Del reviews ‘Kong Skull Island’
“Kong Skull Island” Starring Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson. Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts. 1 hour, 58 minutes. Rated PG-13.
King Kong really needs to find a Mrs. Kong, if you know what I mean.
That poor, besotten beast, trapped all alone on Skull Island without the company of a female, has developed a frightening case of blue –
Cough cough cough. Ahem! Sorry about that. I momentarily forgot about this review’s PG rating.
Suffice it to say that in many of the Kong iterations we see a lonely ape the size of the federal deficit pining for a tiny but beautiful human woman, which ultimately leads to his demise, usually at the trigger finger of a sympathetic but competitive human male who has no intention of sharing his tiny but beautiful human woman with a giant ape, even if the giant ape is a movie star.
You don’t see that in many Plenty of Fish profiles.
In “Kong: Skull Island,” the eighth outing for the sexually frustrated mega-simian, movie fans receive a rehashing of many of the Kong tropes with a few new wrinkles that don’t add anything to the canon. But then the movie’s purpose is not to tread new ground but pave old ground for a sequel.
In “Skull Island” Bill Randa (John Goodman), a functionary in the Monarch organization (which figured into another recent giant creature movie), convinces a senator to fund a trip to Skull Island to look for, well, whatever is there – oil, uranium, or monsters.
Oh, and he needs a military escort.
That brings Lt. Col. Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) into the picture, along with his unit of cannon fodder and one young non-com comedian (Thomas Mann). They’re joined by pacifist war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) and noted tracker Loki, er, James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) to complete the lineup.
The group arrives aboard a fleet of helicopters that, after traversing some seriously bad weather that would have folks like you and me clutching air sickness bags like rosaries, reaches the jungle-infested canyons and scenic vistas of Skull Island. Hell immediately breaks lose and does not stop until about a hundred minutes later when the credits roll.
Pacing was off. My impression during the movie was that plot development was moving along too quickly, as if director Vogt-Roberts had taken input from an efficiency expert. Characters were hurriedly sketched, given only a short scene to establish their bonafides and histories, and then it was off to the races.
The script struck me as strangely flat. While the movie offered many funny lines, it missed what I thought were better opportunities for funnier lines. The actors had little to sink their teeth into.
John Goodman’s and Samuel L. Jackson’s characters were straight out of central casting, and as a result their particular branches of the conflict were similarly hackneyed. In fact the Jackson conceit, that of a military fanatic bent on destroying Kong, struck me as unrealistic and at times stupid.
Hiddleston and Larson were good despite the flat script, and Mann, as always, finds a way to inject life into his roles. John C. Reilly was excellent as World War II vet Hank Marlow, and his character provides the only watery-eye potential in the entire movie. Stay to the very end for that.
Many movies these days throw in an Easter egg after the credits, and you’ll need to sit through the entire run-through of credits for “Skull Island” to see which giant monster may figure into the sequel.
Overall I would grade “Skull Island” with a C+. I’ll give it high marks for a decent fight scene and monster mayhem, but low marks for clichéd characters, skimpy characterization, a threadbare script and hurried pacing.
Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.
“Jurassic World” Starring Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard and Vincent D’Onofrio. Directed by Colin Trevorrow. 124 minutes. Rated PG-13.
Mix equal parts “Jurassic Park,” “The Lost World” and “Jurassic Park III.” Boil for two hours. Voila! You’ve just prepared an inoffensive addition to the Jurassic canon, one that breaks no new ground but commits no great sin.
“Jurassic World” is the vanilla custard of the series, meaning it is a simple dish that offers a taste everyone can love. It presents an everyman hero; a beautiful damsel in distress; children whose peril reunites their parents; and a big, scary dinosaur, all of it frocked in a thin cloak of subtext about the hubris of genetic engineering and corporate greed. In other words, just another day at the Democratic National Convention.
Chris Pratt’s Owen is an animal trainer who is brought to the new Jurassic World theme park by Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), his former love interest who serves as a kind of Effie Trinket for the park. Seems their newest creation, Indominus rex, has broken out of its paddock and is eating the tourists. Very bad for publicity. The hope is Owen can figure out what Indominus will do next so they can recapture the beastie and return it to its cage.
But as everyone but the characters in all Jurassic movies have learned, things go awry as Claire’s nephews, Gray (Ty Simpkins) and Zach (Nick Robinson) became stranded in the weeds with Indominus in hot pursuit, and a slyly amoral Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio) maneuvers and manipulates to take over the park from its helicopter driving CEO, Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan).
