Kong : Skull Island
It has been 84 years since King Kong scaled the Empire State building with the lissom frame of Fay Wray clutched in his giant simian paw thus giving birth to one of Hollywood’s most enduring sci-fi / fantasy movie characters. There have been a large number of spin off films and two specific remakes. A 1976 version with Jessica Lange and Jeff Bridges and an Antipodean influenced 2005 reboot featuring Naomi Watts and Adrien Brody, directed by Peter Jackson.
2017 sees the mighty movie ape roar once more and it is a deafening reawakening. KONG : SKULL ISLAND opens with a flashback to 1944 ‘somewhere over the Pacific’ with two pilots, an American and Japanese, parachuting onto an unknown and uncharted island and immediately attempting to kill each other until the arrival of Kong. We then leap forward to 1973. The Vietnam War is winding down and a shady black-ops specialist named Bill Randa (John Goodman) has convinced the Nixon Government to fund an exploratory expedition to Skull Island, a location never previously visited and surrounded by a constant storm barrier. He claims this is to find resources but his real interest lies in monsters. “A place where myth and science meet’ he says.
To shield the group from probable dangers, they are accompanied by a military escort headed by hard-nut Lt. Col. Packard (Samuel L. Jackson in top Colonel Kurtz mode). He has corralled his war-weary troops who were avidly looking forward to going home after their Vietnam stint for this one final mission. Among the other civilians accompanying the party is former British special forces James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) an expert tracker and photo-journalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson fresh from her Oscar winning role in ROOM ) to document the expedition.
The triumphs of this production are its visuals that are genuinely jaw-dropping, pulse-raising pacing, superb locations (Queensland, Australia and Hawaii are two) and lots of twists and curveballs in the plot.
The script leans to the pedestrian overall but it does contain many literary references and homages. eg Hiddleston’s character name is a nod to Joseph Conrad and his ‘Heart of Darkness’ novel. Numerous parallels arise with Coppola’s APOCALYPSE NOW and Samuel L. Jackson’s Packard develops such an obsession to find and vanquish the ape that it also evokes ghosts of Melville’s ‘Moby Dick’ as Captain Ahab searches for his white whale.
There are mammoth creatures, both benign and deadly, as well as Kong roaming this isle and a tribe of local natives who also interact with the expedition.
Most of the humor reaches us from John C. Reilly’s soldier character, Marlow (yet another literary ref. He was the narrator in ‘Heart of Darkness’.)
It may fall in the category of ‘disposable fare, B entertainment’ but most of the elements of this rollercoaster creature-feature are A grade. It does not take itself seriously and it benefits from this tongue-in-cheek feel to the proceedings.
Oh and the soundtrack? Because it is set in 1973, the music is all drawn from late 60’s / early 70’s Rock. Aural Nirvana!