Movie review: Kong: Skull Island

Movie reviews

Good day!

Kong: Skull Island was not a film that I was excited for until I saw its first trailer. That 2-minute preview really got me hyped and raised my expectations. Let’s see if Kong can deliver!

IMDb summary: A team of explorers and soldiers travel to an uncharted island in the Pacific, unaware that they are crossing into the domain of monsters, including the mythic Kong.

Kong: Skull island is the second installment in Legendary’s MonsterVerse franchise, which begun in 2014, with the reboot of Godzilla. Legendary’s MonsterVerse should not be confused with the Universal Monsters series, which also technically begun in 2014 with Dracula Untold and is continuing later this year with The Mummy reboot (although now, that Dracula movie has been dropped from the canon). While I’m all for cinematic universes, I find these two a bit ridiculous. First, they are too similar and are definitely going to blend in the public’s consciousness. Secondly, these properties are good enough on their own – not everything has to be mixed. And yet, I was recently informed that King Kong and Godzilla have already fought against each other in a Japanese film from the 1960s made by Toho. So, is this new shared universe just another Hollywood remake of a foreign property? I, personally, found 2014’s Godzilla to be an okay movie but hopefully, Kong can get me fully on board with this franchise.

Writing

Kong: Skull Island was written by Dan Gilroy (wrote The Bourne Legacy and wrote and directed the spectacular indie film Nightcrawler) and Max Borenstein (wrote the new Godzilla). To my mind, the writing for the film was okay: not great but not bad either. As usual, since the monsters were expensive to animate, the viewer got to spend a lot of time with the human characters and yet, the character development was scarce. All of the characters had one major feature that defined them and the said defining trait was sometimes interesting and promising and very cliche in the other instances. The representation of the tribal people of the island was a bit stereotypical and from a definite Western POV (and that’s is a huge no-no for me as an anthropology student).

Story-wise, the movie had a fairly quick and interesting set-up. I liked that the film had a wide variety of characters – the military, the scientists and two leads (Hiddleston and Larson) but, as I have already mentioned, I wish they would have done more with them. The twists and turns in the plot were also fine for the most part, but the narrative did have a few too convenient moments (like the vomiting of the dog tags). The Monster vs. Monster or ‘Let them fight’ idea that begun in Godzilla was also continued here. Kong: Skull Island actually included a surprising variety of monsters: from Kong himself to the big buffalo-like looking animal to the huge spider (felt a bit squeamish watching that scene) to the tentacle monster to the giant ant and, lastly, to the actual skull crawlers.

The film’s setting in the 70s served the purpose of providing some commentary on the issue of war. It was a promising concept and they should have done more with it than they did (the portrayal of the colonel as stubborn and plainly cruel was a bit laughable or at least it played that way). The other overarching topic was man vs. nature – an obvious choice for the monster/survival movies. That whole idea about dropping bombs was really stupid but I also have a feeling that it might have been temporally accurate. The whole ‘What is it? Let’s kill it!’ topic of the movie was also kinda idiotic but also very realistic.

The film had good comedic relief. Some of the jokes landed, some didn’t. One line, in particular, stuck with me. It wasn’t supposed to be funny but it just sounded so ironic in today’s context. I’m, of course, talking about the line ‘there won’t be a more screwed up time in Washington’. Well, how about now?

Directing

The picture was helmed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts and this was only his 3rd feature film. His directorial debut was the indie coming of age drama Kings of Summer, which I really enjoyed – I remember it was recommended to me by a friend, who absolutely loved the movie. Bearing in mind that this was only the 3rd picture for the director and the first one of such a massive scale, I think he did an incredible job. While the opening plane crash CGI looked horrible, all of the following CGI of the monsters and the fights was magnificent. I loved the shot of King Kong in a fiery background as well as all the other wide, sweeping shots of the nature of the island. The northern lights also looked neat. The shots from within the helicopter during the first major action sequence were great too. I also thought that Vogt-Roberts had more visuals of Kong than Edwards did of Godzilla. Or maybe they were just dispersed throughout the film more than they were in Godzilla. The old school photo/video visuals were also a nice touch. Lastly, the fact that the first (the sun) and the last (the eye) shots of the picture were similar was also an excellent way to frame the whole thing.

The post-credits scene

Yes, you read that correctly. The post-credits scenes aren’t unique just to comic book movies. I was the only person in my screening who sat through the 10 minutes of the credits but I wasn’t disappointed that I did. The tease for the future was quite cool and made me wonder whether the actors who appeared in the teaser, will reprise their roles in the future sequels of this shared universe.

