Friday, March 10, 2017

Another KING KONG Reboot, Anyone?

Opening today at a big ass multiplex near us all:

KONG: SKULL ISLAND

(Dir. Jordan Vogt-Roberts, 2017)

When I was a kid forty years ago, the winter of 1977, my favorite movie was the 1976 Dino De Laurentiis produced remake of KING KONG. I had seen when it was released the previous Christmas, and it was probably still in theaters around this time that year. I definitely still had it in my mind when STAR WARS came out that summer, as I wrote about before in this space.

I didn’t see the 1933 original for a few years yet, so the ‘70s one with Jessica Lange, Jeff Bridges, Charles Grodin, and the mechanical ape that climbed up the side of the World Trade Center towers was my only KONG. It’s a pretty silly looking movie now, despite that it won an Oscar for visual effects, but still has a place in my movie loving heart.

Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake, which also won for visual effects, wasn’t bad, but when it came to the idea of yet another update, I can’t say I was thrilled. Especially with the news that it’s part of Legendary Picture’s MonsterVerse (that’s right), which kicked off with the GODZILLA reboot of a few years back.

But, dangit, KONG: SKULL ISLAND ain’t half bad. A lot of critics have been saying that it’s got an APOCALYPSE NOW vibe to it, with its Vietnam era setting, helicopters outfitted with speakers blaring music while dropping bombs, and even a variation on the crazy Dennis Hopper character, and, yeah, that does fit.

But if the message of APOCALYPSE NOW is that war is hell, the message of KONG: SKULL ISLAND seems to be: warring with King Kong is hell.

This variation of the 84-year old tale has John Goodman as a government agent Bill Randa recruiting Tom Hiddleston as James Conrad, a former British Special Air Service Captain; and a helicopter squadron led by Samuel L. Jackson as Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard, to explore an uncharted island in the Pacific Ocean known as “Skull Island.”

Also along for the ride is Brie Larson, with great looking curly, full bodied ‘70s hair, in the part of the blonde that Kong falls for, but this time the character is a photojournalist and peace activist named Mason Weaver.

The expedition wakes up the gigantic gorilla with their pesky explosives and in the eye-popping spectacle of chaotic CGI, the angry ape destroys most of their helicopters, leaving many casualties of Kong. Split into two groups, the team travel the island to get to the other end where they’ll be met by a resupply team in three days.

Hiddleston’s Conrad and Larson’s Weaver, and their group discover John C. Reilly as an American pilot who’s been stranded on the island since World War II. That’s the variation on the crazy Dennis Hopper part, and Reilly’s Hank Marlow is a hoot, stealing every scene he’s in.

Reilly’s Marlow tells Conrad and Weaver about terrifying creatures that live underground that Kong keeps at bay, and tells them that they are called “Skullcrawlers.” Not getting the response to this that he wanted, Marlow backpedals: “that’s the first time I said that out loud, and it sounds stupid, you can call them anything you want.”

Samuel L. Jackson playing the Samuel L. Jackson role (he even says “hang on to your butts”) steals scenes too with his intensity with wanting revenge for his dead men, while we basically just wait to see how the corrupt Goodman character is killed off.  

KONG: SKULL ISLAND is no masterpiece, but it’s a perfectly serviceable piece of action sci-fi popcorn cinema. It’s a lot stronger than Gareth Edwards’ GODZILLA, and it’s more satisfying than Jackson’s KING KONG redux. It ticks off all the expected boxes (can’t have a Vietnam theme without Creedence’s “Run through the Jungle”), and it possesses a lot of visual power. Mostly though, it’s simply a fun monster movie.

But when seeing the stinger at the end after the credits (following the Marvel business model to a t), and getting the sense of the larger franchise they’re planning, I’m not sure I’m game for a endless series of KONG adventures. 

I should just grin and bear it though. I’ve got to accept that these remakes, reboots, and re-imaginings do great business, and as a hardcore fan and follower of film, I’ve got to remember the words of Hyman Roth, as played by the late, great Lee Strasberg, in one of the best sequels ever: “This is the business we’ve chosen.”

More later...

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