Movie Review – “Wonder Woman” (2017)

 

 

At long last, a DC movie that doesn’t make you want to claw your eyes out. It has been a long time coming, especially since the company has been trying to years to make audiences take them seriously, and failing for the most part – While movies like “Man of Steel” and “Batman vs. Superman” have their share fans and defenders, the general consensus is that those are the bottom of the superhero barrel, at a time when this genre is at its peak.

 

Part of the reason DC has been like this is due to the success of Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight” trilogy, which were moody, atmospheric, and thought-provoking. Clearly, with how movies like “Suicide Squad” turned out, they wanted to build off what Nolan’s movies started. Another factor, whether DC wants to admit it or not, is Marvel studios and DC attempting to not make their movies in the same vein. But the results up to this point have been dull grey movies where you can hardly tell what’s going on, about a bunch of whiny power-hungry man-children who act more like villains than the actual antagonists, and then spend the rest of their time brooding or sulking, making for an unenjoyable or unpleasant experience.

 

 

 

But thank the gods, DC seems to have finally gotten over that dark phase with their newest entry in their cinematic universe, “Wonder Woman.” What a complete change of pace from their previous movies – filled with a diverse range of colorful characters, led by a strong yet flawed woman, while at the same time being a period piece that can easily switch between war scenes, comedy, and some slice-of-life quieter moments. I got everything I wanted out of “Wonder Woman” and it was a joy to sit through.

 

The film begins on the island of Themyscira, a magical island hidden away from the rest of the world, inhabited by the Amazons, an all female-race created by Zeus to protect humans from the god of war, Ares. Since Ares hasn’t risen in centuries, the Amazons have lived peacefully on Themyscira without aging, but still train and are prepared for when the time comes that they are needed. Their queen, Hippolyta (Connie Nielsen), decides she wants to raise a daughter, thus scuplts one from clay and is brought to life by a lightning bolt from Zeus, giving birth to Diana.

 

As Diana (Gal Gadot) grows older, she learns about Themyscira and how Ares corrupted the otherwise good hearts of men, as well as the one weapon that can stop Ares – the Godkiller. But when a airplane crashes through the magical barrier protecting Themyscira, Diana goes out to rescue the pilot, Steve Trevor (Chris Pine) and he tells the island about the terrible war going on throughout the world. Diana is convinced that Ares is to blame for this world war, and sets out to bring him down, believing that the war will end the moment Ares is killed.

 

 

 

Gal Gadot and her performance as Diana is the charm of “Wonder Woman.” Her wide-eyed innocence is cheerful and infectious, but never to the point where it was annoying. One of the better small moments is when she has her first taste of ice cream and is blown away by the taste, saying to the chef that he should be proud of the work he does. There is love and affection in every thing she says, and you really get the impression that she cares about every person out there. On her way to the battlefield, she nearly stops to help any person who is suffering, which is pretty much everyone, even if she cannot help all of them.

 

This is a woman who would selflessly put the needs of anyone and everyone ahead of her own, and always believes in the goodness and kindness in every living being, even if that gets her into a lot of trouble.

 

Gadot also has wonderful chemistry with Chris Pine, who acts as the straight man to her antics in London. One of the best scenes in the movie is the two of them sharing a boat ride to London, and they share more of their backstories – Diana explaining she was created by a lightning bolt from Zeus leads to some great reactions from Steve – as well as the difference between their worlds, and a discussion on “the pleasures of the flesh,” which given that Diana grew up on an island of only women leaves Steve in an awkward position.

 

 

 

The war sequences are beautifully shot, especially the trench warfare scene that showcases Diana’s full potential and her ‘never-give-up’ attitude – only armed with a shield, sword, and lasso, taking on a battalion of well-armed Germans on a desolate and barren landscape. The music amplifies the intensity of these scenes and makes every punch and bullet feel far more powerful.

