Tag Archives: Samuel L. Jackson

Kong: Skull Island (2017), my thoughts

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Well…I liked that a lot more than I thought I might. *various spoilers follow from this point*

This past Saturday afternoon I finally got to see Kong: Skull Island, the second installment in the giant monsters universe established by Godzilla (2014). Set in 1973 at the end of the Vietnam War, Kong follows an expedition led by Bill Randa (John Goodman) to the titular Skull Island, a previously unknown land mass that was only recently discovered by satellites. Randa claims the group (which is being escorted by a section of soldiers led by Col. Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) is there to study the geology of the island, but in truth, they’re also there to flush something out. That something being Kong…King Kong.

Kong destroys most of the expedition after they drop a series of “seismic charges” (i.e. bombs) on the island, unwittingly awakening a number of nasty monsters dubbed “skull-crawlers” by a character we meet later on. The survivors are initially separated over a wide area, but they are soon joined into two groups: one led by Col. Packard, the other led by James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), a former captain in the SAS. The goal is to make it to the north side of the island where they can signal their ship for a rescue. Naturally things don’t do according to plan.

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A large section of the film is devoted to watching numerous characters get picked off one by one by the various oversized creatures that inhabit the island (one of the most terrifying incidents involving a giant spider with legs that resemble bamboo trees), as well as the skull-crawlers (which are rapidly growing in size). Conrad’s group encounters the Iwi, a tribe that have been living on the island since time immemorial. Among them is a surprise: Lt. Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), an American pilot shot down in 1944 by a Japanese pilot (who also crashed along with him). For the last 28 years he’s been living with the Iwi, and now he has a chance to leave with Conrad’s group (even though he’s pretty sure the skull-crawlers (the name he gave them because it sounded scary) will get them first). Marlow and Conrad’s group (which includes female photographer Mason Weaver) depart on a boat Marlow and his former Japanese enemy cobbled together from their wrecked planes before a skull-crawler nabbed the latter and head upriver towards their destination. But once they meet up with Col. Packard’s group, Conrad and company realize that something is seriously wrong.

Col. Packard is a very interesting character, and a great case study in how war can change a man for better or worse. Packard has been a soldier for a very long time now, and has earned multiple decorations, but with the end of the Vietnam War, he is struggling to find his place in the world (that’s why he happily accepted the order to escort the group to Skull Island, as it gave him something to do). Seeing Kong wipe out a large portion of the men he’s commanded for several years has given Packard an unbreakable fixation: to kill Kong by whatever means necessary, even if it means they all die in the process. I believe that, in Packard’s eyes, Kong is the living embodiment of the war in Vietnam that never got finished. Against the warnings of Conrad and Marlow (the latter attempting to explain that Kong is the only thing keeping the skull-crawlers at bay), Packard comes up with a plan to trap Kong in a lake filled with napalm while Conrad leads his group to the north. At the last minute, Conrad returns and convinces most of the soldiers to stand down, but not Packard, he simply can’t let go of what happened to his men. As a result, he is the latest victim of Kong’s rage.

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The flight to the northern coast is dominated by a massive fight between Kong and the largest of the skull-crawlers (which was awakened by the large napalm explosion). It’s a titanic battle, and very well executed (the CGI doesn’t look fake at all). Ultimately, Kong is successful, the skull-crawler is killed and Conrad and the others rendezvous with their ship, while Kong watches from a distance.

 

There’s so much more to the story that I’m leaving out, but I don’t want to completely spoil everything. There is a loose connection to Godzilla where M.U.T.O’s are mentioned (the same term is used in the earlier film) and a post-credit scene (that I completely missed) sees two characters informed of the existence of other giant monsters besides King Kong (which is apparently the lead in to Kong and Godzilla squaring off in three years time, still not sure how I feel about that by the way).

My one complaint with the film is that there were too many characters to keep track of. I understand why this is (as most of these side characters end up dead), but as a result most of the people we meet aren’t as fleshed out as they might have been with a slightly smaller ensemble.

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Favorite moments include:

Any and all scenes including Tom Hiddleston, especially a scene in the second half of the film where, in the midst of poison gas, he dons a gas mask, grabs a samurai sword (long story about how it got to the island) and goes completely medieval on a bunch of monsters!

The fight between Kong and the giant octopus

Kong’s backstory, as explained by Marlow, which really explains a lot about what Kong is doing on the island (it doesn’t explain EVERYTHING, but it does help)

Kong: Skull Island really is a good movie, especially if you’re looking for a fun two hours filled with action (and the slightest HINT of romance), so I recommend it to anyone who hasn’t seen it yet.

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My Thoughts on: Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

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My Thoughts on: The Legend of Tarzan (2016) w/spoilers

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*warning: there are full and almost complete spoilers for the film below, turn back now if you don’t want the film to be spoiled for you!!!

Although I am familiar with the story of Tarzan, the only film version I had seen prior to Saturday was Disney’s 1999 animated version. The Legend of Tarzan was my first time seeing a live-action version of the Tarzan story and I have to say, it was completely worth it!

First, I have to say that this is not quite the traditional version of the story because, when the film opens, Tarzan and Jane have been living in London for almost ten years. Tarzan has claimed his “human” identity of John Clayton, Earl of Greystoke, and has worked very hard to forget that he was ever Tarzan. He puts on a good front, but in the opening scene where we first see Tarzan, it was clear to me that the man was miserable. He seemed bored with everything, and was totally in denial about who he really was, on the inside.

