Review/Think-piece: ‘Kong: Skull Island’ Shows How To Do A Cinematic Universe That Isn’t The MCU

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I'm a film critic. I enjoy going to the cinema so much that my goal is to try for an average of once a week. If I like what I’ve seen a lot, there’s a chance I’ll go and see it again. I cover all genres, including but not limited to: action, romance, horror, animated, comedy. You may not agree with everything I write, but everything I do write is strictly my own opinion. If you don’t agree with something I’ve said, that’s fine, as a lot of people have their own ideas of films, and not every film is going to be enjoyable to every single person. But if any of my reviews sparks a conversation or a discussion, then I’ve done an alright job. And if you want to then see said film, then I’ve done an even better job. If you’re interested anymore than this, then here is where you can find a complete list of every film that I’ve reviewed to date: https://ollieauthorofxma.wordpress.com

One studio’s success does not automatically equate to every other studio finding the same success. When it became clear that Marvel was creating a multi-film universe, with different titular characters who could cross over into each other’s films and interact with one another in-universe, it felt as though every studio in Hollywood was desperately clamouring to play catch up. Naturally, this is something that is to be expected, especially when you consider how The Avengers, the culmination of Phase One of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), made $1.5 billion globally. The people of Hollywood would have seen the huge amount of money that that franchise had the ability to rake in, and they would have thought that they had settled on an astronomical money-earner. Because if one franchise could do it, what was stopping other popular, crowd-pleasing franchises from jumping on the bandwagon and reaping the rewards of success? Well, firstly, the films had to be good. You couldn’t just make a film and screen it and expect people to pay to see it if it wasn’t actually that good. As much as we may lament the fact that Rotten Tomatoes is the driving force behind whether a film lives or dies (even though it really isn’t), audiences do put a lot of stock into that sort of thing.

But how can you justify if a film is good or not? Firstly, it has to make lots of money to be considered a success. If critics and audiences enjoy it, then that’s another bonus. Strong word-of-mouth is something else that helps a film do well. If people saw it, enjoyed it, and told their friends, family, or colleagues about it, then they might be interested enough to go and watch the film too. However, if it isn’t good, or if it divides opinion to the point where it’s detrimental, then you’ve got a problem. The franchise that springs to mind is the DCEU. Another comic book-adapted franchise, the DCEU is the answer to the MCU, and yet while the MCU continues to leap from strength to strength, everyone who is associated with the DCEU has to continuously apologise on press tours about how bad the last film is, and make promises about how this one will be good. And yet, the only DCEU film that has been good was Wonder Woman. It actually delivered on its promises, and there was hope for the DCEU after all. Naturally, this is just an example of how a cinematic universe hasn’t done all that well, which is a shame, because even though I don’t hide the fact that I much prefer Marvel over DC, a part of me does want the DC films to be on a level that the Christopher Nolan Batman trilogy was.

Why was the DCEU bad? Bad writing, when it came down to it. Bad creative choices. Which leads me on to my next point. Because Marvel got ahead of the game, they were able to craft a cinematic universe whereby they didn’t have a crossover (or much crossover) until the sixth film. They had cameos, or small roles, but mostly, the films were standalone. Herein lies the biggest problem: studios want to announce that they are forging forth with their own cinematic universes, but in order to do that they are throwing away that wonderful virtue of patience through a mad act of defenestration, and thus botching what could essentially be a great standalone film. If audiences are hungry enough and happy enough to watch what you’re offering, then the chances are they’ll return for more if it’s good enough. You don’t need to throw in a multitude of characters into a film because that will overcrowd it. Even if those characters are going to become important down the line, just introduce them in their own film, and have a link between the films that won’t endanger the franchise as a whole. This link doesn’t even need to be a human at all. It can be the studio’s name (such as Marvel) or it can be a company that’s in-universe that crops up throughout the standalone films.

When it first became apparent that Legendary Entertainment were following in the footsteps of everyone else and making their MonsterVerse (which is different to Universal’s Dark Universe about famous and not-so-famous literary monsters), I did wonder if it was going to be any good, worthwhile, or just another desperate effort to conform to the norm and thus contribute to the zeitgeist that had started with Iron Man. Therefore I approached this with a cautious optimism, because while I’m a huge fan of towering, mythological monsters, there was always that inherent danger that this franchise could go disastrously wrong. Granted, not everyone enjoyed the 1998 Roland Emmerich directed Godzilla, and so the 2014 Godzilla could only go up from there in terms of popular opinion. Personally, I felt that Kong: Skull Island handled the titular monster far better than Godzilla did. While I have nothing against gargantuan dinosaurs/nuclear experiments-gone-wrong rampaging around and destroying things, I felt that the second movie in this crossover franchise was able to inject a lot more humanity into the proceedings, and in ways that you wouldn’t properly expect, regardless of if the tropes had been done before. The reason I’m being vague is because that’s a slight spoiler, and if I divulged anything else it may ruin some of the surprises that the movie has in store.

