By Esosa Omo- Usoh
Hollywood is still stuck in sequel, prequel, remake and reboot mode. From action to sci-fi, animated to monster movies, as long as there is money to be made from a franchise, Hollywood will wring every last bit of dollar from it with sequels, prequels, remakes and reboots. Kong: Skull Island is its latest iteration of the King Kong movie franchise.
Kong opens with a flashback to 1944 during World War II. We are somewhere in the Pacific and an American fighter jet pilot and his Japanese counterpart who had both just crashed on an island are about to have at each other mano a knife-o.
But seeing as this is a monster movie, to their surprise but to the audiences’ expectation; they are interrupted by theirs and our first sneak-preview of the movie’s real star, King Kong.
Flash-forward to the present. It is 1973 and America is on the cusp of “abandoning” the Vietnam war. Government agent conspiracy theorist, Bill Randa (played by a slimmed down John Goodman) is arranging an expedition to map out an uncharted island in the pacific.
The expedition party comprises the usual suspects; a former British air force specialist tracker (played by Tom Hiddleston), a helicopter squadron led by a badass lieutenant (played by Samuel L. Jackson) and the obligatory anti-war photojournalist (played by last year’s best actress Oscar winner, Brie Larson).
To say Kong was pretty much cliché would be stating the obvious. The ingredients for formulaic monster movies were all thrown into the cooking pot here.
The government-type convener of the expedition, as expected, did not disclose to the other members of the expedition the real reason behind the expedition. There was the leading man tracker-type in Tom Hiddleston. The blond damsel in distress/do-gooder save-the-animals and planet-type was there in Brie Larson’s photojournalist. The tough-talking and ass-kicking muscle-type was there in Samuel L. Jackson’s army lieutenant. Then there was the people-that-time-forgot natives in the local Iwis. Of course, there was also the obligatory stranded-in-the-jungle-for-eons looney-type played by John C. Riley. Oh, and not to forget; there was the liberal sprinkle of cheesy lines and braggadocious determination.
It has been 84 years since the first King Kong movie and 12 years since the last one. In 2017, if you are going to reboot the franchise, it would make sense to give your audience something fresh and exciting other than the usual chest-beating humungous ape laying to waste an entire city and climbing tall buildings and going all mellow over a blond damsel.
In Kong, you get the sense that you are watching Jurassic World only with a skyscraper-sized ape in place of Indominus Rex. Unlike in Godzilla where one never really got overwhelmed by the titular giant lizard, in Kong; we are offered, arguably, the most intimidating version of the ape in the franchise.
The realism and sheer size of Kong is astounding. The scene where the expedition party had just arrived skull island and were dropping bombs to take seismic reading provided a most spectacular visual of Kong. The sight of the humungous ape standing against the backdrop of an orange sun with helicopters circling around him like tiny insects was a stunning cinematic visual.
The fight scene between Kong and the giant octopus was also visually stunning as was the final fight scene between Kong and the skullcrawler. The scene where a giant daddy long legs spider impales a soldier through his mouth must be a movie first. These were, by far, the best parts of the movie. The spectacularly choreographed fight scenes between these gargantuan beasts were a triumph of art and CGI in creating a visually stunning and impressive cinematic realism.
The worst part of the movie was the human part. The very talented Tom Hiddleston failed to upstage Kong as the star of the movie even though he was credited with lead starring role. However, in some scenes, he did evoke the look and charm of old school Hollywood leading men. Think Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen and Stewart Granger in King Solomon’s mines.
Samuel L. Jackson’s character pretty much raised the same question for me in this movie as it did in last year’s The Legend of Tarzan. Why did he even take up the role? I found his performance not only cliché-ic but also as uninspired as it was uninspiring.
No scene was more representative of his cliché-ic uninspiring and uninspired performance of this character than the one where he is standing like ant with an angry look on his face in a wall of fire before the humongous Kong.
That scene was as silly as it was unrealistic. I don’t care how badass a soldier you are but when you behold for the first time ever a sight like Kong and the devastation it is capable of, your immediate reaction is not to engage it in a stare down as if daring it to a fight challenge in which you will be squashed like a trifling bug.
Brie Larson’s character was as unmemorable as it was cliché in such movie genres which is rather sad especially coming so soon after she won last year’s academy award for best actress.
John C. Rilley’s character was as obligatory as it was confusing especially as it transitioned inexplicably from a looney-type from his first scene to a seeming voice of reason on the expedition party’s way to the rescue rendezvous point.
The only thing memorable about his character would have to be the continuity goof in the fact that for a man who had been stranded for 28years in an island and in the midst of people time had forgotten, his jet fighter bomber jacket looked pretty new and well-taken care off.
Kong: Skull Island tried to put a new spin on an old monster franchise tale and to an enjoyable extent succeeds in bringing forth Cinema’s most realistic and visually stunning King Kong.