Kong: Skull Island (2017) Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts. Starring John Goodman, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson and Brie Larson. Hold onto your butts kids, we’re in for one hell of a ride. This movie has it all. A solid cast with a lot of interpersonal character conflicts, strange creatures that see people as snacks, themes of war and peace, and human redemption. It is equally thrilling and touching. High octane action, earth shattering fights with giant monsters, and men that are just as vicious and dangerous as the creatures they’re hunting (or trying to fight off).
“Kong: Skull Island” is set in the backdrop of 1970s Vietnam era, complete with politicians, dark government research groups, rag-tag soldiers a la “Platoon”, a retired RAF tracker, a multicultural scientific research team, and a plucky female war photographer. We go from our world, to Kong’s, one that is rife with danger, where the land is very much alive and everything (aside from the native IWI tribe that worship Kong as a god) is super-sized.
Anything in the landscape can be an animal in disguise. Nothing is what it seems. And I love that!
Taking a nod from the dangers encountered in Peter Jackson’s King Kong– the group quickly encounters monsters that don’t exist anywhere else in the world. And they are freaking HUGE. Make people look like ants. No joke.
Dinosaur-like birds, giant two-legged lizards (called Skull Crawlers), massive octopi and colossal spiders with legs that mimic giant bamboo stalks (my favorite monster in the movie!) are just some of the dangers the people run into during their expedition into the island’s interior.
Kong owns Skull Island. He truly is king of that forgotten, lost world. But, is he friend, or foe of humanity?
That’s what scientists from MONARCH want to find out.
They go on a last ditch mission to the island, and are escorted by a team of helicopter pilots from Vietnam, of which a few soldiers of that unit are true dogs of war– they aren’t looking forward to going home, the Army is all that they have. No one is waiting for them to return. War is all they know. And they enjoy it.
On the flip side they are mirrored by a survivor of WWII that crash landed on the island and has waited for years to go home to his wife and son, and other members of their unit that can’t wait to return back to civilization.
John C. Reilly plays Hank Marlo, a pilot survivor from WWII who crashed on Skull Island. Marlo acts as a guide and provides a humane backstory for Kong. Yes King Kong is scary (he’s a freaking giant ape!) but, he will only attack you if you piss him off. If Kong sees you trying to help the wildlife, like when photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), he will respect you and leave you in peace.
Riffing on the Kong protects beautiful women motif, he protects Mason during an epic battle with the grand daddy monster skull crawler lizard of doom.
King Kong is a savage and noble beast. He is highly intelligent and understands that the seismic bombs they drop from the helicopters to measure land depth (showing that the land below is hollow) will wake up the vicious lizards that killed his parents.
Kong attacks and destroys all the helicopters, leaving the crew stranded in hostile territory. Their only option is to make an attempt to travel to the rendezvous extraction point on the northern tip of the island.
Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) is out to kill Kong for killing his men. In some respects, he is as much of a monster as the murderous, man-eating skull crawlers.
Packard becomes like Kurtz in Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness.” There’s some nice parallels between the characters in “Kong Skull Island” and “Apocalypse Now” (a Vietnam War movie that leans heavily on the plot of “Heart of Darkness,” and it is seriously disturbing.)
Speaking of, the RAF tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), was named after the author of “Heart of Darkness.” And the narrator of the book is Charles Marlow, of which Hank Marlo’s name comes from.
Packard is obsessed with killing Kong, and he won’t let anyone stop him. He is insane–he’s the only one that stands and stares down Kong and the skull crawler as they barrel toward him, all the while everyone else is running away.
Bill Randa (John Goodman) is the lead MONARCH scientist and a navy veteran, whose battleship was attacked by Godzilla (from the 2014 movie–yes these two films are tied together in the same world). The only survivor of that attack, he is haunted by what he saw.
As a member of the MONARCH group, he knows that the nuke tests on Bikini Island weren’t just tests, they were trying to kill Godzilla, and they failed. He knows that giant monsters exist, and that the world doesn’t belong to us, it belongs to them.
With dogged determination (facing being shut down due to lack of funds during the Nixon era) Randa gets permission for one last trip out to the Pacific theater to investigate Skull Island; a mysterious place surrounded by perpetual storms that make getting there very risky and dangerous.
The helicopter pilots, skilled and tested in battle, easily fly through the storm clouds. Then, with vicious glee (and an homage to napalm drops in “Apocalypse Now”) they drop depth charges onto the jungle,not caring if they kill local wildlife in the process. These men (well, some of them) love the thrill of the kill! Others? Not so much.
There is an electric undercurrent in this film. Not only is there a battle of wills between the men, they are also constantly under attack by the vicious, and very hungry native wildlife.
This ain’t your granddaddy’s King Kong, this is a modern, more gritty and definitely more bloody, human affair.
If one looks deeply into this monster movie’s eyes, one can see despair, immense loss, bloodlust, a respect for life and a strong desire to survive.
This violent masterpiece of carnage is full of emotional extremes; blind rage to drowning sorrow. The giant monster fights find people being eaten, ripped apart and blown up. However, this is no mindless monsterfest. This movie has heart and it really fits the zeitgeist of the 1970s to a T.
“Kong: Skull Island” answers one of our biggest questions: Can a being like King Kong have a soul? The answer is an overwhelming yes.
Go out and see Kong! You won’t regret it.
Also, stay after the credits for the stinger. It gives a lovely taste of what is to come– Godzilla! and Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah. Personally, I can’t wait to see what happens next!