Kong: Skull Island

GONCUks

2017

Legendary Pictures/Tencent Pictures/Warner Bros.

Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts

Produced by Thomas Tull/Jon Jashni/Mary Parent/Alex Garcia

Screenplay by Dan Gilroy/Max Borenstein/Derek Connolly

Story by John Gatins

Based on “King Kong” by Merian C. Cooper and Edgar Wallace

I’ll say this for KONG: SKULL ISLAND: It wastes no time in getting down to business. The movie knows good and damn well we’ve come to see King Kong and we do see him in all his towering glory in the first few minutes. But that’s only because we won’t see him again for a while because we’ve got to get the introductions of the human characters and necessary plot exposition out of the way. But that’s okay because thanks to the talented cast and energetic direction, you won’t be bored, trust me.

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Although KONG: SKULL ISLAND is designated as being a sequel to the 2014 “Godzilla” it starts off with newsreel footage that reminded me more of the beginning of the infamous 1998 “Godzilla.” And that’s not the only thing it’ll remind you of as you watch it. Pay attention and you’ll see numerous shout-outs, call-backs and homages to the 1933, 1976 and 2005 versions of “King Kong” because this is a reboot of the character and you need to take it on that basis because there’s no explanation of how Kong survived falling off the Empire State Building or how he got back to Skull Island. To steal from Marvel Comics, consider this to be Ultimate King Kong, combining elements from all the previous versions of Kong to create something new and surprisingly fresh.

It’s 1973. Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) work for a secret government organization named Monarch that investigates monstrous creatures that used to roam the Earth and Randa believes they still exist but hide in remote places like Skull Island. He secures a military escort to take him and a scientific expedition to Skull Island to prove his theory. The military escort is a wildass helicopter squadron known as the Sky Devils commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson). Packard jumps at the chance for the mission to snap him out of his depression about America pulling out of the Vietnam War.

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Also along for the trip is former British Special Air Service Captain James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and award winning photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larsen) who has suspicions that the so-called scientific expedition is merely a cover for some sort of illegal and unethical secret military operation and she intends to uncover it. She uncovers something but it sure as hell wasn’t she thought it would be.

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Skull Island makes The Land That Time Forgot look like Coney Island. In the words of Seth McFarlane ; “everything that is not you wants to kill you.” Although not as totally and utterly frightening as Peter Jackson’s Skull Island (which gave me bad dreams for two or three nights after I saw his “King Kong”) there’s still enough beasties on this Skull Island to make our desperate band of heroes realize that they have absolutely no business being here. After a devastating battle with Kong that is apocalyptic in it’s savage carnage, our heroes are separated into two groups. They have to make their way to the north end of the island in two days where they hope to be picked up by pre-arranged transport. Of, course, the trick is to stay alive until then.

Did I say apocalyptic? I did. And I did not use that word by accident because much of KONG: SKULL ISLAND is going to remind you of “Apocalypse Now” believe it or not. John C. Reilly shows up as a character that owes much to Dennis Hopper’s crazed photographer from that movie and like Hopper, Reilly’s character lives with a tribe that worships Kong much in the same way that Hopper’s tribe worshipped Colonel Kurtz.

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The cast is first rate with John C. Reilly easily walking off with the movie’s MVP award. I wouldn’t dream of telling you the background of his character as it’s one of the most fun elements of the movie, which has all the excitement, feel, style and downright snap, crackle and pop of classic 1930’s and 1940s adventure movies. Samuel L. Jackson surprised me in this one and for an actor whose career I’ve been following as long as I’ve been following his, that’s not easy to do. Jackson manages to get in some social commentary about the military view of The Vietnam War without being heavy-handed or slowing down the plot the least little bit. John Goodman looks and sounds better here than he has in quite a while and appears to be having a ball. His first line in his very first scene got a big laugh from the audience I saw the movie with as he obviously means for it to have a double meaning as he looks directly at us and does everything except wink to make sure we get the joke.

Corey Hawkins I know from “Straight Outta Compton” and “24: Legacy” and he shows a definite gift for disappearing into different characters as there’s nothing of his other roles in this one. As for Tom Hiddleston…if the guy ever decides to go for being a straight-up action hero I would say that based on this movie, he can pull it off with no problem. If some smart studio ever gets their act together and makes a decent Modesty Blaise movie he’d be a perfect Willie Garvin.

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As for the star of the show himself, Kong is portrayed as what he should be, frighteningly majestic with a air of savage, yet sad nobility. I always like it when Kong is hinted at being more than just an animal and we get that here. Although this Kong doesn’t have a fight here that I would say tops the one in Peter Jackson’s where his Kong took on three T-Rexs, his final showdown with the gruesome Alpha Skullcrawler is deliriously satisfying in it’s sheer destructive spectacle.

I saw KONG: SKULL ISLAND on a day where it was cold and snowing like mad but for 118 minutes inside the theater I felt like it was summertime. Because that’s exactly what KONG: SKULL ISLAND is: a fun, goofy, pulp-inspired summer blockbuster that’s not afraid to be what it is; an adventure ride designed to do nothing but thrill and entertain and it does that the full 100%. Go see and enjoy.

