Kong: Skull Island

Kong: Skull Island

Apocalypse Now with Monkeys?

Kong: Skull Island might be one of the more conflicted, schizophrenic movies out there. It is a movie simultaneously trying its hardest to be "awesome" and "cool" and totally worth your money, while delivering some of the most overt anti-war/anti-imperialism messaging in years. And I think either of those would have worked on its own just fine, but both of them together make for a slightly uneven viewing experience.
It does a great job at undercutting the myth of "heroic war" at nearly every turn. Samuel L. Jackson's Packard is obsessive and his devotion to war is the main reason a great deal of characters are dying. Noble sacrifices and heroic deaths are never validated but instead are paraded as excercises in futility and madness. Every decision in favour of violence is followed by meeting a violent end without ever achieving greatness. The enjoyment of violence is followed by immediate death. It's no coincidence that the setting of the Vietnam War was chosen for this film, even beyond the obvious homage to Apocalypse Now.
But in between all these overt anti-war statements, you get Tom Hiddleston in a gasmask cutting up monsters with a katana. You get King Kong using a tree as a baseball bat and John C. Reilly spouting cool Japanese lines. The desire to also commit "cool" violence is directly at odds with the thematic point of the film.

On a script level, other problems are also apparent. Characters are lightly sketched, primarily being fleshed out through their interactions with each other or little visual quirks. It's very economic characterisation in order to deal with the huge cast and it does it fairly well, but it also means some of them end up severely under-developed due to lack of screen-time (likely due to cut scenes) and some of them appear to be superfluous altogether. The dialogue ranges from blatant exposition to modern action movie conversations with the occasional moments of good writing. Kind of annoying however is the lack of confidence in the audience when it comes to understanding the plot, so that information already presented visually constantly gets reiterated in dialogue afterwards.
Still, I was surprised how consistent the movie managed to stay in its tone despite it being so much at war with itself. Even John C. Reilly's bizzare character never gives a sense of mood whiplash, which is also a credit to his acting.

I have to point out though, that the movie is absolutely gorgeous to look at. The cinematography is breathtakingly stellar, from beautiful shots of nature to scenes akin to a fever dream, this easily being Larry Fong's best-looking film, a lot of which might have to do with the fact that's it's his first time working with an actually competent director.
ILM is also working their magic in this film, with amazing VFX work on the creatures inhabiting the island.

Ultimately, it's for the viewer to decide whether they can tolerate the more egregious instances of fanservice in this actually quite dark movie. If you're just looking for an awesome monster movie however, Kong: Skull Island most definitely delivers on its promise.
I'm still torn on whether I really like the film, but I do know that I have to see it again and that definitely counts for something.


Stray Observations:

- The Nixon bobble-head is an all-timer.

- I wonder whether the after-credits scene is just sequel bait or whether we're actually going to spend more time with these characters. Given that Jing Tian is involved, we're probably going to see them again.

- Speaking of Jing Tian, while I never actually disliked her, she is quite literally a character of no consequence in this movie. Same for Corey Hawkins for that matter. Although I did like the food can scene.

- I'm surprised at the age rating for this. I thought it was surprisingly violent and is definitely not for anyone under the age of 16 at least.

- I loved the exchange between Jackson and Larson about her photography. It's a perfect setup for his character's entire journey and gives us some insight into her personality as well.

- I'm still unsure about the bird death scene. It was a good show of consequence and punishment for complacency, but the choice of character was odd.

- I love Shea Whigham and his story about his gun is both poignant and super on the nose and it just works. His banter is also fantastic.

- Naming the character Conrad might have really been a bit too much. I love that they're traveling on a river by boat though. It's the subtle stuff that sticks.