So you know that all movie studios want their own combinable franchises now, like Marvel started, and DC is trying (with zero success so far, hehe) to emulate, and Universal is gearing up to do with all of their monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein, the Mummy) and Legendary pictures is trying to do with Godzilla, King Kong and all the Godzilla-related monsters. It’s all about intellectual properties (IPs) and movies as money-making products, which unfortunately places movie quality and consumer satisfaction last, at least unless it affects sales.
This preamble is necessary because this film is product first, artwork last, and that is really the most apparent thing about it. The entire thing exists to move us closer to Kong’s already-scheduled meet-up with Godzilla, and for no other reason, to the point where the entire film is useless. Why don’t they just issue a press release saying “King Kong met Godzilla” and then move straight into a movie in which something might happen?
This movie attempts to make an entire film out of the Skull Island sequence of King Kong, which is people walking around in a spooky jungle with lots of huge horrible creatures, and witnessing epic battles between Kong and other gigantic beasts. So we spend time gathering the requisite team, get to the island, have humans battle big monsters, or have big monsters battle each other. That’s it.
So, how is it? After the first hour, I was just thinking: “This is boring.” The movie looks absolutely fabulous—the director knows how to create an attractive shot and has put a great deal of thought into composing shots that are interesting and have lively depth and color. The problem comes when we start to assemble those shots next to each other to tell a story. The movie has no real story, no reason to exist (except those IPs!), no developed (or interesting, or appealing, or involving) characters, no stakes… pretty much nothing, except some very good, very well-realized special effects. But they are effects in search of a story. The creatures show up, attack, then move on until the next one. A giant spider suddenly attacks, it gets killed, they move on. Then mini-pterodactyls, then this, then that, they just kind of come and go without suspense, without atmosphere, without derring-do or adventure. It mostly needs to be fun—it could skimp considerably on the effects if it were only fun—but it is not fun. Or enjoyable.
In the De Palma documentary he talks about the dangers of previsualizing in contemporary films, which is where you can make digital storyboards and work out how a film with effects is going to go, because, he says, it eliminates any chance for unexpected surprises and drains the life from a film. I was thinking about that here, because a lot of the SHOTS are created to be perfect–in which the wall of flame from explosions perfectly frames a main character, for instance–but the overall momentum of the film is dead, and it has no life or movement from shot to shot.
There are numerous issues, from the technical—like that three helicopters show up after we have explicitly been told that all helicopters were destroyed—to silly things like the nonsense of a circular, permanent hurricane surrounding the island, leaving the interior wonderfully sunny. There are political issues, like the inclusion of multiethnic natives—some are Asian, some are European, and… what?—and a supposedly laudable photographer who asks these natives to pose making peace signs. And there’s the problem that the movie has no story to tell. And no characters, just clichés. One is hard pressed to remember a movie with less involving characters. Even the two “main” actors just blend into the scenery and leave no impression.
And all of the Vietnam allusions and all of the numerous [i.e. numerous] references to Apocalypse Now are just window dressing, because the film has nothing whatsoever to say about them. It’s kind of like the filmmakers know that they should have a subtext, and make references, only they don’t know how to create a story that actually has a subtext and invites intelligent references. Oh and by the way, Francis Ford Coppola doesn’t need the ignorant “homage” of your shitty corporate product monster movie.
In short: it’s shit. As far as I’m concerned, all it had to do is be fun, and it fails pretty mightily at that. When a post-credits scene sets this all up as a precursor to Kong meeting Godzilla, you feel like you’ve been had, because they’re telling you that everything you just saw is nothing but precursor to the next movie, and you didn’t even get a good time out of it. It’s too bad, I was looking forward to it, but it’s pretty much a bust all around.