Pratt manages his role with minimal swagger, and Claire transitions from a sweet corporate mouthpiece to somebody who has discovered the benefits of work/life balance. D’Onofrio walks a thin line between evil and ambition. Of the kids, Simpkins evokes the most emotion, from his energetic embrace of the park to a heartbreaking acknowledgement that his parents may part company. Robinson is an unlikable, selfish teen who only comes around once the teeth snap a little too close.
I could nitpick this movie to death. Claire spends her time running through the jungle in a dress and heels, which my female friends assure me is about as likely as balanced budget. Some of the flying reptiles feature a T-rex head, a weird and unexplained departure from previous movies. And we have yet another set of siblings with parents either divorced or on the verge, and somehow their experience of being dinosaur kibble is supposed to mend the frayed bonds of their parents’ relationship.
Overall, the movie serves up nothing new. In fact, it seems frankensteined of scenes and themes from the previous films. But for some reason that did not bother me much. The Jurassic movies have never been anything more than an amusement park thrill ride, and this one certainly provided its share of stomach-looping chills.
Throughout the first and second acts we are told the park must offer a new “asset,” aka a new dinosaur, to stimulate the public’s interest and spike ticket sales. That could be said of the Jurassic franchise as well. And while “Jurassic World” is no Indominous rex of a movie, it has just enough of its DNA to take a huge chomp out of the box office.
I give it a solid B.
Websites dedicated to movies fail to list the most intriguing actors in newly released “Jurassic World.” They are: Charlie; Echo; Delta; and Blue, the velicoraptors. More on the hunter four-pack in a moment.
“Jurassic World” is good enough to be entertaining.
There’s a bit of suspense in the film, though, unfortunately, no jump-from-your-seat moments.
The human characters are likable, though not enthralling. Owen (Chris Pratt), the animal trainer, is charming, if not hypocritical. Claire, the corporate number cruncher and Jurassic World theme park manager, is beautiful as hell, but stiff. The two boys incorporated into the movie to draw one of the demographics that tends not to watch this sort of flick – teenaged girls – do an OK job. But, frankly, if any of the folks mentioned above had been eaten, I wouldn’t have cared.
There’s the obligatory animal rights morality tale. The dinosaurs, de-extincted through genetic engineering or not, are creatures worthy of respect and compassion, not merely assets owned by a big mean corporation that runs the amusement park that erupts into mayhem when a hyper-predator escapes to threaten 22,000 well-healed guests.
And, there’s the old adage, don’t fool with Mother Nature unless you want to get the horns, or something like that. Here are people manufacturing dinosaurs as though nothing had happened 20 years earlier (see “Jurassic Park”).
The visual effects are excellent approaching terrific. If only them CGI folks would have given the theropods and sauropods in the film color and patterns. No stripes, no spots, no feathers, no counter-shading. There was nothing to give the dinos a pinch of flair.
Still, the raptors. It’s all about the raptors from my perspective.
About the height of a man and smarter, the bipedal predators are imbued with a whole lot of character. Yes, they were trained by our hero, Owen, to respond to commands, but he could never quite be certain that Blue will follow orders. All the pack’s matriarch had to do was snort or bark and, bam, Charlie, Echo, and Delta would have Owen carved and ready to swallow in the blink of their reptilian eyes.
The scene in “Jurassic World” with the raptors being used as bloodhounds is absolutely stunning. Man, if these bad girls were half the hunters in real life as they’re depicted in this movie (and the three that preceded it), they were the Mesozoic era’s apex predator. Allosaurus, Tyrannosaurus rex, the toothy saurischian with the big sail on its back my ass. Velicoraptors are the bee’s knees of evolution. Damn that asteroid.
I could see why one of the characters, Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio), in the movie wanted to turn raptors into … never mind. Don’t want to spoil it for you. By the way, Hoskins can also be credited with one of the most obscure references ever placed in a movie. Quick, why is Tora Bora significant? Thought so. You have no idea.
“Jurassic World” should be seen at the theater. The film is a solid B, but don’t spring for the 3-D version. All the panoramic shots look silly. A blue helicopter flying low above a lush green jungle looks like a 1/48th scale UAV buzzing in front of a painted landscape. Thousands of people walking along the amusement parks main boulevard look like a bunch of figurines with operating legs. A 2-D viewing will be satisfying enough. Use the money you save, $3, to buy a 1.5-ounce drink at the concession stand.
Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical editor. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.