1. The Movie is about Kong
One of the things that movie makers are doing in recent years is that they are not making the monster movies about monsters, but rather forcing the human characters to the front and making the monster part of the background. Like the presence of the monster itself is somehow offensive to their storytelling. Alien Covenant was over an hour before introducing the first laughable Xenomorph, Godzilla 2014 was more about the people chasing Godzilla, and the monster was just a plot device. Not so in Kong. The Big Guy is front and center, gets plenty of screen time, and is the focal point of the movie and exists in a superposition. Kong is neither the antagonist, or the protagonist, he is a self aware animalistic force of nature that has tender moments, comic moments, and indulges in no shortage of fighting.
2. John C Reilly is a Gift
Playing a WWII fighter pilot shot down in the first five minutes of the movie, Reilly has spent 28 years marooned on Skull Island. He is more than a little unhinged, and steals the show in many of his scenes. He wobbles between dead serious, loony, and then back in a glimpse of an eye, and does a great job of playing a man isolated from his own kind for close to three decades.
The movie is set in 73, and the expedition is primarily composed of scientists in delightfully dated jumpsuits with equally cool and dated reel to reel computers and other vintage gear and army boys who are doing their last mission after the end of the Vietnam war, and then they get to go home. Many of the Vietnam tropes are there, the tough as nails major (Samuel Jackson) the nerdy sweety kid, the vet who has seen a bit too much, and tons of guys with heavy weapons, and enough Huey gunships to make Michael Bay happy. The airborne assault against Kong is mostly fantastic as long as one ignores Hollywood's biggest repeated inescapable trope, making helicopters fly super close to anything they attack. The soldiers slogging through the much is solid.
4. Giant Ass Monsters
Kong isn't the only big daddy on the island. Skull island is host to giant stickbugs, massive bamboo spiders, huge wildebeast-auroch-yak things, and the villainous Skull-Crawlers. The soldiers fight, avoid fighting, and generally fare poorly against this selection of megafauna, minus the yak things, which are docile, if the size of RVs. The monsters look good (mostly) and the action scenes with them are really well done.
If I have any complaints about Kong, it is the design of the Skull-Crawlers. Their anatomy is strange, as they are pure bipeds, with just two legs. No arms, no forelegs, no wings, etc. Their skull design is cool, and the way they act and move is also well done, even if their physiology literally makes no sense.
Ultimately the skull-crawlers are no more important than the MUTOs of 2014 Godzilla, they are chump fodder for the kaiju to warm up on, not seriously intended to be major threats, and not to hold a kaiju slot of their own. This is disappointing because there is plenty of space in the old Toho stable to bring up some of the old second and third stringers for the big boys to bring down in their opening bouts.
There are a large number of points of connection between Kong and Godzilla (2014). The biggest of these is the existence of Project MONARCH in both, as a kaiju hunting agency. Both refer back to the 1950s nuclear testing as being the military actually attempting to kill one of these titans (Godzilla). John Goodman's character is a survivor of a Godzilla attack and seeks to expose the truth to the world. There is an after-credits scene where Hiddleston and anti-War journalist are being held by the government and recruited into MONARCH, where the existence of other islands and other kaiju is revealed, including Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, and my personal favorite and perennial megavillain King Ghidorah.
7. Overturning the Shit Movie Tropes
Kong avoids a lot of the problems that have plagued many modern movies. There is obviously CG in the film, but it looks good, for the most part. There are a few wonky scenes but it can't really be helped, and they are thankfully short. Most of the film was filmed on location in exotic places rather than sound stages and sets. No matter how well done a sound stage will never look as good as a real location. The movie isn't colored washed either, and the use of color and set really gives Skull Island an alien feel despite being on Earth, where many movies set on alien worlds really fail at this task. The soldiers marching under the intense auroras was more alien than the ridiculous scene in Predators where the humans look at a sky crowded with planets.
Aside from Reilly wanting to go home to his wife and son he's never seen there is NO LOVE ANGLE
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed Kong: Skull Island. It is a solid movie, avoids a bunch of predictable movie problems and cheap storytelling cliches, and isnt drowning in CGI. I was surprised by this since I hate apes, monkeys, and Kong himself, and I was badly underwhelmed by Godzilla 2014. I hope that there is more coming.
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