Review – Kong is Still King (“Kong: Skull Island”)

Call it what you want: a reboot, remake, or re-imaging, this movie about the only original American monster (unless you count the Cloverfield creature) has a unique spin on it since its last outing with Peter Jackson’s 2015 goofy CGI remake. THIS movie lays the ground- work for what can be only be described as a future franchise of monster movies. But King Kong as a kaiju? Hmmm…

Forget the old King Kong storylines you’ve seen in the past, it’s time to start fresh and new. It’s 1973 and former British Special Services James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) is hired by over-zealous government agent Bill Randa (John Goodman) and young scientist Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) for a secret expedition to an uncharted and cloud-hidden island in the Pacific Ocean called Skull Island. Why? Randa thinks there’s a real-live monster there! Randa also recruits a Vietnam army helicopter squadron, led by Lt. Col. Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), to escort them to the island. The group is also joined by photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), who believes the expedition maybe up to no good.

But after they arrive at the island and start setting off seismic charges (a really bad idea), they get the surprise of their short lives. . .a 100ft tall really pissed-off gorilla attacks the fully-armed Huey choppers and, faster than you can say “It’s clobberin’ time!”, the monkey goes apes**t on the soldiers, picking them off like flies left and right. So much for peaceful negotiations, huh? Kong leaves, scattering the troops and Packard, seething with rage, is hell-bent on seeing Kong dead and takes what’s left of his men on a mission of “kill that ape”.

Meanwhile, Conrad, Weaver, and a few others find a strange village with mute natives who, nice to know, do NOT want to sacrifice the blonde girl to their ape-god. Whew! Dodged a bullet this time! They also meet squirrelly Hank Marlow (a great John C. Reilly), a shot-down WW2 pilot who’s been there since 1944. He says that Kong is actually the people’s savior, keeping the island safe from nasty ‘skullcrawlers’, giant lizard-like prehistoric thingys that eat anything. With only two days left, Conrad, Weaver, Marlow and friends have to find Packard and his band of brothers and avoid getting eaten long enough to get to the appointed rendezvous point. But, that proves to be really tricky what with huge insects, man-eating lizard-birds, and those skull crawlers everywhere.

And, of course, there’s the Big Guy himself showing up and causing a ruckus while Packard is trying to blow him to smithereens. Luckily, there’s a whiz-bang climatic battle scene with Kong going toe-to-claw with a super-skull crawler that is just awesome. But don’t be too disappointed at the ending, Kong is already slated to return in 2020 for (hold onto your popcorn, kiddies), Godzilla vs Kong! Stay for the after-credits scene for that little tidbit.

Finally, after decades, three top screenwriters Dan Gilroy (The Bourne Legacy), Max Borenstein (2014’s Godzilla), and Derek Connolly (Jurassic World) got it right! An excellent story that zips along with great characters, dialog that doesn’t suck, an impossibly great CGI ape, and what look’s like the beginning of a terrific franchise of kaiju monster movie mash-ups. But what’s more impressive here is director Jordan Vogt-Roberts; this is his second-only feature film. The snappy, whip-smart, POV, and downright fun camera shots are not what I expected from someone who, up until now, only did a forgettable 2014 comedy (The Kings Of Summer) and a bunch of TV episodes. Who knew this guy was so creative?

Another kudo is the terrific cast and that wicked 70’s soundtrack. You just can’t go wrong with Creedance, Black Sabbath, plus John Goodman as a conspiracy nut-case, Sam Jackson who makes any role his own and defines it, Tom Hiddleston whose lazer-stare alone can tell a thousand stories, and John C. Reilly for his comedic timing and lethal ad-libs. Also great is Toby Kebbell as the luckless soldier Chapman, and Brie Larson who, apart from the female interest here, has great spunk. And I like spunk. This movie is SO much more than Kong, but also the characters in it; blissfully free of Kong climbing any NYC building or grabbing the female while planes try and shoot at him. Finally a King Kong movie I can cheer for the ape to win!

                                       

King Kong (1976)

Yeah, sure, there have been a lot of films about King Kong. Some good, some bad, some silly, and there’s this one. In one of the weirdest moves in Paramount Pictures history, they actually allowed then super-producer Dino De Laurentiis carte blanche in making a kinda-reboot/remake of the classic 1933 movie. Boy, were THEY ever dumb!

A ridiculously bad script, a cast who over-acted the hell outta this picture, and monster-maker make-up magician Rick Baker who wore a full-body rubber ape suit to pull off the larger-than-life King Kong. But wait, there’s more! SPFX guy Carlo Rambaldi built a 40-ft tall fully mechanical Kong (which looked nothing like Baker’s Kong) for millions and, not only did it barely move, but it had less than 15 seconds of screen time! Dumb, dumb, dumb!

Okay, so the plot has over-zealous Fred Wilson (Charles Grodin), an executive of the Petrox Oil Company, looking for an undiscovered island hidden by a permanent cloud bank. Wilson believes that the island holds vast untapped deposits of oil, but unbeknownst to Fred or the crew, stowaway Jack Prescott (Jeff Bridges sporting a great Lebowski beard and long hair) reveals to everyone on board that the cloud bank is hiding a potentially dangerous phenomenon. After Wilson orders Prescott locked up, he meets the beautiful Dwan (Jessica Lange), an aspiring actress.

You know what happens next: the Petrox Explorer arrives at the island, the team discovers a primitive tribe of natives who worship their giant jungle “god”, and want Dwan to sacrifice to Kong because she’s blonde. Huh. I guess blondes DO have more fun! Anyway, Kong shows up, grabs Dwan, and takes off with the guys hot on the big apes trail. While Kong is fending off giant snakes and stuff, the science team discovers the oil on the island is no good. But Fred gets the brilliant idea to capture the monkey, bring it back to NYC, and make it the rather large mascot of Petrox.

So, Kong is gassed, wrapped up in chains, and shipped to the Big Apple where he’s put on display with a stupid Petrox crown on his head. But when those pesky reporters start pushing and shoving Dwan for interviews, Kong breaks free of his bonds and goes crazy. A stampede ensues as panic engulfs the crowd; people are crushed, trampled, and flattened as Kong makes his way to World Trade Center (because it reminds him of the twin mountainous hills of his island!). While Jack runs to call the mayor’s office to tell him about Kong climb up the WTC, Kong finds Dwan and snatches her from a bar, then makes his way to the South Tower.

After Kong climbs the South Tower, he is attacked by soldiers armed with flamethrowers and then (are you ready for this?) makes a fantastic leap over to the roof of the North Tower! Look! Up in the sky! It’s Super Kong!! He swats at army helicopters, but he’s gunned down and falls off the Tower, crashing to the plaza below. Dwan rushes down to comfort the big ape as an enormous crowd gathers. As Jack fights his way through the crowd to get to Dwan away, he stops short and realizes she’s loving the publicity. Yikes! He didn’t expect that!

Lorenzo Semple, jr, who wrote such great movies like The Parallax View and Three Days of the Condor, actually came up with this laughable howler. Well, after all, he did create the campy Batman TV series. And it’s bad enough that this stinker was directed by John Guillermin (The Towering Inferno, Death On The Nile), but he went on to direct the equally bad King Kong Lives ten years later.

Then you have Grodin, Bridges, and Lange who looked like they knew they were in a pile of crap movie and decided to have fun and collect a paycheck. Grodin chews the scenery like it was delicious bacon, Bridges doesn’t care and just phones in his role, while Lange (her film debut) really tries to make something of her role: playing second-banana to a green-screen, man-in-a-rubber-suited primate. Result? This movie nearly killed her career from the get-go!

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