(On Cable TV, January 2018) There may not be all that much more to Kong: Skull Island than another monster-on-an-island movie, but it’s a heck of a monster-on-an-island movie. Gorgeously presented, competently executed, it’s a maximalist take on a familiar kind of film. The seventies setting brings more to the film than expected (largely due to a good soundtrack), while the special-effect work is amazing in ways that today’s jaded audiences don’t get to experience all that often. I’m not particularly keen on discussing the film’s plot holes when the result is this good. Kong himself is properly presented as a sympathetic force of nature, dangerous but essential when properly motivated. The poor humans aren’t the stars of Kong: Skull Island, although Tom Hiddleston makes for a credible action lead, John C. Reilly, John Goodman and Samuel L. Jackson all do well in their usual persona, and this is the first time I’ve really noticed Brie Larson as anything more special than a standard-model brunette heroine. The film moves well through its expected set pieces and thankfully eschews the archetypical Kong story in favour of something more interesting. While it doesn’t avoid a bit of excessive gore (that giant-spider scene … ick), this is a film directed with some refreshing cleverness by Jordan Vogt-Roberts all the way to one of the most enjoyable post-credit scenes in recent memory. That the film feels a lot like 2014’s Godzilla is really no accident, as they are both part of a buildup to a linked universe that (so far) looks far more successful and intriguing than the Universal Monsters continuity. All in all, Kong: Skull Island is a bit of a surprise—the premise looks dull and the idea of another monster movie is too familiar by now, but the results on-screen are undeniably enjoyable.
(On Cable TV, January 2017) What a disappointing follow-up to a quirky breakout movie. Monsters wasn’t perfect, but it had great scenery, an interesting take on the alien invasion theme and a low-budget charm. This sequel, which abandons the dynamics of a couple’s trek in favour of a desert-bound military thriller, is just … dull. It doesn’t look too bad, but it’s simply boring in ways that its premise suggests it shouldn’t. Domesticating the alien means that deadly threats are reduced to a beautiful light show, and the story doesn’t seem to go anywhere. The links to the original film story are tenuous (same creatures, different part of the world but the background information doesn’t seem to hang together) but whatever story is put forward in this follow-up doesn’t go beyond the usual Iraq war movie clichés. The aliens are barely part of the plot. It doesn’t amount to much either, barely pushing the first film’s mythology forward and even regressing in some ways on the “alien as infection” angle. The only actor of note here is Sofia Boutella, showing up briefly to save the film from an excess of testosterone and being distinguishable from a cast that largely looks the same. While it’s possible that Dark Continent may be after the same themes of futility and hopelessness engendered by the American experience in post-liberation Iraq, there’s very little depth and even less interest in the result. File this one under “DTV sequels to avoid”.