 

There is not a single scene that feels wasted in “Wonder Woman,” with something of value coming at nearly every moment. Whether that is Gadot’s acting, the charming yet hard-hitting screenplay, the chemistry between Gadot and Pine, the quieter moments of reflection and fondness, the fascinating Greek mythology on display, or the well-executed action sequences, “Wonder Woman” has plenty to offer audiences of all types.

 

Even if you are not a fan of super hero movies, this one is a departure from the Marvel and DC movies in the past, and is more of an uplifting war movie that personifies innocence, mythology, change, and love, without ever feeling ham-fisted or forced. This one is a blast from start to finish and might even be worth checking out multiple times. You will not be disappointed by “Wonder Woman.”

 

Final Grade: A-

 

Movie Review – “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” (2017)

I’ll be the first to admit that I was unnecessarily hard on “Guardians of the Galaxy,” painting the movie in broad strokes and calling it a good “popcorn flick.” And while the film does mostly aim for that demographic, after taking some to time to realize just how outstanding the good parts are, I realize now just how effective that film was. The characters are all given plenty of time to shine, the plot is refreshing filled with far more humanity than I gave it credit for, the comedy is surprisingly timeless, and the soundtrack is now classic.

While “Guardians of the Galaxy” is still certainly a popcorn flick, it is arguably the best one in the last several decades and right up there as one of the best Marvel movies to date.

 

This brings us to “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” which I feel is best described as more of the same. More one-liners and quotable scenes, more comedy, more of our “heroes” simply sitting down and trying to have a normal conversation, and more great uses of music. And while this does make for a great experience, it does leave me feeling like we’ve been down this road before, which somewhat taints the movie.

 

Now that our group of ragtag and misfit Guardians have made a name for themselves across the galaxy, Starlord (Chris Pratt), Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Drax (Dave Bautista), Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and baby Groot (Vin Disel) have been taking on stranger and more dangerous missions, which eventually leads them to encounter a powerful being known as Ego (Kurt Russell), who claims to be Starlord’s father. Ego takes Peter, Gamora, and Drax to his planet, where he intends to prove he is ready to be a dad, while Rocket and Groot repair their damaged ship and are hunted by the Ravagers, led by Yondu (Michael Rooker).

 

 

 

Like with the first movie, what I found to be memorable was the comedy and the character interactions. How these vastly different personalities and quirks bounce off one another while Starlord tries to make everyone try to act like humans. Peter has clearly been teaching Rocket to understand sarcasm better through winking (though he always ends up winking with the wrong eye), as well as getting Drax to lay off his barbarian nature and learn when others are joking.

 

Some of the better lines come from Drax, who takes great joy in watching others suffer, whether through physical beatings or emotional assaults, while things like dancing or physical beauty repulse him. Yondu also gets some great moments, especially when we finally get to see him get to put his arrow abilities to full use. They make Yondu a much more sympathetic character in this movie instead of the vulture-ous character we got in the first film, to show that he’s always had good intentions but has been normally given by greed or power, showing him for the misfit he truly is.

 

But my problem with “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is similar to my feeling on “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and how that film up’ed the ante of “The Avengers” by taking everything that movie did but making it feel bigger.

 

 

 

In nearly every regard, “Age of Ultron” did everything “The Avengers” did, but better; yet we look back on the first film with awe and admiration, while the second one is just fine. The reason for this is because “The Avengers” was an experience, watching all these characters from five different movies come together in such a spectacular fashion for something unique and exciting. “Age of Ultron” was a sequel to an experience, and it does everything a good sequel should do – bigger stakes, bigger fights, more of what made the first one so good.

 

But everything it offers is something we’ve already seen, so that same magic that the first film had isn’t there. We’re not watching this one with fresh eyes. For all of its good points, “Age of Ultron” was just trying to be “The Avengers” again. Did it work? At times, yes, but the filmmakers we trying to recapture lightning after it had left its jar.

