“KONG: Skull Island” movie review

“Hold onto your butts;” Warner Bros. and Legendary Entertainment’s KONG: Skull Island is full body KONG with just a hint of story. Wait. Isn’t that a line from Jurassic Park??? Sure is. And guess who delivers it? None other than Samuel L. Jackson himself–reprising his famous line from one of the most iconic films in the American cinema library. It’s rather fitting since there are many shared elements between KONG and the Jurassic Park franchise. Both take place on an island and deal with science vs. nature and pit man against ancient creatures. King Kong is no stranger to most people, considering he’s been a fixture in the cinema and theme park universes respectively for many decades. From silver screen to Universal Studios, he remains an icon to which few “monster” movies compare. Although the previous KONG films followed a very similar narrative, this newest incarnation of the king of Skull Island takes a modified route to the classic story. It shares many of the same elements or themes with its predecessors, but through the echoes of the past comes a reimagined story. Diegetically, the film certainly suffers; furthermore, it attempts to integrate social commentary on war, Captain Ahab allegory, and conservation, but none of those themes are effectively carried out. Due to the enormous “King Kong” sized cast, there lacks any real connection to any of the characters and development is certainly obscure, if any at all. Films such as this one can sometimes run into the danger of waxing nostalgic too often and forgetting that audiences want a new movie (i.e. Star Wars: the Force Awakens); and like the aforementioned, Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ KONG: Skull Island provides audiences with connections to past King Kong movies in a new approach, but ultimately crafts generic experience.

When an uncharted island shows up on U.S. satellites, Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brookes (Corey Hawkins) approach a prominent senator, seeking clearance and funding for a mapping expedition and exploration of the mysterious island resembling a skull. Begrudgingly, the senator clears Randa’s MONARCH for one last mission before the U.S. pulls out of the south Pacific following the Vietnam War pull-out. Partnering with Colonel Packard’s (Samuel L. Jackson) military troop and attaching ex-British special forces Captain Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and photo journalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) to the group, the expedition lays out plans to penetrate the severe storms surrounding the island to explore the island. What the group encounters on Skull Island will give them nightmares for the rest of their respective lives. Beginning as a glorified mapping excursion, this expedition turns into a game of survival as the group makes its way across the island.

At the end of the day, this movie accomplishes what it set out to do: revive Kong, thrill people for a couple hours, and setup KONG v. Godzilla. Action-adventure films are typically not expected to contain brilliant writing, character development, and strategically placed themed and subtext. What I respect about this movie is that is unashamedly pretends not to be anything other than a larger than life adventure centered around one of cinema’s most iconic “monsters.” Clearly, there are attempts in the movie to include some deeper themes such as anti-war, nature/conservation, and even a little Moby Dick; but those themes appear to have been great thoughts that were not fully executed. That being said, there is clearly a Captain Ahab figure in the film and there are many similarities between King Kong and Moby Dick–size just being one of them. For fans of Jurassic Park you’ll appreciate not only Jackson’s “hold onto your butts” line at the beginning of the film, but also several similar scenes, camera angels, and even the helicopter entry onto the island. Lots of nostalgia, but not so much that it feels like you’ve seen it all before.

In many ways, Kong is bigger than ever, but hardly better than previous Kong films. Ironically, this same thing can be said about the former Kongfrontation attraction at Universal Studios Florida. Much like the new attraction Skull Island: Reign of Kong at Universal feels far more generic than its predecessor, today’s Kong lacks the magic and innovation that the original Kong did in 1933. Despite an attempt to successfully launch a series of “creature features,” the script and human characters certainly suffer. Little can be said about the dialog except that occasionally there are lines that move the story along instead of stating the obvious or predictable. The dialog is cumbersome and never seems to remain focussed very long. Of course, that is hard to do considering that Kong boasts an extremely large ensemble cast. At the forefront of the cast are Hiddleston, Larson, Jackson, Goodman, and Reilly’s respective characters. Of all the characters, John C. Reilly’s Hank Marlow steels the screen about as often as Kong does. One might even be able to say that this is as much a John C. Reilly film as it is a Kong movie. Part of the magic of the previous Kong films, the 1933 version to be more specific, is the setting and characters themselves. Much like the new KONG attraction at Universal took physical sets, animatronics, real fire, etc and crafted a virtual 3D experience, the special effects artists and set designers did the same thing in KONG: Skull Island. The film comes across as less Kong and more Pacific Rim. In other words: generic.

KONG: Skull Island will certainly keep you entertained the whole time as action-adventure films are supposed to do. You’ll enjoy the fight scenes and the whole “creature feature” approach this film takes. If you’re looking for moments taken right out of the previous Kong movies, then you’ll mostly be satisfied. There are few scenes taken directly from the previous movies, but there are certainly allusions and nods to classic moments. You won’t spend much time with the natives nor will you get to witness the famous Empire State Building scene, but you’ll likely enjoy the film nevertheless. Just because a film takes a reimagined approach to a classic character that ultimately plays off as generic, doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything to enjoy. For action junkies, there is plenty to grab your attention and hold it for the duration of the movie.

