Kong Skull Island Enjoyable Reboot or Stereotypical Bore?
Ok. So I am conflicted. And I will walk you (probably more slowly than you prefer) through this conflict that is tormenting my mind when it comes to the latest King Kong permutation. Here at THinc. we scour the web for intense movie experiences that make us think, make us discuss and debate about what exactly it was that just happened. We look for clever twists. We look for new and different.
So yeah, I’m conflicted.
And trust me, I’m a fan. I’m a fan of Godzilla, and King Kong. I’m a fan of the original movies and just the amazing ways they transformed movie making magic and the debt that Hollywood owes these original films. And yet, at this point, we’ve got quite a bit of wear and tear to these properties. So it was with quite a bit of trepidation and worry that I headed in to see this latest version of King Kong. But as the lights dimmed, the last thing I remember saying to myself was, ‘Please, please, don’t do the New York thing over again. Whatever you do.’ And I also wondered if they would figure out a way to bring new life to the property? Could they possibly make it new again, invigorate it?
Well, why don’t we just wade in and find out which way Skull Island went. But before we do, please know, this discussion is riddled with spoilers. If you don’t care about spoiling the movie, I don’t mind you being here. But if you’d like to join in on the conversation, it’d server you better if you went and saw it, then continued on to read the rest it’d probably be better. But if you are still unsure, check out this trailer and then we’ll go from there.
King Kong: Skull Island Overview
Right from the get go (the gecko? the get go.) We learn quickly that this is not your normal King Kong remake. Mainly because it starts in World War II and two opposing fighter pilots, a Japanese pilot and an American pilot, who get shot down on Skull Island and were fighting to the death. They were fighting to the death until they are united by an agreed upon foe… King Kong. Leap forward in time…
Enter Bill Randa (John Goodman), a conspiracty theorist that has been using Government funding to search the planet for unnatural and enormous terrifying animals on the planet that they are sure exist. We find out later that Bill Randa is a part of an organization called Monarch. And we hear from Randa that Monarch ‘specializes in searching for massive unidentified terrestrial organisms’.
Bill Randa basically is pitching a senator for more funding to head to the recently discovered Skull Island. An island that is perpetually under storm clouds that are impenetrible to all sonar and technology available. But recently they used “land-sat” technology to see through the clouds. And Bill wanted his funding to continue for one more expedition to investigate what might be on the island.
Cut to, Da nang military airbase Vietnam. I mean, because we are going to need a military escort, and that particular military escort needs to be headed by Samuel Freakin’ Jackson I’m thinking. ‘Cause, yeah. I literally guffawed when he walked on the screen. Keep in mind, I didn’t watch any trailers heading into this movie. I saw a couple posters. Knew the title. And that was all I knew heading in. So I was more than a little shocked at John Goodman, but I was downright stupified by Samuel Jackson. And I even think he says his Jurassic Park like doesn’t he? “Hold on to your butts…” Which, for a movie like King Kong, was so out of body in my mind I was back in Jurassaic Park all over again.
But not only did the group need a military expert, but they needed an expert tracker. A photographer. A biologist. Geologist… it was like a mini-A-Team episode. I just wanted Hannibal to show up and smoke his cigar and say how much he loves it when a plan comes together.
Hold On To Your Butts
As the helos were inbound, they started dropping big bombs in order to measure the inner geology of the island. Hollowness. Because the geologist (I honestly can’t even be bothered to look up his name right now. They were so stereotypical in everyway.) had written a book and papers on the idea of the earth being hollow, containing inner sanctuaries and tunnels that interlaced throughout the entire planet. But phew, was he vindicated when their bombs echoed through their instramentation and proved that the island was hollow.
Only problem? Their bombs were going to convince all manner of evil to come up out of the hollow holes into the earth. Which made Kong all kinds of angry. And boom, was it on. King Kong came out and started laying waste to the helicopters in an attempt to get them to stop. And for our story that did two things. One, it sent a military group one direction and the civilian group another direction.
The military group – specifically Samuel Jackson, Preston Packard – decided that they needed to go find one particular helo that had gone down that had all the big boomers in order to exact his revenge on King Kong for what the ape did to their really tight little flight formation. The civilian group? They were just starting to head north in order to make it to the rendevous point. Right? Get out of here at all costs. Which, I don’t know about you, but isn’t half bad logic from my vantage point.
Along the way both groups encounter all kinds of chaos. Enormous oxen. Enormous spiders that impale individals from above. Giant bats that love pulling people apart in mid air. (My own personal favorite death maybe in any movie ever actually. Really great death scene.) Lizard beak evil-ness. Kong and an octopus battle that was quite fantastic and better than any X-men battle I’ve ever seen. We had aboriginal-like natives that do a lot of blank staring, but not much else. And then there is the Hank Marlow, the American pilot that started the movie. And now, 25 years later, he’s a crazy loon still trying to figure out how to get off this island. Sure, we got violently painful backstory about him and his new best friend Japanese pilot, and what not. Which, was almost as painful as the lizard creatures to the storyline. But whatever.
