Over the past eight decades and in the history of cinema itself, if there is one character who has never ceased to hold our fantasies, it would be King Kong. There have been innumerable films and franchises that have been made in Hollywood and in other countries like Japan, so much so that millennia later if an advanced race of human beings ever visited our planet for reconnaissance, they would be forced to conclude that this creature indeed existed and that their puny ancestors were constantly being wiped out, barely making their way through evolution.
King Kong was last seen in Peter Jackson’s big-budget extravaganza in 2005 which stretched the cinematic and visual challenges to the limits giving us one of the most spectacular portrayals of the beast ever seen on the big screen. The fundamental storyline never really changed over the years where Carl Denham, a film-maker, gathers an odd team of misfit characters including a struggling actress Ann Darrow and an upcoming writer John Driscoll, to pursue his dream of finishing his masterpiece on the mysterious Skull Island. However, Jackson’s alternative treatment of the original as a tale of love and not just a monster-movie, was not taken kindly by fans:
“There are so many nails you could use to crucify the film: The crazy long run time. Jack Black’s failed attempt at being taken seriously (more on that in a moment). The laughable dialogue vomited from every character’s mouth. Dodgy CGI. Jackson manhandled the film like Lenny from Of Mice and Men manhandled the bunnies he loved so much. He loved it so much he ended up strangling the damn thing to death.”
Almost a decade later, Gareth Edwards convinced Warner bros. to fund a reboot of another character which had not seen the light of day since 1998. Edwards’ 2014 reprise of Godzilla paid a worthy homage to the hugely popular monster-verse that had been spun through the decades, through his own unique style of portraying monsters that he carried from his very underrated productions of Monsters and Monsters : Dark Continent. Although Edwards’ reprise didn’t strike a dent into the fandom, he created a brand new foundation for the new age Monster-verse through film-making which made the creatures much more authentic and visceral, just how they would be taken in a real world crisis.
Kong : Skull Island follows a plotline that is closer to the origin of Godzilla than with King Kong. The story begins in the backdrop of the humiliating loss of United States in the Vietnam war under the Nixon regime. Bill Randa, played by John Goodman, is a geologist who is trying to persuade Government officials to fund an expedition to an uncharted island which might contain unforeseen treasures that may help them catch an edge over the Russians. A decorated war veteran Colonel Packard aka Samuel L.Jackson has tasted defeat in the Vietnam war and finds it hard to cope with the situation. So when he is asked to accompany a bunch of scientists on a survey mission, he is more than glad to take up the task which would help him redeem his pride as a soldier. James Conrad, played by Tom Hiddleston, is a British soldier who also served in the Vietnam is taken into Randa’s team as a hunter/tracker. Brie Larson plays the character of Mason Weaver who calls herself an Anti-war photographer with a penchant of showing the ugly side of war to the world. What seems like a straight-arrow expedition to an unknown island from the outset, would take them to a world which is beyond their wildest dreams – a world filled with creatures that shouldn’t even exist.
Even with so many A-list actors in the retinue, Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts makes it clear from the get-go that this film was about Kong and Kong alone. All the other characters were to be no more than plot devices, who would help move the narrative forward. Unlike Gareth Edwards who loves to torture the audience with peeks and glimpses of his creatures, Vogt-Roberts doesn’t waste a moment in introducing the star of the show. And what an entrance that is ! This 5-7 minutes sequence where Colonel Packard’s choppers are faced with an “unexpected encounter”, is mesmerizing and brutal at the same time. What now seems to be a pattern with the new-age monsters, Kong has been given gigantic proportions – about 5 times as large as Jackson’s Kong, swatting away the choppers like the irritating flies that they are to him.
Despite lacking a solid storyline and compelling characters, Kong has its moments. The cinematography is almost artistic with some iconic shots of the titanic size silhouetted against the setting sun as choppers fly towards him. Even through some of the unimpressive scenes, you can’t help notice how beautifully the film has been shot, with a design aesthetic that can only be carried out by one man. Larry Fong brings in his master photography techniques from his earlier blockbuster projects like 300, Watchmen and the more recent BvS : Dawn of Justice. The signature color palette gives the film a personality that compensates for the mediocre screenplay and inconsistent character development in the film (especially one cringeworthy scene where they name a creature within such comic stance that it blows apart the tension that was supposed to be created by the end of that sequence).
Kong is your typical popcorn-crunching monster flick with no story to think of after you go home. This time he is not even given a leading lady he can swoon over, breaking the decades old convention. Vogt-Roberts shows no intention to pay tribute to the original classics except for one tiny mention of the acronym Massively Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms (MUTO; Remember Mothra ?) which connects the film directly to the rest of the franchise. It would have been intriguing to watch a Godzilla-like treatment of this character as well, which would have perfectly aligned the future meeting of the two giants in some urban city with a lot of skyscrapers to destroy. I hope you’re listening, Gareth ! Until then, all we have is this sequel – Fantastic Beasts and Where to fight them…
gobblpoint: If you love mindless monster flicks, this one is a perfect movie to sit back and gasp over some creature-action. That didn’t sound right but you’ll know.
Disclaimer: The images used in this post are the sole property of the makers of the film and are not owned by us in any form whatsoever.