Sunday, March 12, 2017


          Trending off Apocalypse Now, Kong: Skull Island pits a giant ape twice the size of cinematic predecessors against Vietnam War-era military forces.
          Ultimately, it's not as powerful as the 1933 original, but a good bit better than both the Peter Jackson film and the 1976 version starring Jeff Bridges.
          Set in 1973, Skull Island offers a WWII pilot downed on an uncharted island in the Pacific surviving for nearly 40 years among a population protected by a 100 foot-tall primate from giant, weirder beasts.
          That said, it is only through the efforts of a duplicitous explorer (Goodman) that a voyage to the island receives Senate-backed funding during the Cold War with military escort. Because the escort is filmed stylistically, with slo-mo choppers and other aspects having nothing to do with the action, Apocalypse Now inferences are inescapable. But the movie reference is candy-coated at best.
          Excellent soundtrack opportunities aside, what we mostly get is a chance to see a super-sized Kong slug it out in defense of his invaded homeland. Because of the anticipatory colon in  the film's title, we understand that this is the first entry in a requisite franchise. We neither expect nor get Fay Wray in a Beauty and the Beast tale. It's not the 1930s, and we know there won't be any battle on the Empire State Building.
          So it's not as good. But it's still a good time.
          The original can't be outdone. Improved special effects mean nothing. Kong as a character, and Ann Darrow as a character, and Skull Island, and New York City, they are all indelible originals in the classic charmer. No attempt to top it has ever worked or will ever work. Willis O'Brien's stop-motion animation can't be surpassed by computers or holograms or anything else. Kong could be a thousand feet tall and the result will still be a footnote to 1933.
          Even so, a footnote can be fun.
          Do we really need Tom Hiddleston (Loki from Marvel's Thor franchise), with his prestige British dialect, to impress us with his military knowledge and tracking abilities? No, we don't. It's pointless and odd to have him in the film. Almost as pointless and odd to have a prestige British dialect in a movie featuring Norse gods.
          A superior footnote to the original would go against standard expectation and feature a reduction in scale. A Bigfoot movie, perhaps set in an island off British Columbia, could parallel the Kong story, culminating in a battle on the Seattle Space Needle.
          Until such time, this one's pretty good.

Starring John C. Reilly,
John Goodman,
Brie Larson,
Tom Hiddleston,
Tian Jing,
Toby Kebbell
Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Written by Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly
Based on a story by John Gatins
Runtime 120 minutes
Rated PG-13


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