Thursday, October 21, 2021

Kong – Skull Island: Escape from the Island of Plot Devices


By Matthew Mendisana

“Kong: Skull Island,” is a film based on an old 1933 classic, “King Kong.” Before I begin, however, there is something all readers should be aware of. The film is NOT a remake, but a reboot. Some readers may be wondering what’s the difference? Well, allow me to explain.

When it comes to remakes, any fan of the original instantly knows the plot. Every filmmaker worth their salt knows this, and there rests the problem. If the filmmaker changes too much, then they run the risk of alienating fans of the original. However, if they change too little, then why even bother remaking it in the first place? No matter how the filmmaker handles it, when it comes to remaking a film, they’re walking along a fine line between the film surpassing or failing the qualities of the original.

A reboot, however, is different. A reboot allows the filmmaker to take an idea and retell it in their own way. Which can work, if handled right. Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy is a fine example of reboots done right. For this film, the retelling is notable from the subtitle: “Skull Island.” If my readers will forgive me, I’m about to reveal a minor spoiler from the film. There are no scenes that take place in New York. As the subtitle says, the main focus of the film takes place on Skull Island, and stays there.

It was an ambitious undertaking on the filmmakers’ part, and I applaud them for taking the film in this direction. From a writing standpoint, focusing the film around the mythical island full of mystery and monsters offers more storytelling ideas than simply having the giant ape run amuck in New York. I only wish the story was as auspicious.

The film takes place in 1973, the day President Nixon announces the end of the Vietnam War, and the withdrawal of American forces from Nam. Just as a reminder, this is supposed to be a movie about a giant gorilla. The first notable character we meet is Bill Randa, played by John Goodman. Mr. Randa works for a secret task force of the government called Monarch, and intends to investigate an uncharted island in the South Pacific called Skull Island, to prove that monsters exist.

We’re then introduced to Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard, a soldier who’s two days from being withdrawn from Nam, but is called in by Monarch to lead a squadron of his men for an expedition to Skull Island. However, Bill Randa never tells Preston, or anyone for that matter, that they’re going there to find signs of monsters, until they’re already there! I may not work in the army, or the government, but it doesn’t seem like a wise maneuver to hire a regiment of soldiers to protect you, WITHOUT telling them what they’re protecting you from!

Of course, as you’ve probably figured out by now, when they arrive on the island, things go wrong, and now they’re trapped on an island filled with lethal creatures and one angry giant ape. There are other characters I could mention, like Tom Hiddleston’s character, John Reilly’s, or Brie Larson’s, but if I mentioned every notable character from this film, this review would run longer than it should. For a monster movie that’s two hours long, the film tries to juggle at least three different plotlines.

In Plot 1 we’re following Colonel Packard as he tries to reconnect with his squad so they can take down Kong and avenge their fallen comrades. In Plot 2 you have the other group of characters as they wander the island trying to escape, while going through every plot dump you can imagine in order for them, and the audience, to learn of Kong’s origins. And then there’s Plot 3, which follows Kong as he wanders the island trying to protect the inhabitants from an island of monsters, including one big one to act as the final confrontation of the movie. I’m not against action movies trying to have more plot, I just wish for them to be interesting plots. Because the moment the characters arrive on the island, and the three plotlines begin, the film plummets into a predictable downward spiral.
If there’s anything positive I can say in the film’s defense, it’s that the effects and designs of the monsters are incredibly well put together, especially the monster fights. In fact, funny as this may sound, the scenes with Kong were quite possibly the most enjoyable parts of the movie. If you love monster fights and are willing to sit through the contrived plot, then this film will at the very least hold your attention.

I can also say with absolute assurance that this is definitely a film that kids and teens will love. Army fending off odd creatures and a giant gorilla fighting monsters? It’s the perfect popcorn movie for them. However, this film is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, along with brief strong language. So, I must recommend that all minors be accompanied by an adult.

Unfortunately, even as a popcorn movie, the dubious plotlines and excessive characters made this movie a chore to sit through. Even with the monster fights as its saving grace, I must award “Kong: Skull Island” with a 6 out of 10. And as a film buff when it comes to monster movies, this was not an easy score to deliver.

Marco Island resident and avid moviegoer, Matthew Mendisana is a Lynn University alumnus. While he possesses a bachelor’s degree in science, it’s the arts that attracted his attention. In his four years at Lynn, Matthew managed to achieve Magna Cum Laude status, earn three publications in the Lynn University magazine, make a short documentary featured in the university’s Film Festival, and created a radio PSA that was later broadcasted overseas.

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