Eventually though the civilian side of things help our good buddy Marlow finish building his boat out of the hull of his plane. (Something he couldn’t do in 20 odd years, they did in 2. But it was a happy Rocky training montage, with lots of smiles and good times. So there was that.) And their plan was to haul tail all the way to the north side of the island which they couldn’t do by walking. So they crank up the boat… AND PHEW! IT WORKS! and of they go. heading up river, calling out over their walkies in hopes of reconnecting with some of the military boys that have been having all kinds of fun on their own with out their civilian buddies… walking in the wrong direction, and what not. So they connect eventually and all decided to join Sargent Bad Ass Packard who is hell bent on find someone who went down with a chopper (really really bad writing here) which was just a veiled attempt to get the bombs back.
So into the mouth of danger they all go. Hank Marlow is like, no no no. Don’t go in there. And Packard is like, yes yes yes. Let’s all go. And so off they go into the giant boneyard. Which. If I can be honest here (I’m just now starting to be honest?!?), contains one of the worst possible McGuffin ever. Maybe it isn’t a McGuffin, but more of a terrible plot device. I would have preferred a McGuffin at this point I think. One of the soldiers drops a match and this huge explosion goes off. “Watch out for the GAS!!” So apparently, the rotting remains is releasing tons and tons of gas? Or maybe the gas is coming out from the ground? Either way, that particular grenade is cooking (quite literally) and waiting detonation a few minutes later when they need it to save their bacon after the Kong was down for the count.
Kong As God Motif
But throughout all of this was the idea of Kong as the great protector and demigod of the island. While the civilians were with the natives, they saw that the people worshipped Kong for his protective powers for them. And we also see that Kong has a soft spot for people, especially blonde women peoples. And that connection from the original film plays out here with a very low key, but sweet connection between the photographer, Mason Weaver and Kong. (Which, I would love to see a book on the psychology behind this fascination. Oedepal complex, blended with beastiality, and daddy issues, in the form of a giant ape protectionism?!? I mean. What the heck?!? Why is this ok in our society? I’m confused. But whatever.)
So that pits Kong against our military strategist Packard and also against our civilians who now know that Kong is the good guy. “BUT LOOK WHAT HE DID TO MY BEATIFUL APOCALYPSE NOW FLIGHT OF HELOS!!!” But that was just because you were waking up the giants idiot. No. He wants to destroy all humans. Honest. I know it. NO HE DOESNT, he LOOOOVES me… blech. So we have our standard tropes here. Military Bad and blood thirsty. Civilians good and ape loving to a fault.
King Kong Endings Are All The Same
So that brings us to our ending. We’ve got military boys that want to absolutely jack up Kong. And we have the rest that just want to make it to the LZ in time. These two groups ending fighting and at odds until all the blood thirsty militarists are dead or incapacitated. And then we have Kong, the girl, and a massive eagle beaked lizard demon to tussle. Obviously Kong almost dies, but then doesn’t, and then saves the day. Kills the demon from below. And they head to the LZ to rendezvous back home. Right?
Problems with Kong: Skull Island
So, as you were probably picking up while I was writing… I had a number of issues with this movie. If you are just going to be a big dumb movie with special effects, I want no part of it. I’m pretty outspoken about that here on my blog. I’d rather you do a $6,000 time travel movie with Zero special effects and all brains, than for you to just throw CG at me. No thanks. But that is what this movie is all about. I swear to you, this movie was written by a Mad Lib generator. I promise you.
About the only original idea this script had was nixed by Hollywood early on. Apparently Max Borenstein and the three other authors (that’s always a bad bad sign) wanted to have the helicopters kill a big ape making the audience think Kong was dead. But they quickly said, absolutely not. You cannot kill an ape at the front end. No. No. But all the rest was rehash at the island level. They did choose to not leave the island. So that was good. So there is that. So kudos on editing?
My Final Thoughts on Kong
I originally had a very positive title for the movie and this review. But the more I wrote, the more I thought, and the more I realized we deserve better than this. World War Z had a basic zombie trope that had survived forever… and yet, their rewrite by Damon Lindelof (Lost) gave us a super clever glitch and solution to the normal problems of zombie movies. Weaknesses were overlooked. Inject yourself with weakness and you won’t be seen. This movie has no Lindelof in it. No writer with real genius pouring through. And heck, I don’t need a Shane Carruth. I don’t need a Sorkin. But show me something clever. Something different. Yeah, the animals in this thing were huge, and scary, and cool. But do they pass the dumb test?
Um, no. They don’t.
I don’t know, what do you think? Did you love it? I did like it. It was fine. But it wasn’t anywhere near great. Agree to disagree? Fine. Tell me about it in the comments.