Kong: Modern Blockbusters

I started this blog because I was disgusted with modern film criticism, but even beyond that, I’m furious with modern film discussion. People don’t really discuss movies anymore outside of saying they “liked it” or “hated it.” Whatever happened to sitting down and having a conversation about a film?

I think this anger has been unleashed partially because of Netflix’s choice to move from the star rating system (which I’m not a fan of either) to a thumbs up/thumbs down rating system. Why? There’s so much more to the movie going experience than whether or not a person liked a particular film. I’ve seen plenty of movies that I downright despised but I still learned something from them or at least had something to talk about.

What does this have to do with Kong: Skull Island? Well, all of these ideas have been spinning around in my mind this week and I guess I just felt like this was a good movie to add to this discussion because Kong is a film I have complex emotions about.

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There were some things I absolutely loved about it and some things I really hated. That being said, I’m still trying to figure out if I liked the movie or not. Does that matter? Well that’s point, it doesn’t. What really matters is what I took away from the film as a viewer.

Now that I got all that out on the table, let’s get into the review. First, I want to talk about the screenplay. This screenplay is a perfect example of two things I hate in modern blockbuster films.

What’s the deal with the constant quips that every character feels the need to say? Whatever happened to individual voices? I know this is Hollywood’s attempt to make the film more “light-hearted” so it will reach a larger audience. But what does that even mean?

This all boils down to the success of Marvel films. Now, blockbusters feel the need to inject their film with quips. It is as if every character in the film tries to be the wittiest. Sometimes, this kind of humor can work, and for certain characters. But not every character should speak like this. Whatever happened to individual voices?

Now I’m not saying every popcorn movie should be dreary and depressing (cough cough Batman V. Superman). There should certainly be some humor. But tone it down for God’s sake, and leave the quips to Joss Whedon and Shane Black because… they’re good at it.

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Joss Whedon – writer/director of The Avengers, creator of Buffy the Vampire Slayer

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Shane Black writer of Lethal Weapon, writer/director of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, The Nice Guys

The other thing I hate about modern blockbusters is over explanation. By that I mean when things are explained multiple times, or when we are shown something visually and then a character explains it. This irks me. If you show me something on the screen, there is no need to explain it to me, because I just saw it happen! The screenplay isn’t wholly to blame for this as there were some obvious lines added in post. All this being said, the dialogue is downright atrocious at times.

The screenplay as a whole was embarrassing to say the least. And this film had a great group of writers including Dan Gilroy (writer/director of Nightcrawler). Key word there is “group.” Hollywood, when are you going to get it through your head that bringing more writers on to do more drafts does not necessarily equal a better screenplay?

Outside of the dialogue, this film has some other major flaws. For example, the characters. I honestly didn’t care about any of them. Not one. They were indispensable to me, and that is how the film treated them.

This film has a stacked cast too but it doesn’t really do much with the ensemble. Character motivations don’t make a whole lot of sense.

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Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson in Kong Skull Island

There’s this golden rule in screenwriting and that is you should make sure that your central character or protagonist is the most interesting character in the film. To me Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly) is the most interesting character in the film. However, we do not see him until well into the second act (excluding the cold open). I think the back story to his character would have made a much more entertaining film overall. Why didn’t we see these events from his viewpoint?

Now I know what you’re thinking… “David, you paid to see a movie where a giant monkey fights things, chill out man.” Trust me guys, I’m chill as a cucumber. My issue is that when I pay to see a film like this I hope that the filmmakers treated it as more than a monster movie/creature feature. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case here.

Other major problems include the lack of consistent tone, and this is partially because of the humor. I felt this film had some serious tonal balance issues and didn’t really know what it wanted to be. Did it want to be a period piece? An allegory for what we are doing to our modern ecosystem? The classic man vs. nature plot. An action/adventure film about a group of scientists and army men exploring an unknown island? A creature feature? What was the motive behind this film? I still don’t quite understand.

Let’s talk about the editing too. The setup to this film is downright terrible. Not only did I not care about any of these characters in this section, but it was just sloppily edited. It was one choppy scene to the next. It felt like the editor said, “let’s just rush through this part so they can get to the island.”

Oh and the soundtrack. Man… did it annoy me to no end. They literally picked every song from a Vietnam War film they could find. The only thing I didn’t hear was a Rolling Stones’ track. And don’t get me wrong, I love all these tracks, but they’ve been played to death in film. Find something new.

Once they actually get to the island though things do get better. There were some pretty awesome creature designs. Visually this film is outstanding. Seriously, there were some pretty and impressive visual effects. There were also some slick stylistic choices that I dug.

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Apocalypse Now style poster

One thing I noticed was the use of reflections throughout. Some objects of reflection include the sword, visors, sunglasses, cameras, even pupils (that shot before the title sequence matching the ending shot of Kong’s pupil was awesome!) This all culminates in a shot of Kong looking at his reflection in the water, which suggests that he is not so different from us. I thought that was a nice visual moment.

I also noticed some visual, verbal and aural nods to other films such as Full Metal Jacket, Apocalypse Now, Cannibal Holocaust, Jurassic Park, Dr. Strangelove and the original King Kong (1933). This made me smile.

Overall, this was an enjoyable popcorn film even with its many flaws. It is a visual treat and I recommend seeing it in theaters if you plan on seeing it all. It was a fun time, even if I got annoyed often. The third act battle was the best part and made sitting through the difficult areas worth it, to some extent.

There is one last thing I want to mention. Turn back now if you haven’t seen the film. There are SPOILERS ahead. You’ve been warned…

That after credits scene! I was hype coming out of the theater, I’m not gonna lie. I loved the Godzilla films as a kid and seeing Ghidora and Mothra as cave paintings was sweet. I’m hoping they have an all out battle between all these creatures in the future. I just wish they would take more time and care into crafting the human characters and the story.

Written by William David Glenn IV

3.19.17

Source for Netflix rating change – http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2017/mar/17/netflix-changes-ratings-system-to-simple-thumbs-up/

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