 

 

 

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” falls into the same category as “Age of Ultron” – trying to be far too much like its predecessor that it hardly creates its own identity. The first film was magical in its character interactions and writing, so I cannot blame James Gunn and crew for wanting to recapture that whimsy. But the tone, style, and sense of humor were so identical the previous movie that it feels like a watered-down version of the first movie.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I still had a blast watching this movie. There are lots of memorable moments, some of them quieter heart-to-heart scenes between Gamora and her sister Nebula. I never once thought I was wasting my time or that this was a bad movie. I’m just a bit disappointed this one wasn’t as much of an experience as “Guardians of the Galaxy.”

 

Final Grade: B

 

Movie Review – “Alien: Covenant” (2017)

 

 

For a time, it felt like Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus” was one of the more divisive films of 2012. While the idea of humans exploring the cosmos to find our creators, in whatever form or shape they might come in, is certainly an ambitious move, I felt that Scott didn’t fully explore this concept to its fullest potential and focused more on the origin of the Xenomorphs, which I’m still unsure if people wanted to see that (I know I didn’t want to). Part of the reason “Prometheus” did little for me was due to the incompetence of its cast of “geniuses” and how quickly it resorts to horror movie clichés, thus making everyone look like idiots.
If I had to describe “Prometheus” in one word it would be “stupid.”
Of course “Prometheus” left a lot of questions unanswered and just made us far more confused as to how the events of that film tied into the creation of our favorite murderous aliens, which leads us to its sequel, “Alien: Covenant.” I’m not sure if Ridley Scott intended for this origin story to be told through two movies or if he made this film to explain away all the problems people had with “Prometheus.” But in any case, “Covenant” is more competently handled than its predecessor and actually gives audiences what they came here for – alien action and gore.
Set ten years after the events of “Prometheus,” the colonization vessel Covenant is on its way to Origae-6, with more than two thousand colonists and a thousand embryos onboard, with the intention of forming a new society on a different planet. But after a random solar event, the main crew of the Covenant is forcibly woken up. They eventually discover a rogue transmission from an alien planet and learn that this world is much closer than Origae-6 and the crew decides to take a look. When they get there, they soon discover wheat but no sign of any other life forms, except for the transmission signal emanating from a nearby spaceship.

 

 
Coming out of “Covenant,” my first thought was: It still has its problems, but at least it was better than “Prometheus.”
This movie shares some of the problems of the previous one, in particular the characters still acting like morons who probably couldn’t tie their shoes if you put them under the smallest amount of pressure. For example, their acting-captain Christopher Oram (Billy Crudup) ignores the logical reasons presented to him against going to this new world from his second-in-command Daniels (Katherine Waterston), like how this could be trap. You would think the first danger flag would pop up when the alien starts to sing “Country Road,” but our brave captain pushes to stupidity and beyond.

 

Part of the reason this is big deal for me is because my favorite film in this franchise is the first film, “Alien.” It is one of the smartest horror movies of all time, where the actions of every single make logical sense and you can sympathize with every single one of them, including the alien itself. That movie prided itself on showing just how versatile and cunning humans can be in the face of imminent danger, never sacrificing one bit of intelligence for the sake of cheap horror.

 

 

 

Yet here we are, watching a couple make out in the shower while a monster is on the loose, or seeing our captain just stare at a deadly alien pod like nothing bad has ever happened to him. These moments don’t happen nearly as often as they did in “Prometheus,” but still enough that the lazy writing pokes through every once in a while.

That being said, the best part of “Covenant” was Michael Fassbender, playing two androids, the supportive yet rough Walter, and the megalomaniacal David, returning from the previous movie. It is fascinating how different these two are, yet still so much alike. They’re both devoted, but to vastly diverse things – Walter is programmed to be loyal and to follow his duties, while David is programmed to be man’s greatest achievement, something better than we could be; perfect. You can see the logical jump the android creators took, going from the life form that sees us as inferior creatures to the slave-like creatures meant to preform the tasks we cannot.

 

 

 

Fassbender steals the show as David, mostly because we just want to see how far his hatred of other beings goes. He seems to programmed to respect all life forms, showing everyone kindness and answering everyone’s questions, but his new personality and ego trump those values in the end to show what he wants to be – a creator. To give the universe something new and to make his mark.

