Kong: Skull Island
Jordan Vogt-Roberts (2017)
When Gareth Edwards' Godzilla was released in 2014 a lot of people, myself included, complained that the movie should have been renamed Mothra, because there was so little of Godzilla at all in the movie, especially compared to the other monsters. The same people usually also complained of how much time was spent with human characters who served no purpose and were, all things considered, fairly dumb creations.
Consider Kong to be the opposite of that. Vogt-Roberts is not coy about showing you his Kong. In fact, the giant beast appears in the first scenes of the movies. There's plenty of him throughout the movie, from the expected fight sequences, against men and monsters, to character scenes of Kong going about his life, having a snack or gazing at the night sky.
The movie also handles its human characters better than Edwards did. They are real actors in the events of the movie in that their actions matter to the larger story. They're also moer interesting than the cast of what's their faces from Godzilla. Well, mostly. We get a better cast of characters but they are woefully underdeveloped. Few of them are more than just a job title: soldier, jaded tracker guy, daredevil war reporter, other soldier, jokey soldier, crackpot scientist proved right, crazy soldier...Some are utterly unnecessary, like the obligatory Chinese inclusion, and almost all waste their actor's talent away with inadequate writing. Kong has one of the best casts of the year and yet, among the likes of Hiddleston, Larson and Jackson, it is John C. Riley who gets to chew the scenery and gets the MVP prize.
The poor dialogue somewhat made up for by brisk pacing and better plot-writing. The movie opens with a few scenes that effectively present the key characters and then it is an action packed thrill ride. The adrenaline highs are disseminated through the story to keep it going and your nerves on alert. Between the flying bullets Vogt-Roberts finds the time to include a number of jumps scares and body gore scenes - don't ask me how a 12-feet anything can jump scare you, you don't want to know.
If you are the type of person who likes to know what things mean, there are also a few comments on war and human nature for you to chew on.
Edwards' Rogue One convinced me he was one of the best visual stylists of gigantism we have today. There are shots in the movie, like the first reveal of the Death Star, that are unlike anything we have previously seen in Star Wars, and otherwise see very little of. Vogt-Roberts shows a similar ability in handling giant monsters and his visual flair is one of the most distinctive aspects of the film. He navigates perspective expertly in his fight scenes, alternating between radically different sizes of shots as Kong. In one scene Kong and a monster of same size fight and they look like normal sized animals as the camera pans away from them. The island's mountains become mounds. To that you can add spectacular shots, like the night sky or a shot of the sun that reminded me of Apocalypse Now. There is also a marvellous visual gag featuring a Richard Nixon bobble-head.
If this movie were better written it would be excellent.