Thursday, March 16, 2017

Komo Sambe Kong!

Too excited to turn off spoilers, you’ve been warned.

The coming attractions calmed me a bit, though having it connect to the same universe as “Where in the World is Godzilla,” gave me a great deal of worry.

Frankly, it was only by sheer force of will that I stopping jumping up and down making exciting monkey noises long enough to write anything coherent for today.

Everything Godzilla 2014  got wrong Kong: Skull Island got right!

The big ape, and all the other giant things from Skull Island, were on screen for extended periods, and took center stage.
For the times they weren’t, the story worked, the characters were interesting and fun, and the pace was unrelenting.  Bonus fun points for wise, honorable and experienced, but still incredibly loopy John C. Reilly as Hank Marlow, as the connection to the much friendlier natives protected by their god Kong.

I say “things” on the island, because this film also veered away from Peter Jackson's equally awesome, but for different reasons, King Kong.

Jackson’s Kong had a personality and soul, but was clearly an animal living in a complex natural ecosystem.

The new bipedal, economy sized Kong is a Kaiju, pure and simple. It lives on an island basically hidden by a magical storm that has flammable gas spewing vents connecting to an “underworld” that can release all manner of beasties to the surface. 

This is a land of Monsters!

And giant water buffalo!!!

One reference the two films share is a connection to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness.  The Jackson film did this mostly by way of references to the source novel itself.

Kong: Skull Island is set at the end of the Vietnam War as displayed in Apocalypse Now. This provides an awesome soundtrack by pulling Rock ‘n Roll from 1973.  Also, since Sam Jackson is in better shape than Brando was, his descent into madness is much more action oriented.

This film was loyal to the history of the character, but picked and chose elements to heighten the awesomeness and fun, allowing it to work as part of a new giant monster franchise.

Which means, don’t get attached to anyone.  In a nice variation, the guy obsessed with going there and getting everyone into this mess (John Goodman as Bill Randa, instead of Carl Denham) gets entertainingly devoured on this outing.

There are a handful of actors that are “go to” people for playing apes.  Terry Notary trained all of them.  He’s fantastic at bringing life to the big guy.  Plus, he’s got an assist by Tony Kebbel, his Planet of the Apes co-star, who additionally shows up in another human role you shouldn’t get too attached to.

It’s as if they chose the insanely fun mind set of the Toho Kong appearances (there was an octopus) and King Kong Lives, (death of the bad military guy) but backed them up with excellent casting, an interesting romp of a story, and a high end budget to make it look real.

Yes, Kong is a “thinking animal” demonstrated with his planning and tool use as he combats against the other denizens of the island, as well as his opening war on a fleet of military helicopters. 
That fight also showed, from his initial moments, that this still growing Kong is WAYYYY bigger and tougher than previous outings.  The aircraft that knocked the classic or remake versions off of a New York skyscraper wouldn’t stand a chance against this far larger and more humanoid ape.

The other beasts on the island are similarly fantastic; the two armed, but no legged, Skull Crawlers showcasing the blend of physically real looking, but still fantastical and otherworldly creature design at the heart of Skull Island.

Another tone related choice is making this a Skull Island picture.  The standard Kong tale, used in all three self titled pictures and both Toho versions was:
Act 1) Planning to go to the uncharted island –character introductions, and tone setting
Act 2) Exploring the uncharted island and finding Kong - weird creatures, lost civilizations, monster battles
Act 3) Kong in the city- Nature versus technology and the tragedy caused by narrow definitions of a soul

Kong: Skull Island lives almost entirely in Act 2, with cool enough characters and an “end of ‘Nam” setting to keep Act 1 suspenseful and action oriented as well.

Act 2 is where the crazy awesome lives, and is the perfect set up for a non stop action story, and a lead in to a world of giant monsters.

While it doesn’t reach the “official quality film” levels of the original or the Jackson remake, it’s not that kind of movie.

It’s an excitement filled adventure with enough mind and heart to add in a decent amount of substance.

My daughter loved it too, and not only because of Tom Hiddleston’s appearance as super tough guy survivalist, with a pure heart Captain James Conrad, although that was a key factor in her agreeing to go opening weekend.  (Oh look, there goes another hair.)  Having Brie Larson play Mason Weaver as a photojournalist who was equally as tough, brave and compassionate as Conrad, gave the film bonus points for her. 
(And those two, you can get attached to, along with John C. Reilly…yay!)

KONG is one of those select breed of movies I could have easily walked into the theater and watched a second time as soon as it ended…

And a third…

And them some more!


Speaking of hairy guys who roar a lot in melee…
I did see Logan.

Sorry for missing the premier week, but the excitement over the giant ape was blocking my view of anything else.

It was excellently done, a worthy farewell to Patrick Stewart and Hugh Jackman, as well as a fantastic introduction of Dafne Keen as Laura, the character who is currently “All New Wolverine” in the comics.

The story could stand on its own, but packed in enough references to make it also serve as a capstone, including some to the less loved and mostly abandoned movies.  Giving X-24 a Liev Schreiber like haircut was a nice touch.

The R rating worked for the action scenes at showing what unbreakable razor sharp clawed combat would look like…as anyone who played Captain America in our mutli-generation spanning TSR Marvel Super Hero Battles can attest to.  It had too much heavy emotional content for an instant repeat viewing, but contained enough quality that I’ll no doubt add it to my collection,

Yet, philosophically, I still think I disagree with the existence of this film.

Non working healing factor, broken down Wolverine, and dementia addled Professor X were probably meatier roles for the actors involved, and I won’t argue that they made for fantastic storytelling. 

But the brief glimpses of Charles regaining his wisdom, and Logan’s all too short “last hurrah” at full power tag teaming with his “daughter” made me wish that those ideas was where the film ended up for a longer duration.

Along with that thought, as a comic geek, I was saddened that the "Reavers" were a group of guys who only had one robotic arm or hand each, instead of nearly complete cyborgs that ranged from looking like metal skeletons in football helmets to tank centaurs.

The “kids” working at the theater were talking about how glad they were with the “R” rating and serious subject matter.  Again, it made for  fine film, and it works for "kids" like them who have grown up in the seventeen years since the original X-men movie premiered. 

However, it makes me sad for all the real kids who discover the X-men franchise on disc or download going forward.  They’ll plow through the series of films in much less than a decade and a half, and then be unable to enjoy, or flat out not allowed to see the final chapter of these two actors.

On the positive side, that will give them more time for additional viewings of KONG: SKULL ISLAND!!!!



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