Acting

Tom Hiddleston as James Conrad. Hiddleston was good in the role even if the role itself wasn’t that great. I mean, his character was just unexplainably good at everything. The most over the top part of his arc was that scene with a sword in a gas cloud – it looked cool but didn’t make much sense and kinda came out of nowhere. I just finished watching Hiddleston in The Night Manger for which he won a Golden Globe. While his acceptance speech wasn’t the greatest, his performance was spectacular, so I’d highly recommend this mini-series. Going forward, he will reprise the role of Loki – arguably, the best villain of MCU – in Thor: Ragnarok.

Brie Larson as Mason Weave. I liked the fact that Larson’s character was a photo-journalist and that they didn’t call much attention to her gender (only in one scene, which should have been cut). Larson herself was good in the role and I’m happy that she is getting more work post her Oscar win (Room). Having said that, the majority of the acting she had to do was basically just reacting to the imaginative things around her. Nevertheless, she did have that one scene of special connection with Kong. What is up with female characters and giant monkeys? Katelyn Snow and Grodd also had a special connection on The Flash.

Samuel L. Jackson as Colonel Packard. Jackson was just recently in another jungle-based movie – The Legend of Tarzan – and I think I liked him more in that one. Here, his performance seemed a bit too much for me. But, I cannot argue that he does know how to play/appear as a menacing villain-ish character.

John C. Reilly as Hank Marlow. Reilly was supposed to be the comic-relief character, based on the trailers and, while he certainly joked around, he was also the exposition machine. Plus, the Jason Mitchell and Shea Whigham duo provided some additional comic relief which was funnier than Reilly’s.

The scientists of the film were played by John Goodman (Trumbo, Patriot’s Day), Jing Tian (The Great Wall), and Corey Hawkins. They served the purposes of their roles well and added some diversity to the cast (the last two). Toby Kebbell (Warcraft, Fan4stic, Ben-Hur) played Jack Chapman and had the emotional character arc of the movie. While I get what the film was aiming for, I didn’t really feel much for Kebbell’s character.

In short, Kong: Skull Island was an entertaining adventure monster movie. The visuals looked amazing and made up for the sorta lackluster script.

Rate: 3.5/5

Trailer: Kong: Skull Island trailer

kong-skull-island-poster-2.jpg

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Movie review: The Martian

Movie reviews

Hello, my dear readers!!

I have missed you so much!! I haven’t written in a while because I was buried underneath piles of work. Living on my own while studying is way harder than I expected it to be. I already cannot even look at pasta and I still have 4 more years to go eating it. Anyway, we are not here to talk about my mundane problems. We are here to review the latest space opera – The Martian. I have actually seen it during the opening weekend but only managed to review it a week later…Sorry…

Also, I would like to give a spoiler warning for The Martian if you have not seen it yet.

BTW, it’s been a month since I started taking Introduction to Film course, so tell me in the comments if my reviewing style has changed somehow (maybe it improved, hopefully?).

Comparison

It is not a secret that in the last few years, we had a few high production astronomical blockbusters – 2013’s Warner Bros’s Gravity and 2014’s Legendary’s Interstellar. Now, 20th Century Fox takes its shot and creates a mixture of those two films (even borrows some actors): The Martian has a plot-line of a ‘lonely astronomer lost in space’ from Gravity and ‘his team trying to save him’ from Interstellar. While I have enjoyed both of these films, The Martian might be my favorite out of all 3. I have also seen this film described as Castaway meets Apollo 11, which, I agree, is an accurate representation.

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The tagline for this film was Bring Him Home and it was definitely true to the film because Mark Watney’s attempt to go home was the scientific and emotional core of the film. Also, for me as a newly created emigrant, it’s a theme near and-and dear to my heart. Yes, I’m not stranded on another planet, but being away from home is hard no matter the distance.

Water on Mars!

This movie had perfect time!! Just before its release, scientists actually found flowing water on Mars. Now, we are one step closer to turning The Martian from Science Fiction to Science Reality. If you like to learn more about this exciting development, I suggest you watch this Sci Show explanatory video.

Story & Writing

The Martian’s screenplay was written by Drew Goddard who has written mainly for TV before this. His credits include Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Lost, and Daredevil, which he also helped to produce. His last film script was for World War Z, which I, personally, really enjoyed but sadly been in a minority of moviegoers. Going back to The Martian, I really liked his treatment of this story. Although the movie has no real action, for the most part, a lot of crucial things still happen during the middle of the film and keep the viewer engaged and interested. Nothing happens and a lot of things happen at the same time (we actually just studied films like this in my film class last week). Moreover, it needs to be mentioned that this is not an original story but an adaptation of Andy Weir’s book with the same name. I added it to my reading list and you should too.  I have seen it in bookstores, re-released with the cover that looks like the movie’s poster, so it should be quite easy to get your hands on a copy of it.

