root for him more than you ever would any other film, mainly because its weird to root for a gorilla to kill an entire city and get the girl of his dreams who is a hundredth his size. I loved almost every character in the movie, even when the dialogue fell short I appreciated what the characters were trying to be. The island itself is an amazing feat of special effects and real life setting. I saw it in 3D, which I hate to do, but the movie does successfully take advantage of 3D opportunities as well. I also liked the way that the cinematography contributed to foreshadowing and deaths. Light and colors meant something within many of the scenes and compelling scenes were given interesting angles and set the audience at the best point to get a front row to whatever character’s experience was pushing the story along at that moment.

What I Didn’t Like:

Although Kong is redeemed by the characterization he is given in this film, Preston Packard is not. I hate when I don’t like characters played by Samuel L. Jackson and here I was hating every part of this soldier who had lost his grip on humanity and logic. The character was played very well but just rang as plain contradictory just to fuel the plot along. How does a soldier rise this far up in the ranks by being this self-destructive? It didn’t ring as realistic. Ultimately, certain plot points felt forced and unnatural to the progression of events and there were moments where death clearly should have been the result of a character, even Kong, and the story just says no without any explanation of how they survived. Like in all Kong movies, how are you traveling in the hand of Kong without a broken neck by the end of the trip? How have you lost that much blood and yet are still fighting like a gladiator?

Images Courtesy of IMDB

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