'Kong: Skull Island': Engaging but not immersive enough ( Review by Troy Ribeiro, Rating: ***)
An effects-driven, adventure film, "Kong: Skull Island" is a survival tale on a monster-infested island. The film is a visual spectacle that is mildly entertaining.
The tale, layered with back-stories, is set in 1973, near the end of the Vietnam conflict. The saga takes off when Bill Randa (Goodman), a geologist, convinces the administration to support an expedition to a remote, mysterious island in the Pacific.
He requests for the exploration because the island was never properly mapped and the satellite images of the island confirm the presence of treacherous storms that cause the disappearance of many ships and aircraft in the area, thereby likening it to the Bermuda Triangle.
So, Randa along with his seismologist colleague Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) rope in a military platoon -- The Sky Devils Helicopter Squadron led by Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and Captain James Conrad, a "tracker".
The team is later joined by a photo-journalist Mason Weaver, who believes that the scientific expedition is to cover an illegal military operation and plans to expose it.
When the team reach the island, they realise that the place, inhabited by natives is also infested with monsters of various sorts -- the cruellest of them being the lizard-like creatures called the Skull Crawlers, thus giving the island its name, Skull Island.
How they survive the expedition with the help of Kong, the giant ape, forms the crux of the tale.
While the plot is intriguing and achieves an ideal balance between wild action, throwaway humour and genre tropes, the script by Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein and Derek Connolly, based on a story by John Gatins, is dull and kid-centric.
It fails to deliver an immersive experience. That is because the weaving of the story seems formulaic along with characters which are one dimensional and archetypal. Also, Kong, the last of his tribe, has a much-subdued personality.
The cast list, packed with A-listers, have their moments of on-screen glory, but they are short lived due to their underwritten character graphs. The only exception is that of John C. Reilly who plays Hank Marlow, an American pilot who has been stranded on Skull Island since World War II.
Technically, the film is brilliant. It is stylistically and magnificently mounted with fine production values, brilliant sound track and vivid cinematography. The dazzling computer generated images seamlessly mesh with the live action visuals.
Visually, the film universe with colours, fog and other environmental details is elaborate, well-designed and realistic. The creatures -- Bamboo Spiders, Octopus, Bison, Bees, Birds, Lizards and Kong -- are nothing new, but the visual effects, created by the team led by visual effects supervisors Stephen Rosenbaum and Jeff White, are marvellous. The combat scenes between Kong and the Skull Crawlers are truly gruesome, thrilling and exciting.
Overall, the calm ending is a downer. But for an exhilarating experience, it is advisable to watch the film through a child's forgiving eyes. For otherwise, "Kong: Skull Island" is just another man versus monster tale.
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