Kong is a great action/adventure movie, but falls into similar sinkholes surrounding Hollywood today.
In the 70s, a team of scientists explore an uncharted island in the Pacific, but when their violent actions threaten to waken a great evil the island’s guardian inhabitant Kong attacks.
The latest reboot/retelling of the King Kong story is fairly strong, and does bring a lot to the table previous incarnations haven’t. The narrative is vastly different, following the team of scientists visit the island, discovering Kong, and then their escape from the island and it’s dangers, without Kong unlike the other films tend to follow.
The reason for which is to set up the Legendary and Warner Bros. Kaiju monsters shared universe (because why not, everyone’s doing it these days). Kaiju monsters stem from Japan and are basically giant monsters, the most famous of which to us being Godzilla and, of course, King Kong.
Bearing this in mind, the film is creating a whole new lore, which I believe is some of the reason behind the varying reviews of the film as people don’t like change. I on the other hand find the change interesting as it stems some very interesting fan theories. This Kong film is in the same universe as the 2014 Godzilla movie, connected by companies such as Murdoch who many believe are not the investigative scientific team they appear to be, but rather the creators of Kong’s species in order to fight the Kaiju monsters, in particular Godzilla. I’m a sucker for theories so this made the film all the more interesting for me.
Back to the film itself though.
Jordan Vogt-Roberts (the director) does a good job of creating the 70s setting and the guerrilla warfare of the Vietnam era. It’s this realistic, historical setting that gives the rest of the film it’s gritty, adventurous atmosphere rather than the gloss of modern day. This gritty, 70s setting is an obvious call back to films such as Platoon (1986) and Apocalypse Now (1979) shown with the iconic, infamous shot of the helicopters against the sun in Apocalypse Now, apart from this time with Kong in the frame too. There’s a few more callbacks and references to other films, including other Kong films which is nice to see.
The film basis itself on establishing Kong and the lore of the island in the most fierce, dangerous and strongest way possible, therefore the film naturally surrounds itself in action set-pieces. It’s focus is clear and effective in delivering some memorable and impressive action moments, unfortunately most are seen in the trailers however. There’s plenty of action and slow-mo to satisfy the action cravings of many of the film’s audience, so it succeeds well in it’s aims here.
On the other hand, the film doesn’t do much more than this. There’s no particular emotional weight or connection to any of the characters, the only exception being at the end of the film where John C. Reilly’s character Hank Marlow finally returns home (after being lost on the island since the 1940’s).
The performances are good and they fill their roles well, but most aren’t particularly stand out performances. Tom Hiddleston (James Conrad) is the leader, just trying to get through the events and get everyone home safely. Brie Larson (Mason Weaver) brings the humanity to the film, the curiosity and the wonder all through the lens of her camera. John Goodman (Bill Randa) and Samuel L. Jackson (Preston Packard) are the antagonists both involved for self-gain, fame and to kill Kong. They perform just fine, and their roles are enjoyable, but I feel there could have been more emotion.
The highlight for me was John C Reilly who continuously delivers some great comic moments throughout the film, providing some necessary breaks from the intense, over the top action set pieces. Unfortunately, the vast contrast in the tone, action and differences in performances make some of these moments feel jarring, when in actual fact John’s doing a very good job. It’s the rest the writing and performances of the other characters that are somewhat flat and meandering that’s the problem here.
Speaking of action set pieces, the CGI looks great throughout, particularly Kong himself. It’s used excellently to create the island, storm, creatures etc. which in turn builds the atmosphere and aura the film provides. It’s thanks to this that the narrative and story arena keep the audience engaged and on edge, with danger lurking everywhere.
Overall, the film is a fine introduction to the newly established lore and shared universe, and significantly better than the Godzilla film. It’s action, CGI and world building are brilliant, and the characters are interesting enough to drive the narrative but, overall, lack that extra emotional punch to take the film to the next level.
It’s an entertaining journey though, and Kong certainly is King. Well until he fights Godzilla in 2020 (yes this is a thing), then he may not be anymore…