Kong: Skull Island 2017
A team of explorers and soldiers travel to an uncharted island in the Pacific, unaware that they are crossing into the domain of monsters, including the mythic Kong. This film fully immerses audiences in the mysterious and dangerous home of the king of the apes as the team of ventures deep inside the treacherous, primordial island.
March 10, 2017
Dan Gilroy and Max Borenstein
Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson
I’ve never started a review like this before, but it needs to be said: You must stay for the entire film, all the way through the credits, in order to get the full impact of the film and the full implications of the universe it’s set in. I know, bummer right? You’ll have to wait an extra 5 minutes for your post-movie cigarette. But seriously: Keep that ass glued until the very end!
You’d have to be living under a rock (or a real-life equivalent of the title’s desolate location) to have missed the hype surrounding Kong: Skull Island, which hits US Theaters nationwide today. The film screened for critics more than week ago, a signal the studio had mad faith in the final product, fearing no significantly detrimental bad reviews. The strategy seems to have been sound, as criticism of Skull Island has been tempered. My personal complaints about the film are miner, so for the most part, I’ll be adding my voice to the chorus of praises and confirming whatever positive assessments you may have already read.
Official Synopsis: A team of explorers and soldiers travel to an uncharted island in the Pacific, unaware that they are crossing into the domain of monsters, including the mythic Kong. This film fully immerses audiences in the mysterious and dangerous home of the king of the apes as the team of ventures deep inside the treacherous, primordial island.
The character of Kong is one of the most enduring “monsters” of American cinema, as the shocking immediacy of a giant ape lends itself to volumes of subtext. Looking into the face of this particular beast is like gazing into the past, looking at our own faces from a bygone eon. The eyes are portals into our own hearts, our primal selves, our dark sides. In every iteration of Kong, including Skull Island, we are ultimately forced to reevaluate our rush to terror, realizing the evil we perceive in “The Other” is what we most despise about ourselves. The pretenses of a “civilized” society crumble under an avalanche of empathy. As opposed to his Japanese counterpart, Godzilla, who seems to find pleasure leveling populated cities, Kong is happy just being Kong. He doesn’t leave his island, he’s invaded (and, in past Kong movies, kidnapped). Which makes him a foil, essentially, for the fire-breathing lizard he’s destine to face.
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Which is, of course, as it is intended—especially in this case. Kong: Skull Island comes from the producers of Godzilla: Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros. (who were accused of poaching the project from Universal, but that’s another story). Godzilla 2 is currently in the works, slated for release in 2018, and will be followed by a planned crossover that will indeed pit the hermitic, loner Kong against this reptilian nemesis. If you watch closely, you’ll catch the seeds of this future battle royale sown in Kong: Skull Island.
Every American kid who went to public school probably read Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness when they were in 10th Grade. And while the themes expressed in Conrad’s tome have always overlapped with those of the Kong mythology, Skull Island Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts and writers Dan Gilroy and Max Borenstein make a concrete parallel—and they want you to notice. Naming a character Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly) is a dead giveaway, and putting this guy on a riverboat, on a voyage through a dangerous geographical “blank spaces” eliminates all doubt.
If there is a Marlow, and Skull Island is a reimagining of Heart of Darkness, then there must be a Kurtz: An authoritarian figure who goes mad with power once unshackled from the constraints and imposed-morality of a greater society.
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Enter Samuel L. Jackson as decorated Viet Nam vet Preston Packard. While his name doesn’t directly connect him to Kurtz, his rank does, via Francis Ford Coppola: Colonel. This is the rank of Walter E. Kurtz, the character played by Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now, the most famous reimagining of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. And like Brando and Kurtz of literature, Packard is a lost soul, drunk on power, willing to abuse or sacrifice anyone who stands in his way. Of course, we understand Packard’s motives perhaps better than we do Kurtz’s: The Viet Nam war has just ended, and jungle warfare is the only adult life he’s known. Past his prime and facing a world he no longer recognizes, he fears obsolescence. Which makes his arrive on Skull Island a perfect storm for blind, harrowing rage.
Kong: Skull Island is almost 2 hours long, but after enduring the 2.5 hour Cure for Wellness last month, it hardly seemed oppressive or overstated. This doesn’t mean the pacing is perfect, especially since the action seemed to slow in favor of robotic character-building that could have been more skillfully intertwined throughout. But examples of stalls like these are few and far between. We get a great shot of Kong in the opening scene, and the film isn’t skimpy with the King’s appearances. We get plenty of Kong, along with a slew of monsters of various sizes (most of which have already been revealed in trailers, but there are still a few surprises).
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Skull Island excels best when it puts Kong into a scientific context, a fact that makes the film’s occasional slips into fantasy a bit annoying for me personally. Hollow Earth Theory I like; same with primordial geography and undiscovered species. What I don’t like is a magical never-ending storm that always surrounds Skull Island; I mean, really? You couldn’t just stick with the Cold War race with the Russians as an excuse for flying through a hurricane instead of postponing the mission? You could have had the same cool storm FX without making such a demanding request for suspension of disbelief. If it seems like I’m harping on this small point, it’s because there isn’t really much else to complain about (except maybe the puffy paint all over the faces of the indigenous tribe); solid film, right here.
Bottom Line: Look, you know what to expect here; this is King Kong, not some monster off the streets you just met. No one is reinventing the wheel here; there’s nothing new or shocking worked into the narrative. But this is the 21st Century, which means Kong has never been bigger or badder (and by “badder” I mean much much cooler). Grad a big old bag of popcorn and a box of Milk Duds, because this is big budget, FX driven, monster romp that’s a made-for-the-big-screen experience if ever there was one. It’s only PG-13, but it almost feels like a light R—which is a good thing.