KONG: SKULL ISLAND

PG-13

118

And P.S…DO NOT LEAVE WHILE THE END CREDITS ARE ROLLING. Just like the Marvel movies there’s a scene after the credits are done that promises more to come.

 

 

Thor: The Dark World

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2013

Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Studios

Directed by Alan Taylor

Produced by Kevin Feige

Screenplay by Christopher Yost, Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely

Story by Don Payne and Robert Rodat

Based on “Thor” created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber and Jack Kirby

“Malekith” and “Algrim/Kurse” created by Walt Simonson

Out of all the Marvel superheroes who have starred in movies I think it’s safe to say that Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has the largest and most diverse supporting cast. On Asgard there’s his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins) his mother Frigga (Rene Russo) The Warriors Three: Voluminous Volstagg (Ray Stevenson) Fandral The Dashing (Zachary Levi) and Hogun The Grim (Tadanobu Asano) the warrior maid Sif (Jaimie Alexander) The all-seeing guardian of The Bifrost and The Rainbow Bridge, Heimdall (Idris Elba) and Thor’s adoptive brother, the ever scheming, always manipulative trickster Loki (Tom Hiddleston)

Then on Earth we’ve got the love of Thor’s life and brilliant astrophysicist Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) her mentor Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard) and her intern Darcy Lewis (Kat Dennings) who in this adventure has an intern of her own, Ian (Jonathan Howard)

That’s a lot of characters for one movie and we haven’t even gotten to the bad guys yet: Malekith, king of The Dark Elves of Svartalfheim (Christopher Eccleston) and his right hand elf Algrim (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) who is transformed into Kurse, a terrifying creature of immense power capable of going toe-to-toe with Thor. But you know what? The screenplay is very well put together so that each and every one of these characters has something to do and each has their own part to advance the story. Even when a character is off screen for an extended period of time, there’s a logical explanation for where they are and what they’re doing and why we’re not seeing them. Each and every one of them also gets their own scene where they get a chance to shine. It’s a credit to the skill and generosity of the director, Alan Taylor that he manages that with slowing down the plot or making THOR: THE DARK WORLD feel cramped with unnecessary scenes.

After the events of “The Avengers” Thor, The Warriors Three and Sif have been busy restoring peace and order to The Nine Realms. Loki is being held in the dungeons below Odin’s throne room. Odin is well pleased that his once arrogant and knuckle-headed son has grown up and is seriously contemplating turning over the throne of Asgard to him.

Meanwhile, back on Earth, Jane Foster is in London pissed off because Thor hasn’t come back to Earth for her as he said he would. She’s been neglecting her research but Darcy Lewis pulls her back in by taking Jane to an abandoned warehouse where objects are appearing and disappearing into invisible pocket wormholes. Jane finds out where these objects go and that leads her to being infected by The Aether, a weapon of hideous power capable of destroying the universe. Malekith, his lieutenant Algrim and his army of Dark Elves are awakened by The Aether’s release and go in search of it, the intention being to…well, destroy the universe, what else?

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But by now, Heimdall has alerted Thor that there’s something wrong with Jane and so Thor brings her to Asgard to try and remove The Aether from her and that brings Malekith and his Dark Elves to attack Asgard itself and from then on its hammer time.

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For those of you who complained that there wasn’t enough of Asgard in “Thor” this movie is for you. Most of the action takes place there with occasional side trips to Earth to check up on how the mortals are doing as they gradually come to realize that the Nine Realms are aligning themselves in a rare Convergence that will link the realms. Keep your eyes on Kat Dennings during the Earth scenes as she provides most of the humor and does it with flair and a wicked delivery that strikes exactly the right tone for the situation her character is in.

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Chris Hemsworth gives us a Thor in this one who has learned how to care for others and put their needs ahead of his own and so he’s a much more heroic character here than he was in the first movie. Anthony Hopkins is his usual magnificent self as All-Father Odin while Rene Russo has a kickass fight scene that makes me wish Mrs. Odin had way more screen time.

But it’s Tom Hiddleston who walks off with the acting honors in this one, of course. The relationship between Odin, Thor and Loki is a complicated one and the three actors get the most mileage out of it, giving it a near Shakespearean level of emotion. Hiddleston and Hemsworth especially shine during their scenes together when Thor and Loki have to team up to take on Malekith and they not only make quite the formidable team in battle but they honestly confront their feelings about each other and their relationship to their father.

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THOR: THE DARK WORLD is visually quite magnificent and if you know your Kirby and your Simonson you’ll be able to see their influences on Asgardian architecture, clothing, armor and weaponry. I liked the story a lot as it expanded and enriched Thor’s universe and as I said earlier, didn’t leave any of these characters out of the adventure. Even Mjolnir gets a nice bit of characterization as we see just how seriously the enchanted hammer takes its command that it must always return to Thor’s hand. There’s a lot of really great fight scenes and some tragedy that is truly gut wrenching but there’s also just enough humor so that we know to take it all seriously but not too serious that we can’t relax and have fun. I’d love to sit down Zack Snyder and his “Man of Steel” screenwriters to watch THOR: THE DARK WORLD because this is the way to make a superhero movie. Stop reading this review and go see THOR: THE DARK WORLD right now.

