Film Review: Kong: Skull Island

I love the original King Kong, ever since I picked up a cheap VHS copy. While dated, it told a simple story  very effectively and movingly. I’ve always been a sucker for stop-motion effects. I’ve never seen the ’70s remake but I remember being psyched when Peter Jackson released his, although this was ollowed by crushing disappointment as a wealth of CGI and Jack Black couldn’t cover the fact that it was bloated and boring.

One of the things that I always loved was the mysterious Skull Island that Kong calls home until he’s stolen away to New York. The island is home to other monsters, and you always wonder where Kong came from. Was he part of a giant ape race? Or a singular freak of nature?

This movie focuses on the island and gives Kong a fresh backstory. It’s not a retread of the original, and a new approach to the character, which I think is the way to go.

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The movie kicks off in 1944 when two pilots crash on the same beach, one Japanese and one American. They try to kill each other and chase each other through the jungle, until their fight is interrupted by the arrival of a massive ape.

We then jump almost thirty years forward to 1973, and two representatives of an organisation called Monarch are trying to get support for a mission to an uncharted island. The senior official, Randa (John Goodman) is fearful for the organisation’s future and wants to get the mission set up before the Vietnam War ends. However, the senator dismisses his theories of “monsters” and only agrees when Randa’s assistant Brooks (Corey Hawkins) points out that as they know little of the island there is no telling what is there and that if they hesitate the Russians might beat them to it.

Randa requests a military escort and is provided with the Sky Devils, a helicopter squadron about to ship back from the war. Headed by Colonel Packard (Samuel L Jackson) they will fly the scientists to the island which is surrounded by a perpetual storm. Also recruited is James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) a former SAS Captain noted for his skill in jungle survival and expertise in uncharted territory.

Rounding off the group is photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) a photojournalist who clashes with Packard who blames the media for negatively effecting support for the war back home.

They arrive at the island where the scientists plan to use explosions to map the geologic nature of the island, which turns out to be hollow beneath the bedrock. Unfortunately the explosions anger Kong, a giant ape who attacks the choppers and brings all of them down, scattering the survivors across the island.

Conrad leads Weaver, Brooks and a handful of others through the jungle seeking the rendezvous point. Meanwhile, Packard leads the majority of his men and Randa towards one of the isolated pilots, Chapman (Toby Kebbell). Packard gets the full story from Randa, who holds to the “hollow earth” theory that there are pockets beneath the earth’s surface where monsters dwell.

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Packard wants some answers

Intent on revenge Packard aims to reach Chapman’s chopper and use the weapons and explosives to kill Kong.

Conrad’s group run into the local tribespeople and are introduced to Hank Marlow (John C Reilly), the American pilot who crashed there at the beginning. He has been taken in by the locals and explains that he befriended the Japanese pilot who was killed by another monster years earlier. Marlow explains that the native population worship Kong as a king or god, as he protects them from what he dubs Skull Crawlers, vicious beasts that try to eat them. Kong’s race have long held this role, but as the last of his kind the locals are fearful that when Kong dies the Skull Crawlers (henceforth known as SCs) will run wild, having nothing to fear. The explosives dropped by the group will have roused some of the beasts, although they suspect that “the big one” will remain underground.

Marlow shows the group his boat, made from debris of the fighter planes and other vehicles that have crashed at the island. They head for the rendezvous but find Packard, who insists they head on for Chapman. The group are attacked by a SC, and after suffering heavy losses manage to kill it. When Packard’s plan is revealed Marlow objects, supported by Weaver, who Packard draws his gun on. Conrad cools the situation and leads the civilians to the boat, however, he decides he needs to stop Packard and with Weaver and Marlow returns.

Packard’s men attack Kong and while many of the men are killed, Kong is injured. Then the Big SC arrives. Kong battles it, but is weakened and the nasty chases the humans. Conrad, Weaver, Marlow and the surviving members of the Sky Devils make for the boat but following Conrad’s instructions Brooks has left at dawn. Attempting to escape on foot they use their meagre weapons on the BSC but their weapons don’t seem up to the task.

Does the battered Kong have the strength to bring it down? If he can’t what happens to the survivors and the monsters?

Okay, here’s the thing I really loved this movie which delivers pretty much from the jump. The 1944 prologue was a nice touch and the character of Marlow provides a neat way to provide exposition and Reilly’s performance as the slightly unhinged survivor is charming and entertaining, stealing most scenes he’s in. Reilly should be praised for balancing humour with genuine emotion, with the frazzled, lonely man talking about what might await for him at home being quite touching and tying into the film’s theme of whether soldiers can ever truly come back from war.