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Realism

This movie has been praised for its scientific accuracy and it’s probably the most accurate of the 3 recent astronomical blockbusters. I am not expert on astronomy, physics, botany or any science but I am interested in these fields (that’s one of the reasons why I like sci-fi so much). Anyway, I found this Screen Junkies video on The Martian to be really interesting and helpful in thinking about Movie Science. I love all of their stuff on YouTube , but Movie Science videos are at the top of the list.

Directing and Visuals

The Martian is directed by the fan favorite Ridley Scott. His filmography includes Allien, Blade Runner (got its DVD from the library today), Gladiator, Prometheus and last year’s Exodus. Lots of people had problems with his last film and the whitewashing issue while I loved it. The interpretation of a biblical story was done in much better way than in Noah and the visuals were just stunning. Scott didn’t disappoint with The Martian as well. The Mise-en-Scene (I’ve learned a few fancy words in film class) was just stunning and really realistic while the futuristic technology was realized in a believable fashion as well. The action both on Mars and in the outer space looked amazing too. The NASA base was also a cool set, whose backgrounds could be analyzed separately from the narrative/on their own.

Acting

The titular character of the film and the main start, of course, is Matt Damon. It’s not the first time that Damon is playing a lost astronaut – he had a similar role in Interstellar. However, while he was an extreme douche-bag in that film, here he is a loveable, funny, witty, intelligent and self-efficient character who carries the whole film. Damon’s performance blew me away and definitely turned me into a fan of his. I’ve seen a few of his films and was always on a fence about him, but his role as Mark Watney changed my perspective. I also loved that he was a botanist – you never really see movies that focus on plant biology scientists, films usually tend to pick physics or chemistry scholars, so this was a nice and refreshing change.

While Matt Damon as Mark Watney is the central character of the film, he gets great support from a very diverse, established, and extensive supporting cast. I’m going to divide these characters into Space team and Earth team.

Space team includes:

  • Jessica Chastain as Melissa Lewis, Ares III commander – another Interstellar alumni. Loved her in that film as much as this one.
  • Michael Peña as Rick Martinez, astronaut – the scene-stealer of Ant-Man shined in this film too. Can’t wait to see more of his work.
  • Kate Mara as Beth Johanssen, astronaut – played a similar role to the one she did in Fantastic Four. While they definitely messed up Sue Storm in that film, her character was a great addition to this motion picture’s cast.
  • Sebastian Stan as Chris Beck, astronaut – the Winter Soldier can be more than Marvel’s next Captain America. I am a fan of Stan, so loved seeing him popping up in this film.
  • Aksel Hennie as Alex Vogel, astronaut – rounded up the space part of the cast. Sadly, I’m not familiar with his work, so cannot really comment much, except to say that he was great in this film.

We didn’t get to spend much time with these characters and they didn’t get a lot of development. However, I believe that they served their purpose for this specific film perfectly by providing Matt Damon’s character with great support.

Earth team includes:

We did get to spend more time with the Earth-based part of the cast which had a few surprising performances.

  • Kristen Wiig as Annie Montrose, NASA spokesperson – was the biggest surprise. I have never imagined Wiig in not a comedic role but she blew me away. I wish she would do more action/drama films, but sadly her next movie is Ghostbusters remake, which I have mixed feelings about. Furthermore, I loved her character because she brought the public into the film. I haven’t seen the theme of public’s affect of NASA and NASA’s manipulation of public explored before.
  • Jeff Daniels as Teddy Sanders, head of NASA, Chiwetel Ejiofor as Vincent Kapoor, a NASA mission director, and Sean Bean as Mitch Henderson, a NASA mission director were the powerful trio of NASA and for me, they worked best in their scenes together, because they played off of each others energy. Surprisingly, Sean Bean did not die. Also, seeing him make Lords of the Rings references was amazing!!
  • Donald Glover as Rich Purnell, a NASA astronomer and Mackenzie Davis as Mindy Park, a satellite planner in Mission Control were the 2 younger actors in the Earth team. I liked the nerdy-ness that Glover’s character brought to the film and I appreciated the introduction to Davis as an actress.

Lastly, this film had a few international actors from China: Eddy Ko and Chen Shu. While I don’t know if this side-plot was the part of the original story of the book, but I guess we all know why it was included in the film. Get that Chinese Box Office, Fox!

All in all, this fall is proving to be one of the greatest movie seasons ever! I haven’t seen a film which I didn’t enjoy so far. The Martian is a great adaptation of (I’m sure) an amazing book with wonderful acting from the whole ensemble cast, especially the leading man – Matt Damon. In addition, it has stunning visuals and a strong emotional appeal as well as is scientifically accurate as much as sci-fi film can be accurate.

Rate: 5/5

Trailer: The Martian trailer

The Martian movie poster