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Kong: Skull Island (2017)

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Although it only feels like Peter Jackson's King Kong was released a couple of years ago, it is now actually 12 years old. I'm going to blame ITV4 for confusing my timeline seeing as they have the remake on every single weekend, but it still feels very soon to be having another interpretation of the 1933 classic in cinemas. I remember watching the original during a school half term and being really surprised at how much I enjoyed it and it's now dated effects. There's a charm to the stop-motion special effects used so well in King Kong, and I think I've loved that style since the terrifying skeleton army in Jason and the Argonauts (1963). Jackson obviously took the special effects to another level in his 2005 remake, but I was pleased with how the heart of the story, and the tragedy of it remained. Kong is more than just a mindless monster that smashes and crashes in to things and Jackson captured that essence really well, even if the run time could have been trimmed by 30 minutes. Whether audiences wanted it or not, Jordan Vogt-Roberts is the latest director to give them a brand new interpretation of the King of Skull Island.
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As is apparently commonplace now, Vogt-Roberts is another director of a well-received low budget, independent film who has then been immediately given the reign in a mega-budget behemoth of a film. While Gareth Edwards' jump from 2010's Monsters to 2014's Godzilla was a big one, it made sense given the subject matter. You could also see an essence of his first film in some of the scenes of tenderness between the huge creatures in his 2014 blockbuster. While I'll readily admit that I haven't seen Vogt-Roberts' debut The Kings of Summer (2013), I doubt that there's much of that coming of age drama in King: Skull Island, which is easily the dumbest film I've seen a really long time. It was also great fun though! There were plenty of moments where I found myself laughing at it rather than with it, but as the fun action scenes come thick and fast (and it never takes itself too seriously) I felt it got away with it. I don't think it will be for everyone, and if the trailer didn't do anything for you I would give it a wide berth, but if you're up for disengaging your brain for a couple of hours to watch CGI monsters pummel each other then Kong: Skull Island is worth a watch.

Branching away from the usual King Kong story, this is certainly no remake. Instead we're left with a 'slightly' more modern backdrop of the Vietnam War. The fact the US is at war is the explanation for the trip to map out an Island in the South Pacific and discover it's treasures before the Russians do. It's a stretch (in fairness the plot goes on to reveal more explanation to the destination choice), but I really enjoyed the Vietnam backstory and got a kick out of the heavy handed cliches plucked straight from Platoon, Apocalypse Now etc. There's lot of orange smoke screen backdrops, sweaty jungle, slow motion helicopters, and all to a 70s jukebox. John Goodman is the brains behind the plan, and has Samuel L. Jackson's army squadron to get him there. For some reason Academy Award winner, Brie Larson, and everyone's favourite Norse God hotel night manager, Tom Hiddleston, are along for the ride too. I'm still not 100% sure why either are there, but as with the whole cast it wasn't for their ability to breath life in to a character seeing as neither one of them has anything about them. They're all very one-dimensional, and only John C. Reilly's stranded island survivor comes away with any real credit - and even his character's backstory feels tagged on, rushed and massively cheesy. There are so many characters with so little depth that it has little or no affect when either are eaten, crushed or blown up. There was one guy separated from the rest and I forgot he existed every time until it went back to him. It's a shame that more isn't made of what is a very talented cast, but they all make way for the film's monsters and the relentless CGI action scenes. Relentless is certainly the word, and at times the editing is distractingly choppy and impatient - if Jackson's King Kong took 90mins to get on the island, this incarnation trips over itself rushing to the finish line. It has a start that reminded me (weirdly) of Jude Law's Black Sea (2014): it's as if the reasons for them being on the island/submarine are immaterial, and they can't wait to gloss over that and get their audience to the main course. The film doesn't let up after that, and I found it a ridiculously fun watch.
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If you've bought a ticket for Kong: Skull Island, let's be honest and admit you're there to watch huge CGI monsters beat each other to a pulp. It's therefore difficult to leave disappointed as those scenes are spot on. I actually preferred the 'look' of Kong (and the character) in Peter Jackson's King Kong, but this incarnation has it's place and the worst thing it could have done was being boring. Skull Island is more of a 1998 Godzilla than the Edwards 2014 version, but I feel there's plenty of room for both and wouldn't rule out watching Vogt-Roberts' monkey again (the post credits sneak peak hint that there may be more to come).

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