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Reilly in scene stealing form

This is touched on in Conrad, Hiddleston’s calm and collected action hero, who is recruited by Randa who observes that men go to war in search of something, and Conrad’s continuing presence in Vietnam suggests he is yet to find whatever that is.

It’s most evident in Jackson’s powerful performance as the vengeance seeking Packard. During his first meeting with Weaver where he blames the media for effecting support and moral for the war in Vietnam, she asks him incredulously if he is blaming them for losing the war. His response that the war wasn’t lost, instead “abandoned” shows an insight into his psyche and his dogged pursuit of a fight with Kong shows that he is not ready to come home yet.

Jackson is always watchable and here he is on fine form as the tightly wound soldier who slowly unravels and becomes obsessed. He’s mesmerising on screen.

Tom Hiddleston is pretty good as an action hero, even if he does look a little clean cut and smooth for an SAS officer who spends time alone in the jungle saving POWs. That being said, his quiet performance is well done and he has moments where he charms. He also handles the action sequences like a boss.

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Hiddleston and Larson in action

But it’s hard not to feel bad for Brie Larson who while capable enough has an underwritten role as the photojournalist accompanying the mission.

The period setting works wonders for me as it handily explains how Skull Island has remained undiscovered until the movie and means the humans have older, less sophisticated weapons for their fights. It also means that the movie has a belting soundtrack of ‘Nam era songs (Bowie, Black Sabbath and Creedence Clearwater Revival), and borrows heavily from the imagery of that war- fires engulfing jungle, helicopters flying low and the look of the soldiers. The film looks fantastic and the mash up of Nam movie iconography and giant monsters works for me, unsurprisingly.

The monsters here are fantastic, as is all of the island. The native tribe and their walled village is well done as is their temple to Kong, replacing the African style tribe of the original with a more Asian vibe fitting the Pacific setting. The island location is beautiful, with mountains, dense jungle and panoramic views of the landscape being worth the extra IMAX charge alone.

This is only the second movie I’ve seen in IMAX (the other being Doctor Strange) and it is proving to be worth the money, and vastly superior to normal 3D. This is the kind of epic movie that warrants the big screen and enhanced visuals, and it delivers throughout, both in the titanic smackdowns and in the scenes on the groud amongst the trees.

The movie succeeds where the Jackson movie stumbled by putting Skull Island front and centre and we get to see plenty of the island’s nature. Alongside Kong and the SCs we also get supersized versions of spiders and water buffalo, a reference to giant ants and some seriously vicious pterodactyl style critters. The island is set up as a dangerous place to be and the action sequence are uniformly well executed throughout.

It’s a relentless thrill ride and has some solid performances, and a sense of fun to proceedings, making it considerably more enjoyable than the most recent Godzilla movie, which this will apparently cross over with. Hopefully the monster mash will lean more towards this, which is more fun and has better human characters. The romance between Hiddleston and Larson’s characters might be underdeveloped, but aside from this the major players hold the attention and the director knows that this is secondary to letting Kong do his thing.

I’ve always preferred Kong to Godzilla because his ape features are more expressive and that in every incarnation he has moments of gentleness. The backstory here of him as the island’s top dog and protector is a nice touch and I felt it delivered.

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Hail to the king

A big, action packed blockbuster, this is gorgeous to look at, filled with nice moments and just plain fun. It might lack the emotional punch of the original, but it’s still kept me involved throughout.

Verdict: The ’70s setting is a nice touch, the cast do well with what they get and the movie knows that it’s main strength is Kong and lets him cut loose. Hugely entertaining. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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Are we the bad guys?…Yes, yes you are

Tom Hiddleston, the actor best known for playing Loki in the Marvel movies is quotes as having said that “Every villain is a hero in his own mind”. I get that for an actor that’s a valid way of how to make your portrayal of a villain more human and grounded. But in real life? I’m calling bulls**t!

Here’s the thing, I get that often people don’t realize that history will judge them as villains, or that people can be lied and misled by their governments to do bad things. I don’t think everyone who served for the Germans or the Japanese during the Second World War were evil, most of them were just regular guys.

But, there comes a time when people have to have a moment where they just stop and have to realize they’re actually the bad guys.

And the Taliban must have had that moment by now. Especially with regards to a story I read about recently.

There’s this young girl called Shah Bibi Tarakhail, who a few years back was seriously wounded by a grenade. The explosion killed her brother and cost her an eye and much of her right arm. Shah was taken to the US, where she was fitted with a prosthetic arm, and as soon as she got used to it she began painting with it.

