Kong: Skull Island

In Peter Jackson’s remake of King Kong there is a lot of stuff about man invading nature’s realm.  They tie the theme into works by Joseph Conrad, specifically The Heart of Darkness.  Kong: Skull Island has a character named James Conrad, a tracker played by Tom Hiddleston so director John Vogt-Roberts and screenwriters Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein and Derek Connolly are mining the same vein.  A lot of the visual vocabulary is lifted from Apocalypse Now which is of course an adaptation of The Heart of Darkness.  It seems to be a pretension that filmmakers of modern Kong movies can’t resist.

The film takes place in 1973. The Vietnam War has just ended and the country is in disarray.   A secret government agency, headed by Bill Randa, played by John Goodman, is trying to get funding to mount an expedition to an uncharted island in the South Pacific.  The island, which resembles a skull and is thus dubbed Skull Island, has just been spotted by satellite.  It has never been visited before because it is surrounded by a permanent storm system.

Randa secures a military escort in the form of an air cavalry unit led by Colonel Preston Packard.  Packard is angry about the way the war ended and therefore is game for one last assignment even though his men just want to go home.  So he happily packs his choppers onto a ship and takes them through the storms and over the island.  And that’s when the giant ape attacks.

The whole thing is derivative of course and normally I wouldn’t have a problem with that.  But towards the end of the film, I discovered that I wasn’t into the plot and didn’t really know why.  After some thought, I think the reason is that even their attempts at psychological and thematic depth are borrowed from other projects that did it a hundred times better.  In that respect it was like watching a Baz Luhrmann movie.  They could have cut most of that stuff, made the movie about a half hour shorter and it would have been better.

This is obviously a great cast with Hiddleston, Goodman, Jackson, Brie Larson and John C. Reilly.  But they seemed as disengaged from the movie as I was as if they knew the script was regurgitated swill.  The performances are universally phoned in.  Even John C. Reilly’s who plays Hank Marlow a WWII fighter pilot who was stranded on the island with a Japanese pilot.  Marlow fulfills the Dennis Hopper in Apocalypse Now role.  He could have really hammed it up in this role, but he either chose or was directed into uninspiring choices.

The effects are fine.  They look realistic and well integrated into the action.  But you know all that takes is money and I’m sure any CGI artist in Hollywood would be excited to bring Kong to life.

I’m probably being too hard on this film but the previews made it look so good.  And when I walked out of the theater, I was so disappointed.  It was like someone broke a promise.

Oh well, I guess I’m always up for watching a giant ape smash stuff and it does deliver in that department.


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