 

And hey, we actually get to see some aliens doing what they do best. That’s more than I can say about “Prometheus.”

 

Overall, “Alien: Covenant” certainly isn’t a bad experience and an improvement from many of the previous Alien movies, with some great acting from Fassbender, Waterston, and Crudup. But it still gives in to many horror movie clichés and tropes and ends up dumbing down most of its cast for the sake of moving the story forward, which is disappointing to see from the creator of “Alien.”

 

Final Grade: B-

 

Movie Review – “Power Rangers” (2017)

 

 

If you asked my parents what I cared about more than anything else as a child, they’d tell you I was obsessed with three things – Godzilla, Star Trek and Power Rangers. Every day after school, I would be sure to get back in time to watch an episode of Power Rangers, even if I had already seen the episode twenty times. I remember dressing up as the original blue ranger for Halloween one year, and then wearing that same outfit the next year with the addition of Worf’s sash from “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

And while my passion for Power Rangers has died down much over the years than my love of Godzilla and Star Trek, I still keep up with Power Rangers even after being on the air for over 20 years. Every once in a while, I look back and the Rangers and realize just how corny and over-the-top it was, with bare-bones morals, dialogue with more puns than any normal human being could stand, and of course martial arts performed by superheroes in brightly-colored spandex who would be showered in sparks when they were hit.

And I loved it. I still love it today.

I find the charm of Power Rangers to be a simplistic one, cool martial arts accompanied by a catchy rock anthem and memorable giant robot fights. Let’s face it, nobody remembers the plots or messages of a Power Rangers episode, just the action sequences. Personally, I always enjoyed the giant monster sequences more than the solo-Ranger fight scenes but that might be due to how much it feels like a Godzilla movie. At its best, Power Rangers felt like a combination of a Jackie Chan or Bruce Lee martial arts film and a daikaiju movie were made into a television show.

So when the new “Power Rangers” movie was announced, I was skeptical but also excited at the prospect of the Rangers being given a massive budget. The biggest flaw of the original show was it always had a cheap budget so everything always looked fake and many shots were recycled, not to mention using almost all fight sequences for the show from a long-running Japanese program called “Super Sentai” (for example “Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers” used most of its fight scenes from “Zyuranger”). As the trailers were released, my excitement for the film slowly died down and I realized the film was not going to be good. And I was right.

 

 

Set in the town of Angel Grove, five teenage misfits uncover five glowing coins in an abandoned gold mine. The next morning, they all discover that the coins have given them incredible strength and head back to the mine to find answers. What they find is a space ship with two alien life forms, the robotic Alpha-5 (voiced by Bill Hader) and the giant-floating head of Zordon (Brian Cranston), who tells the five they are now the Power Rangers and must defend the planet from the evil Rita Repulsa (Elizabeth Banks).

The one thing “Power Rangers” wishes to stress more than anything else is the “five teenagers with attitude” concept. Each of these five new characters has their own set of problems, quirks, and reasons to be angry at the world or rebel against the status quo. Jason (Dacre Montgomery) was a star athlete that didn’t want to be forgotten and took things too far, Zack (Ludi Lin) is a crazed kid looking for fun but wants to just get away from his sick mother, while Trini (Becky G) is confused about what she wants out of life and refuses to have any labels put on her, including her own sexuality.

But the character that gets to shine brighter than any other is Billy (RJ Cyler), who is still the token-nerd, but ends up getting all the best lines and seems to be the only one who enjoys being a Power Ranger. This time around, they made Billy autistic, as humor goes right over his head and he takes everything literally, which leads to a lot of great jokes between him, Jason, and Zack.

Looking back at the original Power Rangers, this is a nice change, since the 1990s Rangers had no real character. They were idealized goody-goods who were perfect in everything they did, whether that’s fighting monsters, school or their many extra-curricular activities. Now each of the Rangers actually feels like a human being with flaws and motivations.

 

 

However, that’s the only good thing “Power Rangers” has going for it. Out of the two-hour runtime, they spend about an hour-and-a-half developing each of the Rangers and their angst, while another twenty minutes is spent explaining a backstory most the audience already knew. There is maybe 15 minutes of action to be found here, and the majority of the hand-to-hand fight scenes are all done through fake-looking CGI.