Sha Bibi Tarakhail painting

Sha Bibi Tarakhail painting

Shah’s love of art meant that her story, one of many connected with the Children of War charity, got a bit more coverage than most in the LA, and they arranged her for her to visit museums and meet artists, before she returned home to Afghanistan.

With a new iPad and art supplies, she headed home to rebuild a life with her family and continue with her art.

Enter the Taliban in their continuing attempt to be inducted into the Dickery Hall of Fame, by deciding that Shah had become too “Westernized” and issued some death threats.

Death threats to a six year old child, who’s already been severely injured as a consequence of war.

I’m sorry, but if you actually think killing a small child is part of what your god wants, maybe you should find yourself a new god, because yours is clearly a dick. But this isn’t about Allah, or Islam, this is about a bunch of ignorant, bigoted men who are so terrified of other people achieving equality and power that they have to pervert religious beliefs to justify violence and oppression. They can’t even let a little girl express herself through art, because apparently that threatens their way of life.

Well f**k those guys, because sooner or later they have got to look at themselves in the mirror or pause mid threat and think “What the hell am I doing? There is no possible way that I am the good guy in this scenario, I just said I’d kill a girl because she likes art.”

Shah’s family are still in hiding near the Afghan-Pakistan border and Shah has returned to the States. Her father took her to Kabul airport because he feared he could no longer care and protect his daughter, and sent her thousands of miles away, where she will be safe and receive further treatment for her eye and scars.

Shah Bibi Tarakhail

Every villain a hero in their own mind? Then something has seriously gone wrong in the mind of the Taliban, because there’s no way you can view this and paint them as righteous holy warriors, they are oppressive bullies, and a disgrace not just to the religion they have perverted but to all of mankind. They seem to lack all decency.

Story here.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Movie Review: Thor: The Dark World

You know one of the toughest parts about being a student again? Not having enough cash to go to the cinema regularly. Since I started back at uni I’ve seen 3 movies on the big screen. Three! That’s almost one every three months (those 3 incidentally were The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and 300: Rise of an Empire, lots of colons).

What sucks is there are actually a bunch of movies I really wanted to see, but missed out on, first up was this flick, the second part of the Marvel cinematic universe’s second phase after The Avengers movie. I’m a massive Marvel fan and had really dug the first Thor movie, so missing this was a bit of a bummer, but thanks to my Dad’s LoveFilm subscription I got to check it out while home for Easter.

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The movie kicks off with some backstory which shows us the Dark Elves, led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) who have a weapon called the Aether and want to bring darkness back to the universe, using the time when the nine realms align. Luckily the Asgardians stop them and stash the Aether somewhere super secret. Malekith is believed to have died but actually did a runner.

In the present Loki (Tom Hiddleston) has been imprisoned after his actions in the first Thor movie and The Avengers, Odin (Anthony Hopkins) shoves him in the dungeons and tells him he’ll never be seen again. Meanwhile, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is fighting to restore order through the realms and pining for the woman he left behind on Earth, which has not gone unnoticed. Odin counsels him to forget her due to her short lifespan and suggests finding a nice Asgardian girl to settle down with. Thor’s comrade in arms, Sif (Jaimie Alexander) seems to be attracted to him, which is understandable.

Thor’s love Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) is on Earth and trying to move on, having waited for Thor for almost two years. Her research leads her to investigate an anomaly where a weird portal has opened up. This is due to the realms aligning and messing with the rules of physics. She is sucked into one and is struck by the Aether, which uses her as a host, which also reawakens the Dark Elves. Her disappearance to the secret stash arouses Asgard’s guardian Heimdall (Idris Elba) and Thor returns to Earth to investigate.

They are reunited and Thor witnesses the Aether’s power, he takes Jane to Asgard to be saved.

Jane and Thor together again, their relationship being one of the film's major strengths

Jane and Thor together again, their relationship being one of the film’s major strengths

Odin reveals that the energy will use her up and kill her. Malekith’s forces attack Asgard and free several of the prisoners although leave Loki behind. Thor fights the invaders, as does Odin and Thor’s mother Frigga (Rene Russo) takes Jane to safety. The assault devastates the city and Frigga is killed, refusing to reveal Jane’s location.

Odin’s plan is to wait for Malekith to attack again, while Thor proposes luring him somewhere remote where they can destroy the Aether after it leaves Jane. They clash and Jane is imprisoned. Thor starts a plan to travel to another realm to lure Malekith out, but the only person who knows a way out is Loki. Thor recruits Sif, Heimdall and others to help, and breaking Jane and Loki out he heads off to start his plan.

But can he trust Loki? Will he be able to save Jane and the nine realms? And did they seriously decide to have villains called the Dark Elves, which just sounds like the lamest hair metal band ever?

