Kong: Skull Island

Saw the latest King Kong film. A definite mixed bag. And I have no idea why anyone thinks we need another Kong movie at this time. (Of course…duh…it’s making money, especially overseas.)

The effects are good. And the action scenes (or should I say scenes of violence) are well done. Definitely not recommended for younger audiences, as the rate of intense animal munching is pretty high and graphic.

With Oscar winner Brie Larson (Room), Oscar nominees John C. Reilly and Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, and future Oscar nominee Tom Hiddleston (Loki in the Thor films), the acting is solid, though the acting choices are questionable at times. Even Jackson manages to rein things in until he goes all Samuel L. Jackson on us, right down to the profanity.

The direction (full disclosure—the director is a friend of a friend) by Jordan Vogt-Roberts is rather solid, considering the challenges of audience expectation, the Kong legend, other modern action/danger films, and especially the difficulty of balancing believable human interactions with believable computer-generated monsters. Each scene is lovingly photographed (often to the point of nearly looking posed) and is credible and convincing on its own.

The problem is the script and the missing narrative arc. We don’t know whom we are to follow. We start with Goodman’s character, and (spoiler alert), he ends up being lunch. Hiddleston plays the presumed hero, and acts the part with conviction, but his story never really takes off., nor does the film’s. After a rather typical and lame set-up to the action, we arrive—after the expected struggles—at the island of the title. Then, instead of a long and slow buildup to the creature that the classic (and never bested) 1933 version presents, we are thrown into a quick and unexpected confrontation with the biggest Kong we’ve seen in a long time. The beast does a great deal of damage in a short period of time, and we’re left not knowing what comes next. That’s a great start. Unfortunately, we never get a sense of direction after that. There is a thin plotline involving getting to a certain part of the island. But then we meet Reilly’s character, which moves us in one direction. Then we find that (oh, how we all love reverses, yes?) it’s imperative that we keep Kong alive and well for… some reasons, which take us into another direction. Aside from numerous (perhaps too many) cinematic references to Apocalypse Now (in keeping with the reverses, we have napalm in the evening), there is little to keep us engaged except wondering which dangerous and huge creature we might meet next.

Human interaction is minimal. Nothing really happens with our two attractive leads (Hiddleston and Larson), which leaves a possible rich vein unmined. Some folks we like get eaten, which combines disappointment with our surprise. But the bottom line is that the various tensions and conflicts in the film never coalesce into a coherent, engaging storyline. Surprises and dangerous encounters can’t take the place of a solidly building narrative. We don’t know whom we’re to follow, as our loyalties bounce around, and we don’t know where to place our hopes, other than in a generic wish that the core group survives.

Goodman, Jackson, and Hiddleston are some of the most relatable and enjoyable film actors today. And that brings me to the mystery of Brie Larson. Perhaps it’s just me, but this lovely (actually, too lovely and put together throughout this film) and very talented actress is a rather opaque and nondescript screen presence. My film class addresses the issue of who is a star, what it takes to become a star, and the differences between stage and film actors. Larson is unusual in that her beauty and talent put her in the obvious star category. But she practically evaporates off the screen. As she is the only female in any kind of important role in the film, that’s a great loss. Between the thin script and her screen presence, this is almost an all-guys film. Considering the often controversial and complex roles played by women in the Kong series, her lack of definition as a character and the strange lack of presence, this is almost an all-guys film. Considering the often controversial and complex roles played by women in the Kong series, her lack of definition as a character and the strange lack of presence of the actress conspire to bring an imbalance to a film sorely in need of it.

After all the Kong iterations, with this entry, the Peter Jackson version (Jack Black, really?) and the forgettable ‘70s version, we still crown the 1933 version the King of the Kongs.

 

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About Mark DuPré

Full-time (associate) pastor at a Christian church. Part-time film professor at Rochester Institute of Technology. Husband for 40 years to the lovely and talented Diane. Father to three children and father-in-law to three more amazing people. I preach, teach, counsel, write and plan in my real job. I teach a subject I love at RIT in my "other job," which is a lot of fun most of the time.... I play piano for our local college choir, and sing and play at church occasionally. I also have a film-related website at www.film-prof.com.
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