I expected the Megazord fight to be entirely computer-generated, but to take the human element out of the martial art sequences and be replaced with more robotic-looking models than the actual robot is infuriating. There is only one scene where the Rangers fight a gang of rock monsters, and they don’t use either power weapons or use any classic music.

In fact, outside a brief five second shot, this movie never uses the Power Rangers theme song, or any memorable pieces of music from the show. Part of what made Power Rangers so memorable was the music and how effective it was matching the tension of a fight scene while also getting the audience pumped up. The music gave the show charm that it couldn’t get anywhere else. I cannot remember any of the music from this movie, outside the forced pop songs that were groan-inducing.

 

 

Imagine watching a Star Wars movie without any score by John Williams or the sound effects, and you get an idea of how off-putting “Power Rangers” can be.

The other problem with this film is that it takes itself far too seriously. Outside of some jokes that Billy gets, the other characters are always so serious about being super heroes that it takes the joy out of everything. For crying out loud, these five are standing in a space ship, talking to a giant-floating head telling them they’ve been signed up to be soldiers in an intergalactic war while wearing brightly colored Iron Man suits with incredible powers and get to drive around in robotic dinosaurs. At least crack a smile every once in a while and have some fun with the ridiculousness. The best we get is that Kimberley crashes a monster into the car of some girls that were picking on her, or Jason making a Transformers reference, but that’s about it.

From a fan’s perspective, “Power Rangers” is a disappointment. While there is the occasional reference to something in the series, like the Zeo crystal or the Green Ranger, the film doesn’t seem to get what made the Power Rangers so memorable and why they are still making new series over twenty years later. It’s not because of new Super Sentai footage, but because of the genuine sense of fun action that it brings. The show embraces the corny style and just rolls with how absurd things can get. But this movie only seems to be interested in teenage drama and takes every bit of dialogue or action as if it were the end of the world. There’s no sense of joy or amusement to be found here.

I would say “Power Rangers” is like a Wikipedia article – It is knowledgeable of the past, but it sucks all the entertainment of it. The film might understand Power Rangers, but it doesn’t respect Power Rangers.

Final Grade: D+

 

Movie Review – “Logan” (2017)

 

 

I’ve never been the biggest X-Men fan out there, but I certainly get their appeal – a group of unique individuals who want to make a better world that is free of prejudice and fear of being different. But part of the reason I do not particularly care for the X-Men is because of their mixed movies, ranging from the laughably bad “X-3: X-Men United” and “X-Men Origins: Wolverine” to the decent “The Wolverine” and “Days of Future Past.” The only film in the franchise I thought was any good was “First Class” and that was entirely due to the acting and on-screen chemistry of James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender.

Part of the problem with this series of movies is too much of a focus on Hugh Jackman’s Wolverine, due to fan popularity, and leaving other characters with little to no development. As great as Jackman is at playing this vicious character that is often more beast than man, the films could never go all-out on his brutality without being R-rated. But thanks to the success of “Deadpool,” Fox realized they could make R-rated superhero movies that don’t hold anything back and still make more than enough money at the box office.

Which leads us to “Logan,” the conclusion to Hugh Jackman’s run as Wolverine and a much darker and grim outlook on the future of mutants. The film is basically a modern-day western, having more in common with “No Country for Old Men” and “Hell or High Water” than any previous X-Men movie, as we are given a tale of redemption, loss, and belonging in a world that has long since passed. In the end, the film offers a somber, touching final note to a legacy that has been building up for 17 years and nearly ten movies.

Set in the year 2029, mutants are dying out. No new mutants have been born in decades, and the surviving ones have been systematically hunted down. The only surviving members of the X-Men are Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), who is suffering from several mental diseases that make him lose control of his powers, and Logan (Jackman), whose healing factor is slowing down and is being poisoned by the metal in his body. Charles is locked up in an abandoned warehouse just behind the Mexican border, while Logan works as a limo driver, paying to keep Charles safe.

