Kong: Skull Island - Big Dumb Monkey Movies. For Your Health.



Sure, there's a review on here from Chris, but why not read the hot takes from someone who recommended POWER RANGERS

Kong: Skull Island
Directed by: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Brie Larson, Jing Tian, Toby Kebbell, John Ortiz, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Shea Whigham, Thomas Mann, Terry Notary, and John C. Reilly 
Release Date: March 10, 2017
Run Time: 118 minutes

***

KONG is not a retelling of the original film from 1933. Or the remake from 1976. Or the remake from 2005. There's no Empire State Building, nor a beauty that killed the beast. Hell, Kong doesn’t even leave his island. Instead we’re going back in time to the end of the Vietnam War as a team of scientists and soldiers (how are THESE guys gonna get along, am I right?) travel to an uncharted island in the Pacific. What is supposed to be a discovery mission becomes a fight to escape from the horrifying monsters inhabiting the island. Oh and also there’s a giant gorilla. 

I’ll be honest, KONG pains me deep in my soul. It's a movie I desperately wanted to love with all my heart. I wanted to love it more than I will ever love another human being and more than another human being could ever fathom loving me. And for chunks of the movie I did. When there were monsters on screen I hopped up and down and clapped in my seat like a big fat baby. Those moments were amazing and put me in an infantile state of pure unmitigated joy I didn’t know I was still capable of feeling after being beaten down by the numbing effects of life. Unfortunately, the rest of the movie is kind of a mess. 

KONG doesn't take terribly long to get to the titular island, but it feels like an eternity. It may only be 20 monkey-less minutes, but it's a real shitshow until they go one on one with the ape one. If you take a gander up at the cast list you'll see it's jam-packed with big names. Do you know what happens when you cram a bunch of people into a movie? Almost nobody stands out. Only John C. Reilly and Samuel L. Jackson leave any imprint, and that's depressing.

The rest of the characters are all one note - and barely a note at that. Tom Hiddleston can track people and also carries around a lighter his dad gave him. Full stop. Brie Larson is a war photographer. Full stop. John Goodman believes monsters are real. Full stop. What a waste of talent. Hiddleston and Larson are the (human) stars of the movie, and I'm going to let you in on a secret: this sentence is the last time either of them will be mentioned in this review. 



SKULL ISLAND assembles an amazing ensemble cast and gives them a script that is beneath all of them. Every single actor from top to bottom is better than the material they are given to work with. The dialogue is horrendous and at one point caused me to audibly groan. Hand to God, there's a scene where Vague Military Colonel Samuel L. Jackson looks down at an assortment of war commendations and says out loud to nobody in an empty room "All this for what?" Fucking yikes.

KONG is riddled with character beats that occur inexplicably and then jumpcut to the next scene before you get a chance to stop and say "wait...what the fuck did any of that mean? Is this still the same movie? Who are these people?" Let me reiterate: it doesn't take long at all to get to the island, and as soon as we get there we're treated to some big ole monsters. But every minute leading up to it is worse than the last. I could actively feel myself growing more and more disinterested as time slowly passed. As the cast approached the island and attempted to fly through the storm, I was less infatuated with John Goodman's two sentence backstory and more enthralled with the delicious chicken sandwich I had ordered. The movie was on the verge of losing me for good. And then a giant gorilla threw a tree through a helicopter. 

That's all I wanted. That's all I've ever wanted. When all hope was lost, my hairy savior appeared on the horizon like a gift from the Heavens above and punched helicopters out of the sky with his big meaty paws. Needless to say, things turned around for the better. And honestly even without the big beautiful monkey, things improve for a bit while the crew is on foot. Sure the humans are all still boring mannequins that serve no purpose, but they stumble across John C. Reilly, who has been stuck on the island since his plane was shot down in World War 2. How fuckin great is that? Not only do I get giant monsters, but now I get Steve Brule making me not want to kill myself between kaiju scenes. What a time to be alive.



Unfortunately all good things must come to an end, because around this point is where KONG falls apart. The crew gets split up on the island into two camps: one team goes with Reilly and get into wacky shenanigans and misadventures involving the island natives and such, and the other team goes with Samuel L. Jackson, who wants to rescue a missing soldier and also find a huge weapons cache to murder Kong to avenge his fallen troops. Sounds like two completely separate, tonally disparate stories that don't belong in the same movie, right? Correct. KONG regularly bounces back and forth between these two stories, leaving you with the feeling that two scripts were mashed together regardless of whether or  the final product worked. What's that, this movie ebbs and flows from 'Reilly's light-hearted, pulpy, cram popcorn in your mouth and enjoy the big monsters' movie and 'Jackson's gritty metaphor for America in the Vietnam War?' Well suck a dick dumbshit, we've got a franchise to launch, so put a monkey in there and let's get this baby to the screen. 

