Kong: Skull Island

Come on push yourself Charlie.

You’ve got yourself this shiny new unlimited cineworld card and now your free to go out and see every single movie that comes out. All the movies you heard good things about, hell, even the ones you haven’t heard good things about. There will never be an excuse for missing out! The world is your oyster for less than the price of two cinema tickets per month. And what a time to be going to the cinema! Get Out, Elle, Personal Shopper all things you’ve heard good things about.

That’s great Charles! As ever I appreciate your input in these matters but I think the thing that I really want to do on this rainy Sunday afternoon is go and sit in a darkened room and watch King Kong beat the living snot out of giant lizards and helicopters.

And so it is with Charles. That little piece of the intelligent part of my brain melts away into the ocean like the polar ice caps.

Kong-skull-island

Nobody likes a monster movie more than me.

Monsters, real and fictional – leviathan – has been a constant fascination throughout my life as far back as I can remember. I was slow to talk as a child, slow to read, slow to develop until I learned about Dinosaurs and all their complex latin names. Jurassic Park, as it was for so many people of my generation, was a nigh biblical experience for me at the age of 7. Jaws got me obsessed with sharks and marine biology and deep into third year of university, I read Moby-Dick and quickly became obsessed with that book.

In another life I wouldn’t be working in marketing, I’m a palaeontologist, digging into the earth for bones of extinct creatures that ruled this planet long ago. Another life, I’m a marine biologist or scientist trying to better understand sperm whales and their hour long dives into the deepest recesses of the ocean. That’s the thing with monsters, impressive to see but always mysterious, the real truth of their existence always out of our grasp. Their world is elusive and full of shadow. It must be this way for us, there are things in this world we have no understanding for, the whale must go unpainted until the last.

But what does King Kong represent I wonder? The golden age of Hollywood, in which movies begun depicting things you could only dream about. The giant monkey represents the magic of movies in it’s purest form. You will believe a giant ape can climb the Empire State Building for love. Probing deeper, Kong is this beast, this giant representation of our more primal uglier nature, yet at the same time not so devoid of humanity he cannot be touched by a woman’s grace and thusly destroyed completely.

With this being the age of the colon, Kong: Skull Island is the file name of the latest cinematic reboot of the great ape. He ain’t a king yet, because presumably we can make a whole other film in which he officially takes up the throne and the moniker. It’s Skull Island because that’s where he lives and is where most of the film takes place. There will be no fateful visit to New York City nor impromptu hikes of the Empire State Building, because we all know how that ended and this Kong is being groomed to fight Godzilla in 2020!

It is 1973 and the war in Vietnam has ended with American forces pulling out of South East Asia. As this happens, John Goodman convinces the US government to send out a military escort to search an uncharted island known as skull island. The military forces are led by Samuel L. Jackson who resents the way in which the war ended, or didn’t. Tom Hiddleston puts on his finest tight T-shirt as the group’s resident Bear Grylls survival expert. Brie Larson is the war photographer who is along for the ride to observe and document, not interact. But you know how giant apes are with free-spirited women.

Once they get to the island, they proceed to bomb the island as a means to provide geological study. Giving just enough visual nods to Apocalypse Now to keep the film smart, I guess. In so doing, the humans attract the attention of Kong, a giant ape who proceeds to swat their helicopters out of the sky like flies, stranding the group across the island. The party must regroup and find a way to survive and escape the island’s many horrors. Chief of which, is not Kong himself but a nasty bunch of subterranean dwelling lizards of whom the reigning monkey is locked within a forever war as Skull Island’s lone protector. Also these monsters are called ‘skullcrawlers’ by John C. Reilley’s character, a former US air pilot who has been stranded on the island since the end of World War 2. Who provides some much needed comic relief.

Kong: Skull Island doesn’t particularly live up to the original King Kong or even Peter Jackson’s King Kong for that matter. There are surface references to Apocalypse Now and Heart of Darkness because two of the movie’s characters are called Marlowe and Conrad. However, the movie has nothing profound to really say about war, or man’s ongoing inhumanity to man. Instead it posits the warm and fuzzy ideals that we humans are really small in the grand scheme of things and should really forgo warring with one another and work together so we can accomplish something good or at least maintain the status quo so that Kong can keep the ravenous lizard monsters at bay.

