VIEWS ON FILM BY CEJ -
The GRINDHOUSE: Reviews
Bottom line ... . After all, why the hell else are you reading this, right? “Is KONG: SKULL ISLAND any damned good?”. Our modest response, ... “Holy F#@&in’ crap! Hell yeah! It‘s a Monster Mash of a blast!”. Legendary Pictures’ Vietnam era rift on everyone’s favorite “Eighth Wonder of the World” proves why the Good Book said, “… and on the Eighth Day God created IMAX 3D!”. Well, okay, maybe it doesn't say that exactly. But it should. Because KONG: SKULL ISLAND is the reason the big screen (and seat-shaking, wall-rattling Dolby Atmos Sound) was invented. Perhaps not since AVATAR or DOCTOR STRANGE has there been this good of a reason to endure wearing those damned bulky 3D specs which far too often darkens the image, and shrinks the size of even the most enormous, peripheral-breaking movie screens. Oh yeah, and there’s always that extra “E Pluribus Unum” you have to shell out for IMAX 3D too . But on this one we recommend maybe you buy one less hot dog or order of nachos, and put the extra few bucks towards the most massive 3D screen you can find. Because this time around size (and sound) indeed matters!
It's easy to forget that every now and then movies are allowed to be fun as all hell without being stupid. And whereas a couple of years back we referred to the rebooted JURASSIC WORLD as being a perfect example of the “Dumb to Fun Ratio” - wherein a movie can be so enjoyable you’re willing to overlook the most numb-skulled aspects of it’s plot and characters, we’re happy to report that SKULL ISLAND, while certainly Space Mountain rollercoaster-like fun, and while definitely not falling into the trap of treating itself too reverentially, still manages to cram into it’s brisk 118 minutes a healthy dose of bone-crushing, Willis O’Brien / Ray Harryhausen-esque, “Super-Slam” monster mayhem, a bit of emotional poignancy, and even (hush yo’ mouth, and dare we say!) a little socio-political commentary along the way. Call it a very creative "cinematic / thematic bi-polarity" if you will. Now, whether or not you dig this new KONG as much as we do is, of course, contingent on what it is you expect from it in the first place.
What KONG: SKULL ISLAND is not, nor does it pretend to be in any way, shape or form, is a remake of the classic 1933 Cooper / Schoedsack film - which was later remade (for better or worse, everyone has an opinion) in 1976 by THE TOWERING INFERNO’s John Gullerman and producer Dino De Laurentiis, then again in 2005 by THE LORD OF THE RINGS’ Peter Jackson. What the new film cleverly does, however, is to take the DNA of the KONG character and his Skull Island origin, and “reset” them in a new story, setting and context. And in this particular case that context is an evolving “Shared Cinematic Universe” of films wherein the lynchpin connecting the series is a secret U.S. government agency called “Monarch”.
GODZILLA (2014 / Dir. - Gareth Edwards)
Out to prove, X-FILES-like, that ancient prehistoric creatures outlived (and were possibly even responsible for the demise of) the dinosaurs, many in “Monarch” fear that after millions of years these ancient beings are beginning to emerge from their subterranean, and hidden terranean, “lands that time forgot” into the world of humankind, where they may very well reclaim their position at the top of the evolutionary food chain. The first film in the “Monarch” SCU (shared cinematic universe) was Legendary Pictures’ 2014 GODZILLA, directed by Gareth Edwards.
While both a critical and worldwide box office hit, Edwards’ GODZILLA met with disfavor among some Godzilla purists who felt the film wasn’t a faithful redo of Toho Pictures’ original “King Of The Monsters” - those fans feeling it veered too far afield from the premise and setting of the original 1954 black & white nuclear nightmare classic directed by Japanese cinema sensei Ishiro Honda. But this was because, like KONG: SKULL ISLAND (co-written by GODZILLA‘s Max Borenstein), it was never intended as a faithful redo of Honda‘s film. It too was conceived to take the character DNA of that classic monster, create a modern era version of him, then transplant him into an entirely new cinematic setting where he'd interact with other transplanted denizens from the iconic halls of movie monsterdom - the latest among those “others” being the legendary Kong. Now, while GODZILLA took place in the present day, KONG: SKULL ISLAND takes place in 1973, and as such functions as a prequel of sorts in the "Monarch" series chronology.
If this all seems a bit too sacrilegious for some, think of how John Badham’s 1979 version, and Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 rendition, of DRACULA are more straight ahead adaptations (albeit with fresh elements) of Bram Stoker’s original 1897 novel, while say Tom Holland’s 1985 film FRIGHT NIGHT takes the classic character DNA of Stoker’s vampire, along with the character’s narrative scenario (his aversion to crosses, the fact that he can‘t enter one’s home unless invited, the taking of a human bride, death by sunlight, etc.), then places him and those canonical attributes within a new setting and context - that of contemporary suburbia, where a young horror movie fan comes to believe a Stoker-esque being has moved into the vacant house next door, and that he is the Ripper-like serial killer responsible for a series of local murders.
KONG: SKULL ISLAND dir. Jordan Vogt-Roberts
The same with the two major cinematic versions of H.G. Welles’ THE TIME MACHINE. George Pal’s 1960 film, and Simon Wells / Gore Verbinski’s 2002 rendition, are actual “adaptations” (with Moorlocks and all) of the original 1895 novel … with a few alterations. Whereas Nicholas Meyer’s 1979 sci fi thriller TIME AFTER TIME takes the “transplanting the character and narrative DNA” thing to intriguingly entertaining and wholly original new heights by making author Welles the story's protagonist. In Meyer's still clever film the legendary author of THE INVISIBLE MAN, WAR OF THE WORLDS and THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU plunges into an adventure his imagination never could have conceived when he uses his own time machine to chase Jack The Ripper into 20th century America, after the famous murderer used the device to escape the police back in his and Welles' own Victorian era. KONG: SKULL ISLAND, and Legendary Pictures’ new “MonsterVerse” are doing that same sort of thing.
Oh, and if you’ve seen those new trailers for THE MUMMY with Tom Cruise, that film, slated for release in June 2017, is intended to be the first chapter in Universal Studios' modern day return to it‘s own crossover / shared “MonsterVerse“. Later entries in that series will include cinematic transplants of the studio's own THE INVISIBLE MAN - starring Johnny Depp, CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON - with Scarlett Johanson, JEKYLL & HYDE - with Russell Crowe, THE BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN - starring Javier Bardem as the obsessed doctor, and more. And, as Cruise was reportedly cast in a project last year as legendary monster hunter Abraham Van Helsing, the smart money believes that's whom his "Nick Morton" character in THE MUMMY actually is.
The “through line” connecting the new series of Universal films (their version of "Monarch" if you will) will be “The Prodigium” - a subterranean vault / storage facility where inhuman and / or supernatural beings are safely stored away, and kept from interacting with mankind. Crowe’s modern day Henry Jekyll (here a scientist) is the “Nick Fury-esque” overseer of said Prodigium.