Kong: Skull Island ★★★★

“They’ll never be a more screwed up time in Washington”

Tongue in cheek to a hyperbolic yet oddly charming degree, Kong: Skull Island plays much like well known King Kong tale of the expedition crew of all different backgrounds and beliefs who set out to find the fabled, mythical beast; this time, however, instead of finding a watchful guardian victimized by the white man, it’s very much of a Kong smash helicopters to smithereens kind of flick. In all seriousness, this 1970s based monster movie works for the simple reason that Vietnam is a reality America had to face, and by not so deftly setting this story during that point in history hammers the idea that there are some wars that just can’t be won. In a paper-thin allegory for the Vietnam War, the characters aren’t so much fleshed out people as they are caricatures of tropes existent during that time. Subtlety is all but abandoned in scenes where Vietnam overflows in opium dens and brothels and where King Kong’s silhouette towers before the setting sun. As the might of the U.S. military once again comes crashing down, their signature machismo has met its 100-foot tall match.

Visually satisfying with its symmetric shots, use of stark, 1970s primary colors, and abundance of bright, natural light, the surroundings of Kong: Skull Island play just an important of a role in this ecologically preservationist film as the characters who struggle to stay alive do. Despite Skull Island’s numerous screen appearances before, the setting here feels fresh and engaging; it’s a gorgeous locale with inventively deadly wildlife. For a modern audience that has had the Vietnam imagery saturated to them through the media, the creation of this new setting captures the sheer horror of the unknown that the soldiers faced while surviving in that strange land. The deadliness of these creatures there can’t be overstated, and the terror and helplessness that filled the Nam conflict reappear as their only known reaction is to shoot at whatever moves. More literally, there are action scenes, or more like massacres, in an unbreathable yellow fog that undoubtedly resembles napalm, and without fail, death will always come at a surprise to them, leaping from the exotic jungle or springing from the foreign waters. Inevitably, questions about their purpose there begin to arise.

Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts wants us to love this film as much as he does, putting care and excitement into each cut and each camera movement that drives this story along with this nebulous set of characters. With crisp editing and frequent zoom outs to put size into perspective, Vogt-Roberts never lets a dull moment emerge with this briskly paced one part adventure, one part survival film, and an alleged romance story. Along the way, his camera loves to make giant sweeps and pans of the landscape and figures, making the action foremost fun and easy to follow. He captures the breadth and scope of every scene, and perhaps most satisfyingly, teaches an evolutionary lesson of primate dominance thanks to the development of tools.

The number of recognizable faces is large, as the number of characters burgeons with each additional scene. They don’t always work, as with one unfunny sequence of a character getting a quick catch-up lesson in history, but in the end, this movie somehow balances all its characters, where every character has a single yet satisfying role to fulfill. John C. Reilly is a delight, and Samuel L. Jackson descends into a madness that’s every way the opposite of its allusion to Colonel Kurtz yet no less effective. As one-note as these characters can be, they flourish in the world created around them, from the low ambient lights of the ship hold that draws them in tight to the towering mountains that dwarf friend and foe alike. Above all, Kong: Skull Island is just fun, grounding the giant monster fights in human stakes and giving the audience something to take away when it's all said and done. It's not the most intelligent film, but it does its homework, even going as far as mimicking another Cold War-era satirization film in ending with a blaring of the song “We’ll Meet Again".

And as another monster movie taught us, the gorilla is poised to beat the reptile in the much-anticipated death match

Joe liked this review