Movie Review: Kong: Skull Island

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Kong is still king in the latest entry in the MonsterVerse. (Source: IMDb)

It’s been over eighty years since “The Eighth Wonder of the World” made his first appearance. In 1933, during the height of the Great Depression, no one had ever seen a movie as ambitious as King Kong. Created through stop-motion effects (by special effects pioneer Willis O’Brien) and giant models, this giant ape became one of the first memorable movie monsters. The classic is still loved by generations of film buffs and filmmakers.

Kong travelled to Japan to fight monsters including Godzilla until settling in America to prove he’s the king. This aspired two remakes featuring Kong. The silly yet decent 1976 Dino De Laurentiis production saw him fall for our female protagonist on the island, but the big difference is he fights on top of the World Trade Center rather than the Empire State Building in both the original and the 2005 remake. The overlong yet marvelous 2005 version, directed by Peter Jackson, became a dream come true for the filmmaker. The 1933 original is what inspired him to make movies in the first place. If the world didn’t have Peter Jackson, we wouldn’t have another movie featuring King Kong.

Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts marks the return for the monster in Kong: Skull Island. This reboots screams the 1970s. The Vietnam War. The Nixon administration. The Peace Corps. Creedence Clearwater Revival. And, most importantly, it pays tribute to Apocalypse Now.

The year is 1973. Bill Randa (John Goodman) hires a diverse team of experts including British Special Forces Captain James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), and Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) to map out Skull Island. Once they arrive, they encounter various creatures as well as Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), who has been stranded on the island since the end of World War II. He is the perfect guy to ask about the island as a whole. As the team help each other off the island, they encounter the king himself.

As someone who enjoys monster movies, I couldn’t imagine if there would ever be a franchise featuring two of the most memorable monsters in cinema: King Kong and Godzilla. After seeing the 2014 version of Godzilla, I got the feeling of anxiety about the fact of another movie universe. With the MonsterVerse being a thing, it’s an awesome feeling to see a wonderful monster grace the silver screen once again in this day and age. The creatures in Kong: Skull Island easily overshadow the human characters. It’s not to say they are all forgettable.

The movie proves Hiddleston needs to be the next James Bond; he’s got the charisma and the badass fight choreography to pull it all off. Fresh from winning an Oscar for her performance in Room, Brie Larson is becoming one of the best actresses of this generation. She provides the bravery in her role as the photojournalist pushing the gender boundaries of the time. John C. Reilly steals every scene he’s in providing just enough laughs to even out the visually stunning and heart-pumping action.

The 2014 version of Godzilla and the 2005 version of King Kong both follow the roots of Jaws, where it takes an awfully long time to know the main characters before seeing the monster that the audience has been anticipating to see. With Kong: Skull Island, it doesn’t take long at all. The audience is introduced to the team and they are put on a wild ride. Once Kong makes him introduction, he is the biggest ape of them all—ranging about 100 feet tall. He’s aggressive yet defensive about his territory.

While the first act can be a bit rushed and some of the dialogue can be cheesy, there is enough visual beauty to feast the eyes. I can’t wait for Kong and Godzilla go at it in 2020.

3/4

2014 Summer Movie Review: Godzilla

The famous Japanese kaiju threatens San Francisco in Gareth Edwards' reboot of "Godzilla"

The famous Japanese kaiju threatens San Francisco in Gareth Edwards’ reboot of “Godzilla”

In 1954, there was a film about Japan facing with a disaster unlike anything they have experienced before. Was it a massive earthquake? Was it a flood? Or was it Godzilla, a giant radioactive lizard?

After the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki which ended World War II, Japan became genuinely invested in making nuclear power plants and bombs. Not only were they using the bombs as tests, but they use them for a much more serious purpose. That is to kill Godzilla. The movie became a huge worldwide success. It set a new ground of out-of-this-world special effects, and made Godzilla become one of the best giant movie monsters, along with King Kong.

60 years later, Gareth Edwards, the director of the 2010 indie film Monsters (made for a budget of a mere $500,000), attached his name to direct the reboot of Godzilla. He used new film techniques (i.e. CGI) to capture the iconic kaiju providing an old-fashioned concept that would make Steven Spielberg proud. For someone who has yet to see the original Japanese version, I acknowledge the historical value that went into the making of Godzilla.

After a brief montage of nuclear physicists setting up nuclear bombs to test them, Dr. Ichiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe, The Last Samurai and Inception) calls to the Philippines to examine skeletons in a mine. He recognizes an egg had hatched, and something has escaped into the Pacific Ocean. That “something” is the giant lizard himself, Godzilla.

Meanwhile, Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston, Malcolm in the Middle and Breaking Bad), a nuclear specialist is concerned about the disastrous events that happened over the years. When he tries to find the answers he’s looking for, he finds out that not only Godzilla is threatening humanity, but two parasites, known as the MUTO, are also coming to destroy the world. As the monsters target San Francisco, Joe lets his son, Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Kick-Ass), an officer in the NAVY, to get rid of the monsters.

I guess you can call Godzilla, “this year’s Pacific Rim without giant robots (jaegers)”. If any of you are expecting Godzilla to have a lot of screen time, then you would be no less than disappointed. In terms of the story, it’s reminiscent to Jaws. Where he have to wait an hour to see the monster in its entirety. It’s not to say the human drama is totally redundant. Of course, it drag at times but it has enough to build up to the moment we’ve all been waiting for. Unlike the earlier versions of Godzilla, this reboot has a much serious and devastating feel. Edwards doesn’t need to use humor to make the story compelling.

With the exception of Bryan Cranston and Ken Watanabe, some characters have limited development. Aaron Taylor-Johnson portrays a decent protagonist and gets the job done, but he barely gave any emotion at all. Making it look like he’s the new Hayden Christensen. Elizabeth Olsen as Ford’s wife, again, she delivers a decent performance but her character development is very limited. She doesn’t bring that much depth into her role rather than being a nurse.

Once Godzilla first appears on the screen an hour into the movie, we forget that he’s just a CGI creation. The “God of Monsters” looks so real that it makes our jaws drop in awe. As he rises a massive height of about 400 feet from the ground, he lets out a roar so loud that it literally shook the entire theater, and sending chills down everyone’s spines. When Godzilla fights the MUTO in the year’s best climax thus far, we root for him until the end. I’m glad I went to see Godzilla.

3.5/4