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After being fairly dutiful remade in 1976 and 2005, “King Kong” has a major creative makeover with Kong Skull Island Yet this attempt to launch a new franchise of creature features suffers from a poor script and bland design, leading to a net result closer to “Kong: Numbskull Island.”
A good monster can’t be kept down, especially in Hollywood. After years in storage, the almighty ape with the big teeth and the crush for pale blondes has been dusted off and digitally designed for Kong Skull Island . Once again, lots of the noise and action involve gunshots, monsters and crashing jungle chases, but the most promising detail involve King Kong and the petite lady he unexpectedly meets. In the past, their brief encounter made for some strange moments, none stranger than in the original 1933 film when Kong freezes while undressing his human doll to smell his fingers.
It has always been claimed that beauty killed the beast. In 1933, it was Fay Wray’s scantily dressed beauty who was blamed for bringing Kong down off the top of the Empire State Building while fighter planes with machines guns also involved. By 1976, the beauty and the beast relationship had grown rather more complicated, and Jessica Lange was begging Kong in tears to hold onto her. In the 2005 remake, it was Naomi Watts’s turn to shed tears for Kong.
And in Kong Skull Island the big guy has a new appearance and a new girlfriend, Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), who’s somewhat more aggressive and certainly more well-dressed than her predecessors. She points and she shoots, and not just her camera. Kong Skull Island pretty much uses the same old story conceived for the 1933 classic.
This time, the adventurers involves a group of government-backed scientists run by Bill Randa (John Goodman), who has his wide-opening eyes on a mysterious, seemingly unexplored island. Mysteries were made for solving, and in this case, Randa reasons, may contain all manner of wonders, or perhaps something beyond human imagination. Therefore, with a military unit led by Lt. Col. Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), the scientists carry out, accompanied by Mason, a no-nonsense war photographer who’s soon trading barbs and looks with the world’s most beautiful mercenary, James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston).
Admittedly, nobody expects much logic from this sort of exercise, and Kong Skull Island does earn applaud for the economy of its structure. Different from the original story’s hook of bringing Kong to civilization, the event here takes place almost entirely on the hidden island in South Pacific where he rules, the alpha male amid a host of fantastic beasts.
However, what ensues is a strange mash-up of monster and war movies. Setting the story back in 1973, in the final days of the Vietnam war, also adds an underlying “Apocalypse Now” riff to the proceedings, certainly in terms of the musical soundtrack.
“Kong” has an extremely impressive cast, only to leave them slumming, basically tided by the periodically groan-inducing dialogue.
Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson apparently regard him as a brave adventurer recruited to lead the risky expedition, her as a war photographer, happily spared the usual damsel in distress shrieking while being held in a giant palm.
Nonetheless, it’s John Goodman who sets the story in motion as an operative for the secret monster-hunting organization Monarch, convinced the remote island hides something very huge indeed. His character enlists a military escort, headed by Samuel L. Jackson’s snarling presence, to explore this exotic land, for purposes that at first remain vague.
Once there, the group quickly meets Kong, who appears much bigger and less ape-like than most previous incarnations, strutting around upright on two legs. Swatting at helicopters like flies, his harrowing assault leaves the group scattered, seeking to cross treacherous, hopes to find the place where they might be rescued.
Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, overseeing his first special-effects extravaganza, the movie is filled with lots of actions, from the creatures that pluck off survivors to Kong himself. The designers, though, have traded in the island’s prehistoric aspect for something visually similar to “Pacific Rim”, which somehow makes Kong’s primary foes seem more likely computer-generated and generic.
Perhaps, Kong Skull Island appears too openly like a bid by Warner Bros. to establish a world-conquering franchise – the appetizer for a carefully planned feast that will include a previously announced Kong vs. Godzilla movie in 2020. That would be a rematch between the big guys, of sorts, after the two went toe to toe in the 1960s.
Kong Skull Island represents a sizable upgrade from that poor, men-in- costumes Japanese version, and the action-packed delivers a few visceral thrills along the way. Mostly, the movie gives the impression of serving as the opening salvo in a larger corporate enterprise. And while the film’s main man might be gigantic, in qualitative terms, “Kong” doesn’t set the bar very high.