Yeah, something like that…

It’s a profoundly silly movie of course. Kong is beyond huge. Stupendously huge. Barely big enough to be contained upon the island. This allows Samuel L. Jackson to go full tilt Ezekiel chapter 25 as a kind of Ahab character who develops the urge to kill Kong for no good reason except to fulfil the gaping void in his heart. Man is king! Not Kong! It’s a flawed plan from the start but do you want to see Samuel L. Jackson exchange cold stares with a 100ft gorilla or not?

He says “Hold on to your butts,” at one point. I understood that reference and the people who do understand that reference are going to enjoy this movie the most.

The Spielberg shot: Brie Larson’s character is called Weaver and Hiddleston’s character is called Conrad – see what they did there? They’re more references than characters.

The best thing about Kong: Skull Island is that it is very aware of itself, there is a tongue firmly placed. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts comes from relative obscurity, having directed 2013’s excellent coming of age comedy The Kings of Summer, that was essentially Superbad as read by Henry David Thoreau with bits of the Super Metroid soundtrack thrown in for good measure.   Though it’s set in the same ‘cinematic universe’ as 2014’s Godzilla movie, it lacks the humourless macabre tone of Gareth Edwards. However, despite showing an impressive degree of scale and heft in it’s visuals, it falls just short of the majestic scenes of destruction in Godzilla.

At it’s heart it’s fully aware that it’s a movie about a big ape, and it is easy to detect that there is a tongue firmly in cheek. At the very start of the movie, John Goodman’s character arrives in Washington before the Capitol building amidst anti-war protests.

“Trust me, Washington will never be as crazy as it is now”

The whole cinema is laughing and they continued to laugh throughout the whole screening.

Kong: Skull Island, knows what it is, and knows what you want. This comes especially when side characters are killed off gruesomely and unceremoniously by giant monsters for kicks and belly laughs. It’s also most prominent with John C Reilley’s character. Whilst most of the human characters in the movie are a little one note, it is Reilley’s character that saves the day and preserves the films silly tone – keeping it’s heart firmly in the right place. I couldn’t quite care for most of the characters, but damnit I wanted Marlowe to make it back home to his family again. And that’s all the film needed. In another world this movie would have been based solely on his characters experiences in the films, which are unfortunately only ever alluded to through exposition and backstory. It’s a really nice little beat however.

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Another thing I really liked about the movie were the small bits of wonder, when the human characters are confronted by this huge creatures. No fighting, they just kind of bask in awe at these gentle giants. It’s nice : )

There is a refreshing lack of pretension, which for me, allowed me to sit back and just enjoy the spectacle, this big dumb saturday matinee adventure that doesn’t try and live up to the original premise of King Kong but create it’s own thing.

One scene really defines this movie for me. It’s the spectacle of Tom Hiddleston in a gas mask fighting off saw-beaked pterodactyls with a samurai sword amidst swirling clouds of nerve gas. It’s so deliriously stupid. One step away from the kind of theatrics you’d see in Sharknado. The 8 year olds in front of me were stunned at how awesome it was, and I’d be lying if a small part of me didn’t think the same thing.

Stay to the end and there’s a tease for the next Godzilla movie. And you wonder is Hollywood so lacking in ideas that is has to look back at a low budget Japanese movie from the 70s. I mean Godzilla vs King Kong isn’t even canon in the Godzilla films. But hey! If they keep the tone of Kong Skull Island, I’ll be there on day one.

Fun Fact: The design of the Skull Crawler monsters were based on the pokémon Cubone. Did you know each Cubone wears the skull of it’s dead mother? Yeah your bummed out now huh?

Cinema gives us many gifts. And whilst you should go out of your comfort zone to see all kinds of movies. Sometimes you just want to see a giant monkey beat ten shades of crap out of cold-hearted depictions of pure evil. And that’s good too. 

 

 

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