Written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens & Peter Jackson, based on the story by Merian C. Cooper & Edgar Wallace
Directed by Peter Jackson
Starring Naomi Watts, Adrien Brody, Jack Black, Andy Serkis, Jamie Bell
My Advice: Matinee.
Carl Denham (Black) has a vision. Okay, well, Leonard Cohen would call it a scheme. He’s known for going and making safari movies, but now his backers want more. So he’s lined up a name actor (Kyle Chandler) and a name actress…oops, she’s dropped out of the project. Denham has to find a replacement actress (Watts), get his screenwriter (Brody) to finish his work, and somehow convince everyone that they’re filming in Singapore, when in fact they’re headed to a place called Skull Island with nothing but a strange map of how to get there and a load of bad checks. Once there, however, they’re going to get much more than they bargained for. Much more indeed. Mooha.
Okay, it’s nearly pointless to worry about spoilers for a film, at least for major plot points. The only thing more ridiculous would be being concerned about the end of Hamlet or something. We know where this is going. So the trick with this film is to make the ride to get there an enjoyable one. With Jackson on board to make the film he’s been wanting to make since before Lord of the Rings, can the ride be worthwhile?
[ad#longpost]The answer is of course, an infuriating yes and no. First, let’s talk about what works. The action sequences on Skull Island are some of the most ridiculous things you will see in your life. Just when you think things can’t get more insane, they do. Again. And again. And you’re wrong so many times you just give up and understand you’re in the grips of a director who’s absolutely out of his freaking mind. They are amazing. Imagine Jurassic Park (with a touch of Starship Troopers) on some serious acid…and you’re close. And the effects are mind-blowing. I had to continually remind myself that they did not, in fact, build a twenty-five foot tall ape for the movie. Just like Gollum, there’s no problem accepting Kong as a full-blown character. I’m not sure if it was the sound that they used or what, but everything felt like it had weight. Impacts had real impact. When Kong lays a smackdown he lays a Smack-down and you’re wincing because it’s just so damn real.
Of course, the effects, amazing as they are, are only part of the equation. Andy Serkis (who also is unrecognizable as the cook) brings Kong to life like he did with Gollum, and his performance is impressive as well. I can’t wait to delve into the behind-the-scenes stuff and see the split screen where they show him doing his thing, before and after. Serkis is just gifted, that’s all there is to it. The stand-out amongst the human cast is Jack Black, because he’s just got a lot to work with. And he’s perfect for the part of the slightly sleazier Carl Denham we have here. Watts and Brody are good for what they’re there to do, but Watts gets to fall in love with a monkey and Brody gets to lose out to a monkey. So they’re limited in material.
This brings us to some of the problems. First up, the film is over three hours long and most assuredly did not need to be. It takes a while to get started and doesn’t really start to flow until you get to the island. If you had chopped some stuff out of the beginning and maybe cut in half the number of times the planes would fly by without anything happening later on, you might could lose thirty minutes easy. Also, Jackson wants to make it crystal clear that this is a love story. I was under the impression he was beating the audience about the head and shoulders with it at times, because during those sections it would work, then slow, then crawl to a dead stop. I get the feeling that Jackson’s love of the material led to him becoming a bit too enthralled to cut anything out of his baby. And either his enthusiasm was too infectious to be denied by others, or everybody was ready to write him a blank check after LOTR. Dunno. And worse, some bits in the film just don’t make sense. Peter, I was with you until the sequence with the bats. That’s…all I can say without spoiling some details. But after that I just couldn’t recover. And once my ass fell asleep, the ending just lost some of its punch. Again, some editing here and there would have been nice.
Because of the problems, what could have been a tentpole film that actually had to be seen to be believed is an overlong mess where the best bits are when Kong is laying out the kicksplode. The moment the giant monkey isn’t in frame, you know that there’s a good chance you’re going to find yourself devoid of any tension and praying for some more action to take place. Jackson has proven that he can out-Spielberg Spielberg when it comes to over-the-top action, but anytime the fur isn’t flying, he really needs an editor. No, I mean really. See it on the big screen for maximum carnage, but see it in the afternoon to save coin and pack a lunch.
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