The worst part of this Frankenstein's Monster of a movie is that both ideas are pretty great separately. Well, parts of them are, at least. John C. Reilly is so, so good and yet the great cast around him is so, so useless. They are all such voids of both emotion and plot necessity that if you cut them all out and only had Steve Brule wielding his katana on an island filled with primitive natives and kaiju this would be five stars no questions asked. Reilly's improv ability is so far beyond what the cast is capable of that he might as well be throwing one liners at broomsticks. It almost makes you wonder why they're there in the first place, but then you remember the studio has to put pretty people in the commercials to make back that monkey budget. Warner Bros. reportedly eyeing a spinoff prequel with Reilly on the island after WW2, trying to communicate and live amongst aborigines while not getting eaten by monsters is such a good idea that I'm convinced they won't do it. 



I know what you're thinking: that movie sounds fun, but what if we cut away at the end of every one of those scenes to a completely separate movie filled with Vietnam subtext and brutal monster violence? What if we went from John C. Reilly firing off one liners to one of Sam Jackson's men getting gored by a giant spider leg in a visual that is purposefully reminiscent of the iconic moment in CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST? Sounds great, you say? Then boy do I have a movie for you, stupidest person on the goddamned planet. 

As much as I love Reilly's half of the movie, Jackson's Vietnam War allegory is what I was promised in the incredible trailers. To be honest, as much as I love Dr Steve Brule - and you know I do - those trailers are what I wanted KONG to be. "Man stepping foot on King Kong's island, a place they don't belong, as a metaphor for war" sounds like an incredible movie, and maybe this was at some point. Instead there are 3 credited screenwriters and it shows in the final product. As it stands now, people get savaged by monsters and it's subsequently undercut by jokes. Pick a tone and go with it. I know you want to have your cake and eat it too, but all of this pandering for broad audiences isn't going to help anyone.



...Or not. Nevermind. Movies are fucked and there's nothing we can do about it. I'm going to have to accept that these movies aren't made for me. You can't make a dark, R-rated movie about the horrors of war in a country we should have never invaded disguised as a big monkey and make half a billion dollars. Instead you have to take that idea, dumb it down, and add bullshit unnecessary characters whose literal only purpose in the movie is to undercut tension with one liners, not a single one of which is funny. So basically there were two completely separate ideas and the studio kinda mashed 'em together and it doesn't work at all. Half of it is a pulpy B movie and the other half is APOCALYPSE NOW...WITH MONSTERS and the final result is a mess that doesn't serve either idea.

...But then Kong fights a giant octopus. 

Never would have pegged Kong for an OLDBOY fan

I love monsters so much, you guys. I'm not saying I'm here specifically to watch large CGI animals beat the piss out of each other and I'm more than willing to ignore everything else, but if you're interested in joining my band where we dress in rubber suits and play pop punk called Blink-One Eighty Kaiju, you know how to reach me. I don't know if I mentioned it yet, I can't see how it would possibly have come up before, but I absolutely love the monster stuff. All of it. I love that most of the kaiju aren't evil or aggressive towards the crew. They're hanging out, living their life. Sure their ecosystem doesn't make the slightest bit of sense and there's no way they wouldn't all eventually die off, but I don't care. Monsters. That's all I'm here for. Big. Fuckin. Monsters.

I love how they portrayed Kong this time around. He is less of a gorilla and more of a deity. He isn't on all fours and eating hella big bananas, he protects his island from the massive Skullcrawlers that prey on its inhabitants



He is God, and Skull Island is his domain. What do all of the ad campaigns say? "We do not belong." He's not tear-assing through cities or climbing the Empire State Building. He's protecting his house and doing everything he can to survive. And then we carpet-bombed him. I feel like maybe they're alluding to a historical event of some kind. 

A lot of KONG feels like a course correction on GODZILLA (2014) that is better in theory than execution. What's that, you thought Bryan Cranston was wasted and Aaron Taylor-Johnson was a dull husk that drug the movie down? Well here's 30 characters, odds are you'll like at lest one of them. You thought GODZILLA took itself far too seriously? Well here's a bunch of jokes that aren't funny. With that being said, many of complaints stemmed from there being no G-Man, and there is plenty of Kong to go around. And much like the previous MonsterVerse installment, I didn't care about what came before when it was time for the climactic monster fight. Because I'm an adult child. 

The biggest problem with KONG is that, well, it has a ton of problems. There are a myriad of things to complain about, but when it's time to look at the bright side all I can conjure up is WELL THE BIG MONKEY HIT SOMETHING A+ because I am an infantile fool. The movie ends - as it should - with Kong fighting the biggest, ugliest monster on the island. And they beat the dogshit out of each other. It's so great that it puts a big dumb grin on my face and wipes the memory of having to hear Creedence Clearwater Revival's Bad Moon Rising for the 40th fucking time in a movie set in the 70s. I'm not going to harp too much on the soundtrack; after all, layering your movie with on the nose musical choices is taking a cue from OSCAR AWARD WINNING SUICIDE SQUAD. 

Never forget.


