Mark my words: There will never be a more screwed up time in Washington
This is how Kong: Skull Island (Kong from now on) begins. It’s on-the-nose and altogether too self-consciously trying to be clever. “Look at me, lampooning the current political climate!”, it says, and we all groan. Things don’t really get much better from here.
Overfilled with action and recognizable actors and on-the-nose music cues, and King Kong cliches we’ve seen before, and underfilled with actual characters we care about, Kong is a largely mediocre film that is difficult to follow.
Kong was billed as King Kong meets Apocalypse Now, and the Apocalypse Now DNA is certainly there. Set during the Vietnam war, Kong features a litany of characters and character actors, most of whom we never really get to know beyond their basic cliches – so I won’t bother to introduce most of them.
One character who we care about is the massively underused Brie Larson, a war photographer who gives the film its only brief moments of levity in between the constant heightened action. This was an opportunity to turn the damsel-in-distress portion of the King Kong text on its head. Opportunity missed – Larson is only barely in any of the action. The other character we care about is John C. Reilly’s stranded soldier, left behind from World War II. There’s some good comedy mined here about how he’s a man both literally and figuratively left behind by the world, and it’s a stark reminder that, though he’s spent nearly twenty years doing comedy, John C. Reilly was once a great dramatic actor.
(Also worth mentioning that Tom Hiddleston’s character even shares the same last name as the author of the original book Heart of Darkness [James Conrad and Joseph Conrad – get it?])
It doesn’t feel like there’s really a coherent story here – there are so many dueling narratives. There’s a cast-away American soldier who from World War II, there are island natives, there’s a civilian expedition to explore the island, there are American soldiers who are forced into combat, there’s a guy here from some nefarious agency for unknown purposes*, there’s all sorts of unique flora and fauna on the island, including the revelation that Kong, King of the island is actually (shocker) a force of good fighting the reptilian Skullcrawlers… This feels like it should have been a longer movie in order to accommodate all of these things – but I wouldn’t want more of this particular movie.
*The fact that this is meant to be a part of a larger shared universe with Godzilla is, honestly, kind of repellent. These movies haven’t exactly stood well on their own, and there’s so much to dissect in each one that it doesn’t really feel necessary.
Some people didn’t like Peter Jackson’s King Kong, and I get why that might have been disappointing. But that film, and the original, are many times more powerful and effective than the scattered film we get here. Those films are about something. If you’re going to use the Apocalypse Now references, then heck, steal themes about corruption in the heart of man – it’s right there! If you’re just using Apocalypse Now for the emptiest, the most shallow and cynical of window dressing, then don’t even bother. We didn’t need this particular movie, and we definitely didn’t need it this way.