This planet doesn’t belong to us. Ancient species owned this earth long before mankind.
Kong: Skull Island directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts (hitherto best known for indie hit The Kings Of Summer) is from the producers of Godzilla and fans of the latter will recognize the ominous phrase “Project Monarch.” The prevailing philosophy of both films is that humans are insignificant little insects compared to the massive, ancient, nearly god-like creatures of legend who haunt our nightmares. This is as it should be; what’s the point of a monster movie where humans can contain the monsters by being ‘alpha’? (I’m looking at you Jurassic World.) The primal appeal of monster films lies in the fact that we cannot control nature and it is folly to try.
What I didn’t expect was that Skull Island besides being a great, example of B-movie monster making, would also owe so much to stories about man’s inner darkness. The intro takes place in 1944 just as WWII is starting to wind up with a battle on the beach between a Japanese pilot and American one, which ends when everyone’s favorite giant ape crashes the party. Kong is animated by Toby Kebbell of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes who plays a great secondary character in the film as well.
Flash forward nearly 30 years to 1973, in the last days of the Vietnam war, an expedition is authorized to explore Skull Island primarily so the Russian’s won’t get there first. Geo-politics in this movie are as much a character as the subterranean lizard abominations are. A number of the visuals of Vietnam era choppers exploding napalm seem right out of Apocalypse Now. Our main hero, former RAF pilot turned mercenary tracker (Tom Hiddleston) is named Conrad in a clear homage to Joseph Conrad author of Heart of Darkness. The Colonel Kurtz figure here is Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) a veteran soldier embittered by the notion that the U.S. is ‘abandoning’ the fight in Vietnam. He blames the media and war photographers like Mason Weaver (Brie Larson of Room) for the loss of public support. Packard craves a new battle and new enemy and he finds one in Kong.
John Goodman and Corey Hawkins (Photo credit: Church Zlotnick)
We also get a ton of other great supporting characters as well, from John Goodman’s scientist obsessed with proving monsters are real, to John C. Reilly as the WWII crash-landed American pilot trapped on the island for thirty years, to Corey Hawkins as Yale-educated geologist whose work is crucial to Project Monarch, and many, many more. It’s not that Skull Island skimps on the action or set pieces; far from it! But they spend a remarkable amount of time establishing their characters personalities and dramas, which makes their fates far more engrossing on screen. Rest assured this is a monster movie with heart, and it is worth sticking around to see the after-credits stinger.
Photo credit, top: Chuck Zlotnick
All Photos courtesy of Warner Brothers Pictures