Written by R.L. Terry

Edited by J.M. Wead

“The Kings of Summer” movie review

KOS-PosterA unique coming-of-age story in the vein of Stand By Me. However, unlike the more conventional coming of age stories, the subtext and themes of then first-time feature director Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ film, written by Chris Valletta, are merely touched upon but seldom followed through in any meaningful way. The deadpan comedy and one-liners are simply tossed around instead of providing deeper meaning or introspect that may have increased the emotions felt throughout the movie. It’s a very surface level movie that fails to substantially deliver the dynamic quality narrative that is typically expected of these films. That isn’t to say that it is without merit; quite the contrary, it is enjoyable and is successful in taking you back to that time when you felt that no one understood you and you wanted to be treated like an adult, but still clung to the reckless freedom of hormonal youth. Understanding the consequences of one’s behavior is a regularly visited theme in the movie. With gorgeous outdoor cinematography and relatable characters, The Kings of Summer contains a little something for everyone who has ever thought of running away and building a cabin in the woods for you and your buds.

The Kings of Summer is about three teenagers Joe (Nick Robinson), Patrick (Gabriel Basso), and Biaggio (Moises Arias) who run away from their respective dysfunctional families and make a life for themselves out in the woods by building a house and living off the land. Ever since Joe’s mother died, he just does not get along with his father Frank (Parks and Rec‘s Nick Offerman). In turn, his father has anger and resentment issues he too is working through with the untimely passing of his wife. Unfortunately, Frank takes out his anger on Joe and both have nearly become alienated from one another. Making valid points about Joe’s behavior but not delivering those points with understanding, Frank and Joe just do not get along. With Patrick also not getting along with his helicopter parents (Megan Mullally and Marc Even Jackson), Joe convinces him to join with their new friend Biaggio and rule their own lives and answer to no one except each other. Forming a friendship pact, the three seem inseparable. However, even this three-fold cord has struggles and disagreements, jealously and rage. The young men are forced to work through life’s problems while dealing with the chemical and psychological changes of growing up.

Have you ever just wanted to escape life? Just quit and run away to a tropical island or mountain valley? That is just what you will encounter in The Kings of Summer. Coming-of-age stories are usually some of the films that find their way onto favorite lists or those to which so many people can relate because they deal with issues many of us face while in that transitional time from teenager to adult. From lakeside high school parties to hormones and independence, this film includes some of the various turning points and learning opportunities one likely encounters while discovering who he or she is. Ordinarily, films such as this, deliver the content in such a way that it offers deeper meaning or emotional connections in the narrative. And although there are some themes and moderate introspect, the film does not go far enough in connecting the audience with the teenagers or adults in the movie. There were several lines of dialog that alluded to potential conflicts and personal struggles that could have been revisited to offer more substance in the film. That being said, the writer and director do provide relatable characters who are each very different from the other in an effort to provide audiences with a character to whom they can identify. It is important for coming-of-age movies to not only contain relatable characters but relatable situations as well. And this movie does that, just not to the extent it had the capacity to do.

One of the interesting themes that can be read in The Kings of Summer is questioning one’s sexual orientation. Much like in Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 2, in which the protagonist’s sexual orientation is questionable, you can find similar themes in this film. Throughout the movie, Joe is regularly making speeches on and offering up pithy comments about masculinity. Quite regularly, Joe lectures Patrick and Biaggio about what it means to me a man. At times, Joe even becomes defensive when his masculine ways are questioned. As Shakespeare penned, “…thou doth protest too loudly…” It is entirely possible that Joe is struggling to come to terms with his sexual preferences. This could explain why he would go to such drastic measures to escape his rigid father in order to discover who he is when he has to provide for himself. Other supporting evidence of this theme is simply the fact that he doesn’t get the girl even though he tried much more than Patrick. When Patrick winds up with the girl, Joe is outraged and never quite gets over it. There are also the frequent trips to Boston Market instead of truly “being a man” and hunting for food. Maybe he’s simply trying too hard to deny who he is developing to be? Perhaps. But, there are additionally also other themes that can be read in this unique coming-of-age story.

Although this film did not receive the national attention in 2013 that it really should have, it is definitely one that is worth a watch if you enjoy this sub-genre of Drama. Ordinarily, ensemble casts can hinder effective character development and excellent storytelling, but the cast in this film is handled moderately well. If there had been more focus on the personal struggles or if the film included an external goal, then it would have definitely been better and perhaps more popular. Stories in general–especially visual stories–require the principle characters to not only have internal goals, but a clearly defined external goal as well. Often the external goal can echo the internal one, but it is important to show a tangible goal. Unfortunately, the latter is lacking in the diegesis of The Kings of Summer. This movie won’t likely ever have the nostalgia or cache of Stand By Me, but it does offer up a fun story with an excellent cast and some personal growth that will keep you entertained for the hour and a half runtime.

You can catch Ryan most weeks at Studio Movie Grill Tampa, so if you’re in the area, let him know and you can join him at the cinema.

Ryan teaches screenwriting at the University of Tampa. If you like this article, check out the others and FOLLOW this blog! Interested in Ryan making a guest appearance on your podcast or contributing to your website? Send him a DM on Twitter!

Follow him!

Twitter: RLTerry1

Instagram: RL_Terry