One day though, Logan is contacted by a nurse and told to take a little girl, Laura (Dafne Keen) to North Dakota where she’ll be safe. He begrudgingly takes on the task and slowly learns more about Laura’s abilities and her similarities to him, all while they are hunted down by a military faction called the Reavers.

 

 

Despite the focus on Wolverine thoughout this movie, I felt the best part was Patrick Stewart’s performance as a dying Professor X. Stewart’s role is unlike anything I’ve seen him play before, one filled with confusion, sadness, and pain. This is a man who wanted nothing more than to show the world that change isn’t to be feared, and instead watched everyone he cared about die and his dream fade to ashes. At one point he questions whether mutants are actually god’s mistake and that everyone was right to fear them.

Stewart plays the role as a decaying man, much like the world around him. He can hardly function without babbling incoherently and has to constantly be on strong medicine so his mental abilities don’t overpower him. As the film progresses, we see the madness disappear and be replaced by hope when Charles bonds with Laura and a farming family they meet up with, as we see his humanity and immense kindness once again.

 

 

Of course, the brutality of “Logan” is over-the-top but we should expect this from an R-rated superhero film. “Deadpool” has taught us that nothing will be spared in these movies, and we get to see every bloody limb ripped clean.

But “Logan” does take moments to calm down and make you realize how lonely Wolverine and Charles are in this world now, and that everything they ever worked for means nothing more to these people than a fantasized comic book. So with all the dismemberment, sorrowful tone and finality to everything, this certainly isn’t a superhero tale for everyone.

Overall, “Logan” was a far different X-Men movie than one would expect but gives the audience exactly what it wanted. The acting is pitch-perfect from everyone, including the young Dafne Keen who ends up saying so much with few words. As a conclusion to a story we’ve been invested in for nearly two decades, we cannot ask for anything better than “Logan.”

Final Grade: B+

 

Movie Review – “Get Out” (2017)

 

Get Out” is one of the best theater experiences I’ve had in quite some time and is a film everyone should check out. It is the perfect modern thriller that keeps you on your toes from start to finish while keeping up the uncomfortable tension and never misses an opportunity to be funny. The film offers a social and cultural experience that is terrifying, respectful and fun, without ever going over the top on the satire.

This is one movie I don’t want to spoil or ruin for those who haven’t seen it, so if you see only one movie in the first quarter of 2017, do yourself a favor and experience “Get Out” with a large audience, and watch the crowd shift widely between screams, horrifyed silence and laughter.

Final Grade: A-

 

Movie Review – “Kong: Skull Island” (2017)

 

 

Do you ever get the feeling that a movie is tailor-made for you? And isn’t that one of the best feelings in the world?

“Kong: Skull Island” feels like Legendary Pictures scanned my brain and took everything I love about movies, and compiled it with the biggest budget they could get and the largest number of big-name actors they could find.

I would describe “Kong: Skull Island” as if “Apocalypse Now” met up with giant monsters. In other words, my favorite movie of all time meets my favorite genre of all time. And they make it even better with subtle references to the 2014 “Godzilla” film, and a catchy teaser at the end of the credits that you should stay for. Let’s just say that I had a perpetual smile on my face throughout this film.

At the end of the Vietnam War, scientists Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) have recovered satellite footage of an uncharted island in the Indian Ocean, believing that it could hold some mysterious powers. They contact a U.S. senator who begrudgingly signs off on their mission and gives them a military escort to the island, led by Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson). Bill and Houston also hire former British SAS Captain Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) as a tracker, and photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) begs to be apart of the mission.

Once they’re on the island, the military begins dropping bombs and scientific equipment to study the landscape. But as soon as the fires start, helicopters are taken out of the air by flying trees and a very angry giant ape.

