BY Hanajun Chung
*Originally written on March 21, 2017.
Man-becoming-monster narratives have revealed and presented a darker side of the human condition that’s not exclusive to fiction. One way is through the war perspective. Modern audiences understand the harsh realities and collateral damage—be it physical, psychological or societal. Films such as “Apocalypse Now,” “The Deer Hunter” and “Platoon” are classics in portraying the loss of innocence and deeper descent into madness due to wartime—with the connection to Vietnam being both intentional and tonally accurate. “Kong: Skull Island” wants real hard to enter into that pantheon, despite the trailers featuring big monster action. With too many characters and an overabundance of bland motivations, it’s hard to connect with many of them. But when the film embraces the B-movie spirit of big silly monster action and adventures of Toho Pictures, it’s worth the price of admission.
In an effort to discover the truth about a secret island with almost otherworldly habitation, a group of scientists and researchers are escorted to said location by a group of soldiers and a tracker. When the fleet is unknowingly attacked by Kong during their entry and left for dead, the platoon's leader Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson)—despite everyone’s hesitation—leads a hunt against Kong prior to escaping.
As soon as the film brings everyone to the island, “Kong: Skull Island” picks up after a slow, somewhat choppy beginning. While it’s understandable that the film wants the audience to know and understand everyone go-ing on this expedition, the introductions seem more like genre checkmark rather than reveal any deeper motivations outside money and fame.
There are only two characters in the film that have a definitive, borderline interesting arc—WWII pilot Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly) and Kong. Don’t be fooled by the marketing, the film’s true focus is these two. And really, it’s when these two show up in which the film is excellent.
Reilly is easily the film’s MVP from the cast. In one look, Reilly can convey humor, sadness, and longing, providing a much-needed pathos that most viewers could understand—silli-ness aside.
Industrial Lights and Magic did a stunning job realizing Kong, assisted by the fantastic facial-capture by actor Toby Kebbell (whose human character is completely wasted).
Jordan Vogt-Roberts does a great job in providing multiple perspectives during these sequences that it provides dimensions in scale, interest and overall personality to what could’ve been a dull monster movie. Plus the film is gorgeously shot, featuring a ton of color and style, unafraid to stage the action during the day.
There’s some interesting anti-war subtext going on the film, but it feels uneven when considering the monster stuff. Ideas such as foreign occupation, wartime ethics, and the overall feeling being on the losing side had potential. But when you have a film in which a building-sized ape needs to beat up other monsters in order to set-up the inevitable film in which he fights Godzilla (Toho’s most famous creation), it’s not all that hard to see why they went with the king.