With Disney’s live action Beauty and The Beast coming out this weekend, Power Rangers just around the
corner, and enough recognizable material on its way to free us deciding what to see based on its own merit instead of brand popularity, Kong: Skull Island may feel like just another gentle reminder that there really is a war on ideas.
There’s a risk built into any original idea; instead of just preaching to the choir, you’re trying to convert non-believers. As we get better and better at everything involving film, it seems that there’s a major preference to push the same things instead of creating more new things.
There is a subtle distinction between thinking and doing. We are better at doing than thinking, and in so many spheres we are being told that ideas are worthless and execution is king. Well, if execution is king, ideas are the people. Without one, the other is moot. Just because they function differently, they needn’t have their own weighted values. Each critical to the survival of the other.
Where does King Kong fit into all of this? While there is a lack of support for new ideas in favor of revamping old ones, the burden falls on the public in the form of well-executed, but terrible movies and ticket price hikes. That doesn’t necessarily mean that Kong was a bad movie. Actually, it was a lot of fun, and while not every movie has to be fun, not every movie has to be not fun either. What kept it from being great was a missing support of creative ideas from behind the camera.
Kong: Skull Island was visually stunning (as you’d expect) and actually suffered from too many glamor shots and manufactured tension to fill in the gaps where story beats would have carried the film’s rhythm and relinquished the need to fake tension that isn’t there. A lot of the film was jaw dropping: Kong with his 100-plus-foot statue was a beauty to behold, and it was great to see him towering so high.
The cinematography was a gift to the eyes with places like Hawaii and Vietnam being used to craft Skull Island. The “post-war” aesthetic with a setting of the day after America announces withdrawal from Vietnam was a huge well of creativity, and Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (with the beautiful The Kings of Summer under his belt) managed to keep a stale script feeling adequate. Seeing King Kong on a giant IMAX screen tearing stuff up is pretty hard to hate, but the ringing hollowness in the script dragged everything else that was so well done down a few notches.
While the film had some moments that could really suck you in, you wouldn’t be waiting too long to be jarred back to earth by nonsense that couldn’t work, even in a film about a giant ape and two-legged skeleton lizards. In the fictional world of this Kong film, we’re supposed to be cemented into a “MonsterVerse” for the upcoming, you guessed it, sequel: Godzilla vs Kong. While I’ll probably be one of the idiots begrudgingly handing over the money to see that on the big screen too, I’m not too optimistic that it will be much more than a safe, watered-down crowd pleaser with name recognition.
Yes, we like seeing King Kong smash helicopters and fight giant creatures, but it’s not enough without a reason for the story taking place. Where is the quote, “‘Twas beauty that killed the beast,” you know, the whole reason for King Kong’s story existing in the first place? Well here’s my closing spoiler; they just simply changed Kong’s story to be a protector from some other scary beast (basically the same thing as Godzilla) and used Brie Larson’s beauty as some weird middle ground between love interest and confusing hiking partner for Tom Hiddleston.
All style, very little substance (mostly from minor characters and a well-crafted setting), but still all around pretty fun, Kong: Skull Island will leave you satisfied enough to smile in your seat, but not quite enough to last the ride home.
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