I can't overstate how much fun I had every time there were kaiju on screen. For the most part it outweighed just how little I cared for the scenes preceding each big dumb monster mash, and I loved the final battle something fierce. Whether or not i recommend this movie is essentially taking a scale and on one side you have Steve Brule with a katana and big monsters punching each other, and on the other side you have literally everything else. It's that cut and dry, because straight up if John C. Reilly wasn't in this - not his character, but Reilly himself - and the last 20 minutes or so wasn't as exciting as it was, this would be the easiest not recommend in history. But alas, I am a manchild to the bitter end. 
 
The results are in and...it's fine. It's both incredibly fun and incredibly dumb, but mostly in a good way. Sure a majority of the slow motion action sequences are incredibly lame, and sure all of the characters not played by Samuel L. Jackson or John C. Reilly are either underwritten, forgettable, or a combination of the two, and sure there are massive glaring issues that would make 99% of movies un-recommendable if they had them. But the thing is, 99% of movies don't involve a giant gorilla using a boat rudder to fight a monster. So checkmate, ya dingus. 

I fluctuated between being actively frustrated or bored and clapping like a big fat baby. Kicking my stubby little feets in the air as the big monkey threw trees at the bad men. To me it's like horror movies, where mediocre ones can be saved by an awesome finale. FRIDAY THE 13TH is my go to for this. The original is paced horribly and boring for a majority of its runtime...but when he comes out of the water. Fuck me running. You wanna talk about not only saving a movie but starting a massive franchise, the final battle between Kong and the Skullcrawler is the 'Jason in the water' moment for me. 

I never thought I'd be this conflicted about recommending a giant gorilla movie. There are so many parts I love, but so also so many parts that are frustrating, shallow, and boring. The more I sat down and thought about it critically instead of as a pulpy B movie, the more it fell apart in my hands like putty and it's breaking my heart. It's what us cool kids call The Prometheus Effect. We're 2 for 2 now in this shared universe of small film directors getting picked to make these massive movies and them having glaring flaws. You know what's flawless though? His beard. 



It's not great - in fact it's barely good at times - but I had fun. That's the best part about all of this. I get to say "it doesn't matter how bad a majority of it was because I had fun" because you can't argue that I didn't. Haha kick rocks, I win. Neener neener neener. In all seriousness though, it put enough of a shit-eating grin on my face to tip the scales from "bad" to "good enough" on the ole fun-o-meter. It's incredibly messy and I wouldn't be surprised if someone told me they absolutely hated it. To be honest, I'm surprised Chris loved it as much as he did because he usually makes me feel like a god damned fool with my bad taste in movies. I've made peace with myself and accepted that for a spectacle of this size (pun mostly intended), it's going to be packed full of characters that exist only for global appeal and a bunch of unfunny jokes. It feels like KONG could have used another year to iron out the script and get a more streamlined vision, but guess what, they have brand recognition and a shared universe to create and that's how movies work now. Fuck it, blend these polar opposite scripts together and put a Chinese lady in there and we're fuckin set. Literally nobody outside of Reilly said anything remotely funny, and yet everyone around me was laughing. These movies aren't made for people like me who get super excited when they go to Wal-Mart and see they can buy a DVD 2-pack of the '33 KING KONG and the sequel with a giant shitty Robot Kong. No, it's for the entire world to throw money at them so they can make these until I mercifully die. It's not like this is anything new. Marvel does it too. I don't remember laughing at a single thing Benedict Cumber...cuba...cu...Doctor Strange said throughout that entire movie. So you know, maybe it's me. Maybe I'm the asshole.

Nah.

The most important factor in all of this is that it doesn't matter how bad it is. It could have been the most unwatchable piece of shit I've ever seen and that post-credits tease would have had me back on board with my wallet out throwing cash at the screen. KONG would have had to have been franchise-killing bad to hamper my excitement about GODZILLA VS KONG or some kind of new DESTROY ALL MONSTERS. Especially on a massive screen. 

All in all, for the most part SKULL ISLAND is just kind of there. For me, I'm more than happy for a monster movie just to be there than to not have one at all. Because I'm a child. I wish it was better than it was and I can't shake the disappointment that it wasn't as good as the trailers were, but at the end of the day I had fun. That's what it all boils down to. Am I foregoing massive glaring issues and recommending it because of a couple of scenes with a giant gorilla? Yep. The rewatches at home on a small TV are going to be brutal, and I can already tell I'm gonna do the same thing I did with GODZILLA and do a whole lot of chapter-skipping, but that's a problem for later. I had fun, and the day I can't get some enjoyment out of something like SKULL ISLAND is the day I finally grant myself the sweet release of death.

Most importantly, SKULL ISLAND was a teaching moment for me. You know the people who say they liked SUICIDE SQUAD, and when you ask how in God's name they could tolerate it they shrug and say they had fun? How you silently judged them and never looked at them the same way again? Now I feel like a real asshole. So to my friend who saw SUICIDE SQUAD nearly 10 times in the theaters, I would like to take this moment to offer you a deep and sincere

hahaha just kidding you fucking idiot. 




***

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