Title: Kong: Skull Island
Describe This Movie In One Simpsons Quote:
Marge: "He's not dead!"
Mr. Burns: "No, but his career is."
Brief Plot Synopsis: Humans monkey with nature; giant ape goes bananas, wishing they would lemur him alone.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant To The Film: Three "Lost Episodes" of Mr. Show with Bob and David out of five.
Tagline: "All hail the king."
Better Tagline: "Shock the monkey to life."
Not So Brief Plot Synopsis: It's 1973, and Nixon has just declared U.S. military operations in Vietnam will cease. This is bad news for Army Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), as they've just become unemployed. Fortunately, the possibly deranged head of the government's Project Monarch, Bill Randa (John Goodman), needs Packard’s squadron as military escort for a “mapping expedition” of an island recently discovered by satellite technology (with Weaver tagging along to document the journey). He's also hired disgruntled former SAS officer James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) to lead the whole shebang. Naturally, Randa has withheld certain key details about the island, like the fact it’s home to a giant freaking ape.
"Critical" Analysis: Kong: Skull Island is nearly impossible to take seriously, a statement meant in the best way possible. It’s a movie that not only recalls 1970s Kevin O’Connor “epics” like The Land That Time Forgot, but necessarily updates the franchise, rebooting Peter Jackson’s emo ape as a more brutal force of nature. It’s a movie about “King” Kong on — for all intents and purposes — Monster Island, while various humans try and (mostly) fail to meet the challenge of an alien environment.
In other words, approaching this as “serious cinema” is probably a mistake. This is a movie where you cheer lustily as Kong tears the digestive system out of a giant lizard monster’s throat and destroys helicopters by the score. Yes, there's significant loss of life, but the character development is weak enough you don't really care. As for the rest, well, follow your commanding officer’s Ahab-esque quests for revenge at your peril.
This doesn't mean certain members of the cast don't swing for the fences, in a non-athletic thespian sense. As Conrad (a bit on the nose, innit?), Hiddleston seems rather out of his element, relegated to striking Serious Action Poses while all hell breaks loose. He’s as much a victim of the inability of director Jordan Vogt-Roberts or writers Dan Gilroy and Max Borenstein to produce anything other than crude character sketches, and he doesn’t even get to chew the scenery like the rest of his male counterparts.
One element of “New Kong” (less sugar than Original Kong) that’s actually – and thankfully – toned down is the always disquieting quasi-bestial love story between the ape and the unfortunate (non-native) female traveling to the island (in point of fact: Weaver’s one of two women on the expedition, the second being Monarch biologist San Lin, played by Jin The Great Wall Tian). Certainly, Larson has charms to soothe the savage beast, but only does so when Kong gets angry at Hiddleston’s acting, or whatever.
But it’s a brief interlude, and mostly serves to offset the various forms of male insanity on display. For example, there’s Packard’s lust for vengeance, fueled both by watching his entire squadron swatted like flies and by the cognitive dissonance that helped fuel the Vietnam War itself (“Why is this giant ape so upset we’re dropping bombs on his home?”). Then there’s Randa, whose zeal for discovery pushes him to risk the lives around him (don't expect Project Monarch to survive the Trump administration).
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You've also got fighter pilot Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), marooned on Skull Island since 1944. Of course, he’s just plain nuts.
If you notice a similarity between the newsreel-style opening credits of this movie and those of 2014’s Godzilla, there’s a reason for that. Warner Bros. is going all in on its rebooted “MonsterVerse” and plans on putting these two bad boys together in 2020, after the big G’s standalone sequel coming in a couple of years. This explains the otherwise throwaway "He's still growing" comment, as well as the post-credits sequence, now a near mathematical certainty for all genre films.
There’s a fine line between “popcorn movie requiring minimum cerebral processing power” and “two hours you’ll regret wasting when you’re on your deathbed,” but Kong: Skull Island navigates it well enough. Today’s discriminating audiences should be able to balance nonsense like the “perpetual storm system” surrounding Skull Island and the FREEDOM ROCK soundtrack with gratuitous ape violence and the promise of more ape violence to come, even if there’s no instantly erectile moment like Godzilla breathing radioactive fire straight down a MUTO’s throat.
In fact, if there’s one major complaint, it’s that Kong isn’t onscreen enough. They'll probably fix that for the sequel(s).