PG-13

112 minutes

The Avengers

2012

Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Pictures

Directed by Joss Whedon

Produced by Kevin Feige

Screenplay by Zak Penn, Joss Whedon

Based on the Marvel comic book “The Avengers” created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

My love affair with THE AVENGERS goes back to 1968.  That’s when I bought Avengers Annual #2 which featured Captain America going back in time with teammates Hawkeye, Goliath, The Wasp and The Black Panther and through a cosmic mixup find themselves doing battle with Giant-Man, The Wasp, Iron Man, Thor and The Hulk.

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I was hooked and from that year to this one, The Avengers have always been my favorite superhero team.  Way back then my friends and I fantasized about seeing The Avengers in a live-action movie but until a few years ago I never really believed it could be done.  It has.  After five previous Marvel superhero movies it’s all led up to this.  And it’s been done with such fresh intelligence, unique wit, humor, creative consistency and downright fun that as far as I’m concerned THE AVENGERS is the best and greatest superhero movie ever made.  With this movie, the bar for superhero movies has been raised so incredibly high that I don’t think it’ll be topped anytime soon.  At least not until “Avengers 2”

The meat of the plot is actually quite simple.  After being thrown off the destroyed Rainbow Bridge by his brother Thor (Chris Hemsworth) during his attempt to conquer Asgard, The God of Mischief Loki (Tom Hiddleston) found himself in a hostile dimension.  He has made a deal with the leader of the warrior alien race known as the Chitauri.  If Loki retrieves the ancient artifact known as the Tesseract he’ll be given command of a Chitauri army to conquer The Earth.  Loki manages to remotely use the Tesseract to open a portal by which he returns to Earth.  Loki steals the Tessarct from the S.H.I.E.L.D. research facility where it is being studied by Dr. Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgard)  Loki escapes, destroying the facility in the process while turning Dr. Selvig, Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and half a dozen S.H.I.E.L.D. agents into his mind-controlled lackeys.

S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) decides to reactivate “The Avengers Initiative” to combat this threat.  He sends Natasha Romanoff aka The Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) to India to recruit Dr. Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo).  Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) heads to New York to bring in Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.).  When Loki is discovered to be in Germany, it seems like the perfect assignment for Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) to capture him but that plan goes wrong when Thor shows up, intending to capture his brother himself, recover the Tessaract and take them both back to Asgard. And he’s got an outrageously big hammer to back up his intentions.

Surprisingly, Loki allows himself to be taken captive and imprisoned on S.H.I.E.L.D.’s flying aircraft carrier, the Helicarrier.  Fury attempts to talk this wildly diverse group into becoming a team while Banner and Stark try to find the Tesseract and the true depths of Loki’s scheming soon become obvious to all.  Divided and disheartened, The Avengers must learn how to work together as a team to save the world from Loki and the overwhelming onslaught of the Chitauri hordes pouring out of a interdimensional  portal above Stark Tower.

That’s the bare bones of the plot but there’s so much meat on the bones that it flat-out astonishes me how much Joss Whedon and his co-writer Zak Penn gets in there without the movie feeling rushed or over-bloated.  There are some great character moments aboard the Helicarrier and the scene of The Avengers bickering among themselves had me chuckling even though it’s a deadly serious scene.  But as a long-time Avengers fan, I’ve seen this scene played out in I don’t know how many issues of the comic book and it feels absolutely right in here.

We get astounding superhero battles such as Iron Man vs. Thor and Hulk vs. Thor while the actual alien attack on New York is jaw-dropping in its scale and level of sheer spectacle.  It’s also where we get to see The Avengers finally working together as a team and it’s one of the best moments in superhero movie history.

The acting is dead on-point with Mark Ruffalo being the stand-out.  I expected everyone else to be good as they’ve played these characters before and they know the tone they’re supposed to take.  But Mark Ruffalo comes in cold and nails Bruce Banner with an ease that is truly impressive.  He’s just as good as Eric Bana and Edward Norton and I could even see the progression in both The Hulk and Bruce Banner through Ruffalo’s performance.  They both have come a long way and Ruffalo as Banner reflects this.  Nothing he does invalidates or violates the Bana or Norton performances and actually builds on them.  And both Banner and The Hulk get some of the best lines/scenes in the movie.  Including the one between The Hulk and Loki that had the audience I saw the movie with laughing, cheering, clapping and high-fiving for at least five minutes.

Jeremy Renner makes for a far better Clint Barton than I thought he would be.  This incarnation of Hawkeye as well as The Black Widow are darker versions of the traditional characters but I didn’t mind.  These characters I’ve always admired and loved since they don’t have superpowers.  Even Captain America has the Super-Solider Formula going for him but Hawkeye and The Black Widow are superbly trained humans who through virtue of guts, heart and their outstanding skills prove why they’re worthy to be Avengers.

So should you see THE AVENGERS?  What a silly question. of course you have. As for me I’ve seen THE AVENGERS and it’s the Avengers movie I’ve been waiting since 1968 to see and it was worth the wait.

143 minutes

PG-13