Summer movies come early; ‘Kong’ disappoints
The film releases in the first half of March have been very diverse. We have the comedy “Table 19,” the superhero flick “Logan” and the monster movie “Kong: Skull Island.” While the cinematic climate of mid-January to mid-April is usually laden with mediocre or subpar entries following the impressive dramas for Oscar contention around December, there are usually one or two movies that stand out and rise above the others. I am referring to last year’s “Deadpool” and “Zootopia” or 2015’s “Kingsman: The Secret Service” and “Ex Machina.”
This winter it’s “Logan,” the final installment of Hugh Jackman playing the title character (aka Wolverine). After 17 years of wearing claws on his knuckles, he has retired his portrayal of the famous comic book anti-hero. Referred to as the character’s swan song in many reviews, the film packs an emotional punch not only for the dedicated comic book fans but also the casual viewers like myself, who have watched all of the previous X-Men film installments. However, to my surprise, the film relied very little on the audience’s knowledge about the preceding eight movies. Its standalone nature gave the story more gravitas.
That can be attributed to director James Mangold’s insistence on refraining from incorporating any connections to past films. Rather than over-the-top special effects, Mangold focused on a Western-themed road-trip movie. It garnered amazing set pieces, adrenaline-pumping action that satisfied its R-rating in the first five minutes, poignant moments for all moviegoers and fantastic performances from the supporting cast. Dafne Keen horrified the audience as an intense 10-year-old girl, Patrick Stewart made us smile in between the plot’s turmoil, Boyd Holbrook built unease and tension as the main villain and Stephen Merchant gave a surprisingly tender, dramatic performance that veered from his usually comedic styling alongside Ricky Gervais. But none can compare to the genuinely Oscar-worthy performance by Hugh Jackman that kept the tone of the film balanced and engaging. While I don’t believe “Logan” is Marvel’s ‘The Dark Knight,’” as many critics have insisted, I do hope that you don’t let the hype distract you as you watch this nostalgic and respectful send-off for the character. As the best film to come out so far in 2017; I give the film an A-.
Coincidentally, Stephen Merchant also stars in the comedy “Table 19.” The film centers around an ex-maid of honor marooned with strangers at her best friend’s wedding after breaking up with the bride’s brother. While rom-coms usually are not films I venture out to go see, I will say that I had an enjoyable time amidst the clichés and overdone tropes. Once again Merchant is very good, this time on the comedic side of his acting spectrum, stealing every scene. Other than his performance, there were very few draws or memorable scenes in the movie. It doesn’t break new ground, but it does its job well. While I give “Table 19” a C- as a movie, it’s still a fun time that did not annoy me as much as “Kong: Skull Island.”
I’ve surprisingly heard mixed to somewhat positive reviews for “Kong: Skull Island,” and it baffles me. These hollow characters that somehow maintain perfect hair and makeup on a three day wilderness expedition anchored the film in every negative way the characters could. The dialogue between each of them was clunky, their uninspired performances were obviously filmed in front of a green screen, and their storylines were boring and predictable. The only two compelling characters were Samuel L. Jackson’s and John C. Reilly’s, but that can be attributed to both actors’ famed natural charisma on and off screen.
King Kong himself was done very well. Preparatory fight scenes against Godzilla in 2019 showed promise with what the studio and visual effects department could do with the monster. The cinematography was incredible, but just like in “Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice,” a film cannot rely on visual effects alone. I concede that the movie is a visual marvel, but there is little else to enjoy about it among its jarring editing and terrible script. Its most memorable line uttered by John C. Reilly was “those aren’t birds, they’re f**king ants.” It was meant to be a joke that broke the tension with bird sounds heard in the distance, but the line was so laughably awful that I smirked out of sheer ironic pleasure. This film was made for the people who disliked 2014’s “Godzilla” after being teased too much until its final battle. Before you decide to see this D/D+ film, keep in mind that Kong’s fight scenes take your breath away. But then again, so will the humans’ interactions with their appalling dialogue in this weak script.