That’s the big theme of this movie: accepting who you really are, not what society expects you to be. In this case, Tarzan/John Clayton is attempting to live up to the wishes of his late father, who, in a letter to his then-infant son, repeatedly expressed the point that “London is your home, not this place.”

Tarzan’s wife Jane (Margot Robbie) however, is not in denial and when an invitation to visit the African Congo is extended to Tarzan, Jane insists on coming along, as she wants to go “home” to where she grew up.

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Even here in England though, in the vast expanse of Greystoke manner, Tarzan shows subtle signs that he has not quite forgotten the jungle. For one, he still enjoys eating raw eggs. And for another, he is still shown to be quite comfortable climbing trees, as he effortlessly pulls himself up to a branch where Jane is sitting. Reluctantly, he agrees that Jane can come along with him. Accompanying them is Dr. George Williams, played brilliantly by Samuel L. Jackson. His role is clearly that of comic relief, and it absolutely works.

However, the invitation to visit the Congo is a trap. The entire story takes place at a time when Leopold of Belgium is seeking to strengthen his hold on the Congo as a colony. But he’s running out of money to pay his troops so he dispatches Captain Rom (Christoph Waltz) to find the legendary diamonds of Ophar, which he does. But the diamonds are guarded by the tribe led by Chief Mbonga, and he has reason to see Tarzan dead. So the two make a deal: if Rom brings Tarzan, Mbonga will let him have as many diamonds as he needs. So Tarzan is lured to Africa, accompanied by Jane, and while visiting the local tribe that once hosted Jane and her father, both are captured by Rom and his men. But before they can reach the boat, Tarzan manages to break free while Jane remains a prisoner.

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From this point on, the story revolves around Tarzan shedding his civilized skin and slowly working back to his jungle roots. It’s a fascinating process to watch, and one of my favorite parts of the movie. There are several fights along the way: fighting a train car full of soldiers, and fighting his former ape “brother” who grew up alongside him years ago. While it’s true that Jane spends most of this time as a captive, she is hardly a “damsel-in-distress.” She does what she can to undermine Rom’s progress toward Mbonga’s territory, but she’s limited because her friends from the tribe are being held hostage and will be killed if she makes too much trouble.

Eventually, the two groups (Tarzan and George and Rom, Jane and his men) converge where Mbonga is waiting and things come to a head, which is where my one real gripe comes in. Through a series of flashbacks that tell the story of Tarzan’s childhood in the jungle, we learn that Mbonga’s son killed Tarzan’s ape mother Kala during a rite of passage where the men of the tribe had to hunt gorillas. In revenge, Tarzan chased the young man down and killed him, leaving Mbonga to swear vengeance if he ever got his hands on Tarzan. Considering that a good part of the film revolves around this plot of vengeance, the actual fight between Tarzan and Mbonga…is kind of short. It almost felt anti-climactic, because the big action climax comes a little later. I wish they would have spent a little more time on the tension between Tarzan and Mbonga, but what follows makes up for it fairly well.

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Jane is still a prisoner of Rom, but the latter has his diamonds now and the mercenary army they will pay for is getting ready to land at the port. If they come ashore, the Congo will stand no chance against them. But Tarzan has a plan: using his lion and ape friends, he causes a huge wildebeest stampede that storms the port town and collapses most of the buildings. It reminded me very much of a series of events in the original Jungle Book stories where Mowgli commanded the elephants to “let the jungle in” at a particular village. Seeing the town overrun by the wild animals of Africa reminded me of that moment.

Jane is finally saved, but there’s still the matter of Rom to settle. If there’s one thing you don’t do, it’s mess with Tarzan’s wife, so you’ve known for most of the film that there’s no way Rom is getting out of this alive. While fighting on a sinking boat, there comes a moment when Rom seemingly has Tarzan finished, with a strangling cord around his neck. But Tarzan begins to make a strange sound, and Rom asks him what he’s doing. Being raised around the animals of the jungle, Tarzan is a master of mimicking various animal calls, particularly mating calls. And in this case, he’s using the mating call of the crocodile to summon crocodiles to the boat. Large hungry crocodiles plus a defenseless Rom…you do the math on how it ends for the villain.

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One year later, it’s revealed that Tarzan and Jane have stayed in the jungle, apparently making their home with the same tribe that Jane grew up with. Tarzan is with the men, waiting for something. At last, a commotion comes from the big hut where all the women are gathered and a tribeswoman comes out with a little bundle in her hands: Tarzan and Jane’s child! At the beginning of the story, Tarzan let it slip that he and Jane recently lost a child, whether it was a miscarriage or a young child that died from illness is never specified. Now that they are back “home”, the birth of their child cements that this is where they truly belong.

I’m not sure if there’s a hook for a sequel or not, but I wouldn’t mind if a sequel was made. Overall, this was a very enjoyable film. A handful of moments could’ve been built up more than they were, but I still recommend this film if you like action and adventure.

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Also, the musical score by Rupert Gregson-Williams is very well done. This composer is not familiar to me, but I will be sure to keep an eye out for his name in the future. The cinematography is absolutely gorgeous, with a lot of shooting done on location in Africa. The contrast between the drabness of Greystoke manor and the vivid life found in the jungle is striking.

Final Thoughts: The Legend of Tarzan is a really good movie, Alexander Skarsgard does great justice to the role and Margot Robbie absolutely slays her role as Jane. Christoph Waltz is very believable as the villainous Captain Rom (although for some reason he kept reminding me of Aidan Gillen, who plays “Littlefinger” on Game of Thrones).

Have you seen The Legend of Tarzan? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments below.

*poster image is the property of Warner Bros. Pictures

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