Ever since the Marvel Cinematic Universe showed a comic-like shared continuity was possible other movie studios have tried to jump on the new hot thing…and failed miserably. From the DCEU to the monster-filled Dark Universe, they’ve been all about setting up this extended universe not realizing that Marvel succeeds by not doing that as their primary mission. Each movie can be enjoyed individually, with teasers drawing you to the next movie or a later movie you might be interested in. It also helps if the movies are good, and failing that is why the Dark Universe never got out of the parking garage.
And yet, some studios are still trying to get up the building. Warner Brothers and Legendary Pictures are trying that with their own “kaijuverse”, a reworking of Toho’s monsters, dropping the suits and models for CG. There’s some debate as to which is better when they should work together. However that’s a debate for another time. It started with 2014’s Godzilla, which I already covered. It was okay but the big problem was that we never got to see the monsters fight since Garth Edwards focused on the people…who weren’t all that interesting. The next movie in the series is Kong: Skull Island, a 2017 reboot of King Kong. While Kong isn’t a Toho creation he and Godzilla have tangled before. Legendary is banking on a rematch after the upcoming King Of Monsters movie. This will also feature Mothra and Rodan, who I think should get their own movies first (poor Rodan hasn’t had his own movie since the original) while the threat is going to be King Ghidorah. Since that is coming out in a few months and I have Kong on the DVR (during a HBO free preview week), it was time to check out movie two and see if it shows promise for this continuity.
RELEASE DATE: 2017
RELEASED BY: Warner Brothers & Legendary Pictures
RUNTIME: 1 hour. 58 minutes
STARRING: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John Goodman and John C. Reilly
SCREENWRITERS: Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, & Derek Connolly (story by John Gatins)
DIRECTOR: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
GROSS REVENUE: $566,652,812 ($168,052,812 domestic) from an estimated budget of $185,000,000
The Plot: Bill Randa (Goodman) is the last survivor of a crashed boat, but he knows it was a monster that smashed it. Years later he joins Monarch, the monster-tracking group from Godzilla (2014). He and his partner Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) know something odd is happening on Skull Island, an island usually surrounded by a dangerous storm, but they have a rare opportunity to get in there and find out what’s really on that island. Worried that the end of the Vietnam War may lead to the end of their group, they talk a senator into going on expedition under false pretenses, ready to prove the MUTOs exist. Joined by fellow agent San Lin (Jing Tan), anti-war photographer Mason Weaver (Larson), survivalist James Conrad, and a group of Vietnam Vets who really just want to go home–with the exception of Lt. Colonel Preston Packard (Jackson), who isn’t happy the war is over and finds a new opponent in Kong, the caretaker of Skull Island. Meeting crashed WWII pilot Hank Marlow (Reilly) and learning that Kong is not only the island’s protector but what he’s protecting it against, one obsession will be broken…while a new one may spell doom for the entire crew!
Why Did I Want To See it?: There’s a reason I refer to this as a “kaijuverse” instead of the “MonsterVerse” name I’ve seen used. I’m not a fan of the typical monster, but giant monsters I very much enjoy. “Kaiju” is the Japanese term and everyone but Kong and the original monsters made for this franchise (the unnamed MUTO bugs of Godzilla and the “Skullcrawlers” of this movie, as named by Marlow) is from Japanese monster movies. I don’t expect to see Gorgo, the “beast from 20,000 fathoms”, or even the Giant Claw in this continuity although the first one was inspired by Godzilla and the second one the inspiration for him. Even then, I really enjoy the original King Kong while the remake was…okay I guess. So I was curious to see what this new incarnation was like.
What Did I Think?: I really enjoyed it! It wasn’t perfect, and I’ll get to that, but so much of it worked, as if it did right everything Godzilla got wrong. When Kong fights the monsters we see them fight. When the humans fight the lesser monsters they either win, shoot only threats, or shoot only when threatened. The exception is Packard. You’d think going into it that Goodman’s Randa is going to be the “Ahab” of this story, but it’s Packard and watching him descend into madness is both in character and on some level understandable. Almost all of the humans are good characters, except for most of the body count soldiers, and even a couple of them are good characters until they’re killed off.
The Skullcrawlers (which Marlow does realize is a silly name when he says it outright, so everybody wins with this name) are the only threat Kong is needed to save them from, but early on when Kong destroys the helicopters (it’s in the trailers, so it’s hardly a spoiler), Packard takes it personally and only cares about revenge. And yet it blinds him to the real threat on the island because he’s convinced they’ll be easily to kill since some of the other monsters they fought are. The others are more sane, and since Marlow both made friends with the Japanese pilot he crashed with and made friends among the natives, the Iwi, he’s not the insane maroon victim you probably expected. He does ramble a bit but that’s understandable. Some of the other soldiers talk a lot, leading to some good jokes that only come off as banter in the field rather thank jokes for the sake of poorly thought out comedy. (Look at the original Predator for another example.)
The CG on the various monsters also works well enough. Kong is motion captured in part by Toby Kebbell, who also plays Packard’s right-hand Chapman, and he does a good job. This Kong stands like a person instead of an ape, but that doesn’t bother me as much as I would have thought. Toho’s Kong didn’t either, so it follows that trend.
Not to say it’s perfect, though. Vogt-Roberts really plays up the Vietnam War feel in the cinematography, which does work at time but pulls you out on others because you know he’s swiping from Vietnam movies since Francis Ford Copula and Oliver Stone started using particular shots. From the Apocalypse Now sun-shots to the slow-motion every time someone dies to the scenes where Weaver is taking photos of the soldiers and Iwi, he really frames this like more recent movies set during Nam and it’s a bit distracting. There’s also the cave art depicting Kong and the Skullwalkers, done with a form of 3D art (standing in the right position forms the whole scene) that looks cool on film but seems rather odd for the tribal Iwi to waste time on for a warning of the monsters they face. And why don’t they talk? I do get why they didn’t go with an all-black cast depending on where their version of Skull Island is, due to concerns of how African tribal natives are depicted, but instead we get an all-Asian cast. I guess it doesn’t matter how they’re depicted. Speaking of Asians, Jing Tan really isn’t given much to do. I read in research that she originally had a larger part but it was cut down, giving San Lin so little to say and do that she might as well not be in there. Even a line that should have been given to her as a biologist was given instead to Brooks, supposedly a geologist. There’s also the inconsistent length of time they have to get back to the “exit window” extraction point.
In light of the upcoming Marvel’s attempt to make sure Billy Batson can’t be called Captain Marvel in any continuity, I do have to discuss two major actors in both that movie and this one. Samuel L. Jackson and Bree Larson don’t get a lot of screentime together. What little they do works but they aren’t given time to really judge their chemistry. While I’ve seen complaints about Larson not smiling in the trailers for Captain Marvel (which is also a prequel set in the past), I think that’s because of her character in that movie, since she smiles a few times here and it’s not a bad smile.
Was It Worth The Wait: I think so. While I would have rather seen it on the big screen, it does give me hope that Legendary’s kaijiverse may get better. It’s an improvement from the first movie in the series. I would like to get the DVD someday, but I also want to get the original movie. By not being another remake this is the rare case of a re-imagining I can actually get behind. So that alone earns it special points. I can only hope Godzilla: King Of Monsters and the eventual Godzilla/Kong fight (I’d rather it were a team-up since both monsters are guardians in this universe but I know they won’t go that way) show further improvement of this series.