Action Island: Featuring Kong vs Sam Jackson
Kong: Skull Island (2017) is a different kind of Kong Kong movie, with the action turned up to 11, and everything else turned off. I think Jurassic Park is a good example of a huge amount of action balanced with character moments, exposition, and clever dialogue. Kong dumps everything extraneous and just keeps the action on high so the pace feels very fast, but that turns out to be a good thing and a bad thing. In the end, this isn’t a bad movie. It spares no expense, there’s just no funny old guys.
They’ve amped up everything in this version of King Kong. CGI is no stranger to King Kong, but I prefer this version over Peter Jackson’s slogfest, if given a choice. They’ve made King Kong bigger, stronger, and faster, able to overcome all monsters who run around on the island to oppose him. I like cheering for King Kong doing the smackdown, because they’ve made up even uglier villains. The CGI is able to keep up and the effects are great.
The atmosphere has the appearances of being classic, but hits the mark for every cliché in the book. Set in the 70s, the main story has every cliché Vietnam-era song and repeats every beat already done in such war movies as Apocalypse Now, so we all remember this is a period piece. It repeats such things already done in the 70s version of King Kong, like the exposition scene meant to act as a “briefing” for the expedition, but that’s been done in tons of other movies too, so I guess that’s just standard now. Details like the island being surrounded by mist are ripped off from the 70s version and dropped in with new explanations. Now the island is surrounded by a perpetual storm. Yeah sure. The usual dinosaurs are replaced by stupider monsters and this gives the people something else to run from, so Kong can be painted as a hero. Okay.
It’s not unusual to find worldly themes in monster movies, like we’ve already gotten in Mothra or Godzilla, and we get a dose of that in Skull Island. The characters repeat anti-war sentiment and environmental worries, which is just as standard as the other monster clichés. The main theme is that Earth once was dominated by monsters and could be again soon, which is probably why John Goodman’s organization exists in the first place. Everything supports perpetual monster battles and chaos.
There’s not much to the characters because they are paper-thin. Samuel L. Jackson has the deepest character and that’s only because he’s angry all the time, plus reflects a post-Vietnam military burnout or backlash or somesuch. Some people complain about John C. Reilly’s character but I thought he was great and added some light moments desperately needed in this bloody action movie. The only thing I didn’t like was when Tom Hiddleston macked off Reilly’s schtick, stealing his sword so he could slice his way through a heroic action moment. Get your own schtick, Hiddleston, geez. Last, the play between blonde female and Kong isn’t as played up as in other movies, which is a departure. I guess I didn’t really care.
In all, this is a good popcorn movie. It has good CGI and decent atmosphere, but everything is eclipsed by the pace and the action. Sam Jackson plays well as a crazy loon and John C. Reilly shakes in with some moments so lighthearted that he actually looks sane. “Uh, let’s not walk through the valley of Skull Crushers, okay?” Yeah, no kidding, DUH. As for themes, they are there, but only touched on and not fleshed out enough for this to be a full-blown movie allegory. I really hated the war clichés, endless 70s tunes we all know, and the Apocalypse Now copycat maneuvers. Kong Skull Island throws everything we love about action movies, war movies, and monster clichés into a blender, so we get a better, faster, more action oriented Kong-smoothie. Is it good? Yes, it doesn’t taste bad at all, but there are tons of other smoothies that taste about the same. And that’s my smoothie analogy.