Kong: Skull Island
(Rating: PG-13 – Runtime: 1 hr. 59 mins. – Genre: Action/Adventure/Fantasy – Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts – Writers: Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein -Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John C. Rielly, John Goodman, Tian Jing)
A group of soldiers and scientists go on an exploratory mission to a remote island in the Pacific Ocean. Once there, they encounter a number of giant creatures that are found nowhere else on the planet. The party runs afoul of the natives’ protector, Kong, as they attempt to escape the treacherous isle.
As a child, I grew up in a family who didn’t have cable television. That being said, I was a devoted viewer of WUAB Ch. 43, a UHF station based in Cleveland, Ohio. In my 10-year old mind, they always showed the coolest stuff. When I wasn’t outside playing, my days were filled with reruns of Laverne & Shirley, Sanford and Son, All in the Family, and much more.
In addition to the daily fare, each year the channel would run Planet of the Apes Week, featuring one of the original five films on consecutive weeknights during prime time.
However, the “big daddy” of yearly promotions for Ch. 43 was the annual broadcast of King Kong (1933) every Thanksgiving. We would usually eat dinner around two o’clock, so by the time it was time to watch Kong at eight o’clock, I was ready for a big turkey sandwich. I’d kick back and get lost in a wide-eyed amazement of “The Eighth Wonder of the World.”
As the years passed, I never missed King Kong. When WUAB stopped showing it in favor of The Wizard of Oz and, later years, Home Alone, I continued the tradition on my own.
Kong has action, adventure, and romance. Though the ape was composed of only a metal skeleton and clay, he lived. Special Effects genius Willis O’Brien gave the creature personality and pathos. The film is arguably perfect.
In the decades since Kong first marveled the world in 1933, the giant ape has been featured on screen numerous times. From the sequel Son of Kong (1933) and King Kong Escapes (1967) to eponymous remakes in 1976 and 2005, some have been better but most have worse. (I’m looking at you, Peter Jackson.)
This brings us to Kong: Skull Island. There are things I like — and things I don’t — about the picture.
Things I like:
Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts came into the project with a point of view. Surprisingly, the choice to set the film in 1973 during the final years of the Vietnam War, works. It gives the picture a definitive tone. It also sets up parameters that impact the plot. For example, communication is difficult for the exploration party because they are in a nebulously secluded area with only basic walkie-talkies to communicate with one another. Additionally, when things get hairy, the most potent weapon they have to use against Kong is a flame thrower.
Vogt-Roberts was clearly heavily influenced by Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. One must look not further than the posters for each film to verify that. This influence carries over into the look and tone of the picture.
In both films, the protagonists are off in a remote locale to eliminate a self-imposed “god” of the native tribes.
The “Preston Packard” character (Samuel L. Jackson) demonstrates many similarities between Marlon Brando’s “Col. Kurtz” from Apocalypse in that he becomes unhinged and obsessed.
Now used the work of The Doors and The Rolling Stones while Kong features music by Jefferson Airplane and Creedence Clearwater Revival. Similar vibes.
I also enjoyed the fight scenes. They are epic and satisfyingly violent. I almost can’t believe the movie garnered a PG-13 rating. (Spoiler: Kong rips his opponents to pieces. Literally.)
Things I don’t like:
From a production point of view, there are issues with the cast. It is too large and there are too many “names” involved. Samuel L. Jackson approaches the character as “Samuel L. Jackson” and it is just too much of him being him. And the rest of the cast feels lost in the shuffle. In the main ensemble, there are nearly a dozen characters. By the end of the film, the only one who is fleshed out even a bit beyond the surface is “Hank Marlow” (John C. Reilly), an island castaway who the exploration team encounters. It’s not enough.
Even worse, there are spots in the film that simply drag. At times it feels as if the film is simply waiting for the next fight sequence.
The biggest element missing from this interpretation of Kong is heart. There are a couple awkward moments between Kong and “Mason Weaver” (Brie Larson) in a feeble attempt to establish a connection between the two but they don’t click. Mason Weaver is no Ann Darrow. And, unfortunately, Brie Larson is no Fay Wray.
In all, Kong: Skull Island is a fine movie for what it was intended to be. It is chock full of big stars, compelling fight scenes, and is rife with an epic vibe for which filmgoers yearn. As a popcorn movie, it excels, but it in no way compares to the original. King Kong is a love story filled with drama, conflict, and pathos. Skull Island is an action picture. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that, but the picture trades depth for violence. To that, I say pick your poison.
And oh yeah, be sure to stay until the conclusion of the credits for a fun surprise. #SKRONK
Check out the trailer for the original King Kong HERE.