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As with Godzilla, the fear with Kong: Skull Island is that King Kong (Toby Kebbell, channeling his inner Andy Serkis in donning the mo-cap leotard) is not exactly a new character. Just to give you an idea of how many films have been made about Kong, I’m going to provide a list. You’ve got King Kong (1933), King Kong (1976), King Kong Lives (1986), and the most ‘recent’ version, directed by Peter Jackson in 2005, King Kong. If anything, the 2005 reboot of Kong is perhaps the most epic. It clocks in at an insane 187 minutes, and while that may seem a bit on the lengthy side for some audiences to sit through without the desperate need to have a toilet break or grab a snack, there is no denying that Jackson took his vision from working on The Lord of the Rings and implemented it into this particular version of King Kong. Due to how great that film turned out to be (it grossed $550.5 million worldwide), I had it in the back of my mind to draw comparisons when I went to see this second instalment of Legendary’s MonsterVerse. However, the worries that Kong: Skull Island wasn’t going to live up to expectations were shattered in the opening ten minutes. A completely new story was put in place, with new characters, a completely different Kong from the 2005 version (by that I mean bigger, much, much bigger), and the company Monarch at the forefront, which created the link to Godzilla.

The main characters were introduced with small, pivotal scenes that quickly established who they were, why they were important to the story, and what skills they were going to bring to the expedition when the assembled team set off to Skull Island. There were a few minor characters who you just knew weren’t going to make it, and were solely there to bulk up the numbers when the death toll started racking up. Speaking of the death toll, there were some surprising twists and turns that were delivered, and some characters who you thought were definitely going to make it out of this film ended up not surviving at all. This was to the film’s credit, insofar that it was not afraid to pull its punches, and kill characters who you may have formed an attachment with. Furthermore, screenwriters Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein and Derek Connolly imbued the characters with such charm and gave them their own personal motivations, that at no point were you wondering why someone was doing something. Everything fit together perfectly, even when curveballs were thrown in, and everyone who was there on the island had their place, even if it could be argued that it wasn’t always completely warranted.

The reason why I enjoyed this film so much – aside from the fact that it set itself apart from the Jackson epic and didn’t at any point try to be any longer than it needed to be – was because the humans weren’t treated as being black and white, and the script allowed the film to treat the audience with a level of intelligence that isn’t always apparent with other movies. The human characters were slightly morally grey – and here I’m referring to Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), but just because he was morally grey, doesn’t mean that you didn’t understand his motivations – and that created a more in-depth experience, because nothing in life is completely black and white. Alongside this was Kong who, although undoubtedly monstrous in size, was by no means an actual monster. There were similarities with Godzilla, in that the titular character wasn’t viewed solely as evil, and had to fight other monsters in order to keep the natural order balanced. I point this out if only to demonstrate that there seems to be a theme to the MonsterVerse, and it makes me quite excited for what’s to come. Legendary are making a  movie universe surrounding monsters, but that doesn’t mean that the titular monsters are the monsters, and instead you’re being asked to question: ‘just what is a monster?’

Kong: Skull Island worked, not just as a standalone film (you don’t have to even know about Godzilla, never mind watch it in order to understand this movie), but also as a direct sequel to the 2014 Godzilla. Its only link was the company Monarch, and other than a brilliant post-credits stinger, there was no real evidence that this was part of the same universe. By crafting a film that didn’t have countless unnecessary cameos in a vain and transparent effort to make it clear to the audience that this was part of a bigger universe, Kong: Skull Island was able to do what other movies have so far failed to do. Coupled with this feat was the undeniable fact that the creative team made a brilliant movie, and once the credits rolled, you were left wanting more. Personally, I now can’t wait for next year’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters, nor the 2020 follow-up (and culmination of the three prior films) Godzilla vs. Kong. The reason for this is because this film was damn good, and it was probably helped by the fact that they had at least four actors who are also a part of the MCU. The DCEU should really take note, because one film in a sea of duds is not what you want to be striving for. If anything, it needs to be the other way around. Legendary may not be on the same level as Marvel, but they are certainly ahead of the game in comparison to everyone else.

 

If you like what you see, head over to https://ollieauthorofxma.wordpress.com for more film reviews like this one.

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Oliver Ledingham-Smith

I'm a film critic. I enjoy going to the cinema so much that my goal is to try for an average of once a week. If I like what I’ve seen a lot, there’s a chance I’ll go and see it again. I cover all genres, including but not limited to: action, romance, horror, animated, comedy. You may not agree with everything I write, but everything I do write is strictly my own opinion. If you don’t agree with something I’ve said, that’s fine, as a lot of people have their own ideas of films, and not every film is going to be enjoyable to every single person. But if any of my reviews sparks a conversation or a discussion, then I’ve done an alright job. And if you want to then see said film, then I’ve done an even better job. If you’re interested anymore than this, then here is where you can find a complete list of every film that I’ve reviewed to date: https://ollieauthorofxma.wordpress.com

Review/Think-piece: ̵…

by Oliver Ledingham-Smith time to read: 7 min
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