 

 

In case you missed it, I recently did a book-length retrospective on the history of King Kong, which you can find at Toho Kingdom. And during the research for that piece, one thought kept going through my head – All these King Kong movies have the same story. With only miniute differences, the plots of the 1933 Kong, the 1976 remake and the 2005 Peter Jackson version are virtually the same – Carl Denham wants to make the greatest movie of all time, he goes to Skull Island to film it, they all find King Kong who falls in love with Ann Dawson, and they take Kong back to New York where he runs amok. Even most of the Kong scenes in “King Kong vs. Godzilla” tell the same story.

This is why “Kong: Skull Island” is the most important Kong film since the 1933 version. It strays as much as possible from the format we’ve seen in many other Kong movies, while still being loyal to the character. There is no filmmaker character, no tale of beauty and beast, no attempt to capture Kong and New York City is never mentioned.

Instead, we get a stylized look at Kong through the eyes of the 1970s and the Vietnam War. Admittedly, the Vietnam War is captured in the same way “Apocalypse Now” did it, but that is far from a bad thing. Some of the more memorable shots of the film involve the orange sunsets, as a horde of helicopters charge the massive Kong, or our titular character looking up at the vast night sky after a long day of defending his island.

Through visuals and storytelling, “Kong: Skull Island” is the most unique monster movie in recent memory.

 

 

But even with the an ongoing war between man and nature, the film finds the time to settle down and have many relaxing scenes. One of my favorites is when Kong is alone, nursing his wounds and drinking some water, when he finds a giant octopus in the water and decides to make that his next meal. It’s not only a reference to “King Kong vs. Godzilla,” but was a quieter moment that let us get to see a day-in-the-life of Kong; that he isn’t just some creature only looking for destruction and mayhem.

If there’s one complaint I have with “Kong: Skull Island” it would be the acting, which has some great performances from John Goodman, Samuel L. Jackson and John C. Reilly as a WWII fighter-pilot stranded on the island for 25 years, but everyone else seems wasted, especially Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson. These two don’t get many opportunities to show their acting abilities here, mostly resorting to action-hero clichés, being skeptical of the military’s agenda, and saying one-liners like, “We’re going to save Kong!”

That being said, Samuel L. Jackson steals the show with his always captivating intensity. People had said his character is akin to Captain Ahab, especially with his need to bring down Kong, but continuing the “Apocalypse Now” theme, I find that he’s more like Colonel Kurtz – A man who has seen the horrors of the world, both natural and man-made, and wants to show that he can conquer that horror. He believes that man is the dominant force on this planet and should remain that way, despite being faced with an intelligent giant ape. Jackson’s madness never feels like it goes over-the-top, yet he lets his rage explode all over the screen; a job no actor can do any better than Sam Jackson.

 

 

John Goodman and John C. Reilly turn in quieter performances, but also ones that show their emotional sides. Goodman plays a scientist who doesn’t want to tell everyone on the mission what is really going on, because he knows they wouldn’t believe him. His role is similar to his performance in “10 Cloverfield Lane,” as a man who wants to help but is untrustworthy and could back-stab you if it would help him.

Reilly, on the other hand, gives the film his usual comedic touch, while continually showing the strain that comes with being trapped on island for 25 years. When he talks about missing a hot dog and a cold beer while watching a Cubs game, he pauses for a moment, looking at his imaginary food with longing and sadness.

Of course, with all these actors, plots and quieter moments, it means there is a lot going on “Kong: Skull Island,” with at least ten major characters, while also trying to build Legendary Pictures’ Monster Universe. The film builds off of the events of “Godzilla,” by showing the creation of the government organization Monarch, which deals with supernatural threats like ones on Skull Island. This movie has as much going on as one of the Avengers movies, so be prepared to keep up with lots of plots and characters.

 

 

Overall, “Kong: Skull Island” was a blast. I found this to be more enjoyable than “Godzilla,” since Kong never took itself too seriously, always finding some way to poke fun at the ridiculous situations. It was visually exciting to behold and had some great fight sequences where humans stand a chance against a giant monster. Some of the acting is great, but others pretty generic. But if you’re looking for a fun action-packed monster movie that is surprisingly different from other monster-fests, this is a great change of pace.

Final Grade: A-