Here’s the thing, I really enjoyed this movie, it had a few great action sequences and some really funny moments, however, in the Marvel cinematic universe this languishes somewhere near the bottom with Iron Man 2, I mean, it’s still fun, but it’s flawed.

First of all, there’s the Dark Elves.

Legolas: The Phantom Years

Legolas: The Phantom Years

Stupid name aside they don’t appear to be much of a threat to Thor and co., in the prologue sequence we basically see Odin’s dad and his boys kicking their ass easily. They’re only strength is injecting some weird thing that makes them bigger and stronger and when Malekith has the Aether. Add into the mix that they barely talk and are hidden under these masks for most of the film and they quickly become bland and uninteresting. Christopher Eccleston is covered in so much makeup that it stops him from putting in anything approaching a decent performance.

Eccleston on the left, although for most of his scenes you could have just got your local living street performer

Eccleston on the right, although for most of his scenes you could have just got your local living street performer

Secondly, there’s an over reliance on Loki. I dig what Hiddleston’s done with the part, and I thought he was ace in his first two appearances, but enough now. While they do explore the adopted brother’s relationship a bit and Thor states that he’s done with trying to be nice, its all rather superficial and the one decent moment is undermined by the film’s final scene. Loki’ll be back, but personally, I think that’s a mistake. Loki’s trickery and Hiddleston’s charm work to an extent, but it takes away from Hemsworth’s solid work as Thor.

Brothers in arms: Hiddleston is good as Loki, but the character needs to be rested

Brothers in arms: Hiddleston is good as Loki, but the character needs to be rested

Also, the more time goes on the less Loki’s motivation works. In the first movie he’s jealous for being passed over for the throne and learns he’s adopted. Tough times. In the second he forms an alliance to seize power. But here it just sounds like whining. Odin points out he could have just left Loki to die, which is a fair point and also shows that while Thor may have been ill-suited to the throne he’s grown in responsibility, whereas Loki is still the self involved power hungry douche who views humans as unimportant.

I know Hiddleston has a lot of love in the fan community, and I like the guy as Loki, I just think that some people kind of overlook how much of a dick the character is just because he has nice hair and some decent lines. Similarly I’ve seen a lot of hate for Odin, which again, I kinda get, but at the same time his disapproval of Thor’s relationship with Jane is more grounded in the fact that he knows Jane will die aeons before Thor and out of his overwhelming sense of duty towards the throne.

Yes, there is a point where Odin announces he is willing to lose men in the war, but that’s war all over, really, isn’t it? And as it turns out, Thor’s plan isn’t really a winner. Both men are flawed, but in clashing each shows why they make a strong leader. Odin’s dedication and willingness to make the tough choices and sacrifices may seem harsh, but sometimes they need to be made.

Hemsworth is more than capable to carry a film by himself, because his work as Thor is phenomenal. It doesn’t hurt that the dude looks like a god, but it’s more than that. He manages to convey that Thor has grown up, he’s no longer the cocky brawler and more thoughtful and responsible, yet there’s still that glint in his eye that shows his love of adventure.

Possibly the strongest part of his performance is the amazing chemistry he shares with Natalie Portman, with the duo convincing as a couple wholly in love and sharing a wonderfully tender scene. Portman gives a spirited and funny performance yet again and the character of Jane is shown to be gleefully curious as she explores Asgard and it’s technology.

The tone of the film during the fun parts is spot on. Kat Dennings is back and just as sparky, funny and perfect as she normally is.

Kat Dennings, always welcome

Kat Dennings, always welcome

And there’s some delightful bickering between Thor and Loki, which was one of the movie’s best scenes.

Overall, it’s a lot of fun, but it didn’t leave me with the same level of fanboy feelgood that the other movies have done. It’s best feature is the stellar work from pretty much the entire cast (Eccleston excluded) but I hope the third movie is more Thor focused and pushes Loki into the background, maybe even more Earth-based, and dare I hope for Marvel’s other god Hercules to show up?

Thor and Hercules having an arm wrestle. Give him a foe/partner to match him blow for blow and beer for beer.

Thor and Hercules having an arm wrestle. Give him a foe/partner to match him blow for blow and beer for beer.

Alas, it seems Thor 3 is due to be about Ragnarok, so it’s gonna be Asgard heavy, which for me, is a shame.

And as for the end credits sequence? Well, for fans it’s great, but for casual Marvel fans it just raises a lot of questions.

Verdict: A decent, fun superhero romp. The performances for the good guys is good across the board, and Hemsworth shares great chemistry with Portman, but the villains are lucklustre and it’s one of the weaker Marvel universe movies. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.