King Kong. One of the most, if not THE most, popular movie monsters in cinematic history coming second only to Godzilla. Famous for chest-beating and fighting other beasts on his dangerous habitat of Skull Island and even more famous for forming bonds with pretty women, climbing skyscrapers and being the perfect anti-hero. You can’t help but love Kong.
So here, we have a reboot of the King himself to cater to a generation who don’t want a 3hr Peter Jackson film with an actual story, character development and a crafty update of a 1933 classic. This caters to those who want to be dropped into the headache inducing world populating cinema today – dizzying editing, over-used slow-motion shots, even more over-used CGI, mindless action and throwaway characters. With Warner Brothers and the less-than-average cinematographer Larry Fong on board, this veers into Zack Snyder territory at times with so much slow-mo, CGI dreamy sequences coming right out of a video game. However, be prepared for a few comically gruesome moments littered throughout – most character deaths I found myself chuckling at because they are so…daft!
That leads me to one of the factors that take much “wow” from this. If you get a monster creation right, CGI or model, it pleases audiences. It’s something you KNOW isn’t real but you buy into it. Staypuft Marshmallow Man. Godzilla. T-Rex. You know the ones. Kong has always come across a winner – he’s tough, scary, strong and iconic; everything you want from a monster. He looks good digitally and even in model form. So when the lead of you film vanishes for over half of it, you can’t feel he was bait used to lure you in for a film there to set up so much else.
Kong’s appearance is revealed in the first minute of the film which is a shame as it would have worked NOT seeing him until later. When he DOES appear again in the trailer sequence of taking down helicopters invading his island, his ferocity, cunning and overall reveal is so much better. It’s crazy, chaotic and grizzly fun and one of the best sequences in the film that is shot and framed perfectly. It’s downhill from there sadly. We have so much eye-rolling “American soldier oo-raa” talk and 70s rock music and helicopters framed like ‘Apocalypse Now’ to remind us this IS set in the 1970s, it gets boring and just not needed.
Much like I imagine the ‘Star Wars’ prequels, a talented cast will struggle acting with CGI settings and characters regardless. Tom Hiddleston comes across pretty wooden and not too fussed about the danger around him following his exciting turn in ‘The Night Manager’. If he was Bond going on this performance….god help us. Brie Larson, Oscar winner from ‘The Room’, becomes the tough-talking but vulnerable damsel in distress there for Kong’s benefit. Samuel L Jackson gets away with just being badass because he’s Samuel L Jackson. John Goodman is…there, and good…I guess. Lots of characters, not much behind them and their guns, cameras and shouting. Only John C Reilly looks like he’s having fun from start to finish and actually completes a “journey” out of all of them, which surprised me by being the least annoying actor of them all.
This becomes a basic “monster actioner” once they arrive on Skull Island. Our characters may start to have some fun after a tepid opening, but only because they’re traversing CGI sets and practical locations and running, jumping, shooting and shouting; getting paid to have this much fun makes any character seem enjoyable. We let Kong take a backseat and instead are given CGI buffalo, CGI skeleton-lizard things, a CGI spider, a CGI octopus, CGI birds and a CGI wood/tree trunk insect…thing. I don’t know. It’s all more reasons for our run-of-the-mill characters (the war vet, the tough soldiers, the scared scientist, the crazy castaway, the humanitarian female etc) to get into CGI fuelled action and chase sequences as they race to get from one end of this island to another to meet a conveniently well timed pick-up convoy of helicopters to take the survivors home. And yes, like every monster-movie expedition piece, you know not all the guys and girls will make it home alive.
It offers nothing new sadly, as we’ve seen it all before in ‘King Kong’ from 2004 and even ‘Jurassic Park’ and ‘Godzilla’. We know what to expect from the monsters, the characters and the plot, and Kong seems to take a back seat to everything else and only pops up for convenience sake. At the end of the day, this is just a way for the studio to set up their monsters for future films. Godzilla has been done, and now Kong has (plus a few more via post-credits). Gone has a humane story, regardless of how it tries here, and gone has the will to tease a big reveal to build up apprehension. Now it’s just thrown in our faces for the action generation.
If this wasn’t fronted by Kong, it would have been even more forgetful that it is now.