Kong: Skull Island – why change isn’t always good

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It’s been a while since my last movie review so here goes.

As I walked into the cinema hall, I must say I didn’t know what to expect. I hadn’t read any reviews beforehand, and hadn’t paid much attention to trailers on Youtube either. The only hype segment I’d seen was Tom Hiddleston’s appearance on Jimmy Kimmel, which, in hindsight, was probably more fun than the movie. (Yes, I’m making my feelings about the movie known up front, so if you want to avoid the SPOILERS ahead, you’ll at least know how i rated the film)

We all know the story of King Kong. It’s been told numerous times, the story of the giant ape who grew to love and care for the beautiful dame, played by Fay Wray, Jessica Lange, and then Naomi Watts. All past movies portrayed a very human side to Kong, a seeming capacity to feel and understand human emotions. That was the essence of Kong, he was meant to symbolize the out-of-place freak who found belonging through love and trust.

Kong: Skull Island took a different route. In Skull Island, Kong is a God. A mythical beast who just happens to be there, for millions of years. He is worshipped by the natives, and in return he offers them protection from other beasts. However, throughout the film, he has no interaction whatsoever with the natives whom he has ‘protected’ for so many years. He seems instantly more interested in the new arrivals on the island, especially the blonde, as expected.

This is where Kong falls short of all its predecessors. The relationship between Kong and the female protagonist is forced down our throats. It is there simply because every King Kong movie needs to have him build a relationship with a female human. In previous versions, the relationship builds up over multiple situations, with Kong saving the damsel, and then the damsel saving Kong, and then Kong sacrificing his own well-being to protect her again, until the audience get a real sense of tension and emotion in the relationship. In Kong, the girl touches Kong on the face once, and the next time they meet Kong decides he must save her at the risk of getting killed by his enemies. There is no build-up, no tension, and no reason for the audience to get emotional about the relationship whatsoever.

Next, King Kong movies have always been about humans and their resistance towards the odd and out-of-place, and how we always react with apprehension or worse, violence towards that which we are unfamiliar with. In Kong: Skull Island, I couldn’t help but feel like I was watching a Pacific Rim-like Kaiju battle, or a Transformers: Beast Wars live action film. Clearly, the writers were going for something different by turning this into a giant monster vs giant monsters film. But it lacked the post-apocalyptic backstory and setting and mysterious ‘what monster will they pull out next’ excitement of Pacific Rim, and didn’t have the sci-fi, motor vehicle/alien transformation intrigue of Transformers. The ‘skullcrawlers’, Kong’s enemies in the movie, were lazily-designed, simple giant lizard monsters. While Kong provoked awe every time he appeared on screen, the same could not be said of these ugly lizards. And because of that, I never really felt any real sense of threat or danger in the battles between Kong and the lizards. By appearance alone, it was pretty clear one side was going to kick the other’s ass.

By isolating the entire movie on a secret island, away from human civilization, Kong was also missing one of the most exciting elements in the plots of past movies – the story of a giant beast wreaking havoc among humans in a major city. Disaster movies are best when they show how close chaos can be to where we are – smack in the middle of New York City, Tokyo, London or anywhere where large numbers of human lives are at risk. In Kong: Skull Island, it was established pretty early that the natives were never really going to face any real danger, what with their own version of the ‘great wall’ hiding them from any real threats. So the only lives at risk were the soldiers led by Samuel “I have a deathwish” L Jackson, and the rag tag crew led by the male and female leads of Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson. This might still work if the lead couple actually built up any type of tension for us to feel emotionally invested enough to care if they survived or not.

All in all, Kong: Skull Island seemed to have gotten lost. Trying to differentiate itself from its predecessors, it got caught in the middle between a ‘gentle beast we want to care about’ movie and a ‘giant monster mashup’ film where we just want to see monsters and machines tear each other apart.

Verdict: This is probably one you can wait for the DVD or Netflix release

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