Samuel L. Jackson
reviewed by Tom-Tom
In 2004, Peter Jackson rebooted King Kong. It was a top heavy double feature with half (2/3?) the exploits happening on the mysterious island of Kong’s origin and the latter portion in 1931 New York. The CGI were state of the art for the time but the film had the feel of having bitten off more than it could chew. Skull Island takes a different approach and keeps us on the island which is Kong’s residence/battleground. He is no complacent sovereign, however, but a badass ape in almost constant defense of his rule. It is nice to see another big monster movie after the 2014 Godzilla and while Skull Island takes place in the same world, its timeframe is just at the close of the War in Vietnam. While other reviewers have criticised the foil American military in Vietnam and the mercenary group of American soldiers who enter Skull Island with bombs bursting in air, I applaud it. Godzilla since the very first 1954 film has criticized the use of weapons of mass destruction and Godzilla’s creation and indeed destruction were both due to said weapons. This was revamped in the existence of MUTO’s in the 2014 film who preyed on Nuclear Power and weapons going on a worldwide atomic feeding frenzy pursued by Godzilla. Similarly, I feel the King Kong franchise goes after colonialism and imperialism outlining the fallacy of rushing in where angels fear to tread. The organization Ken Watanabe was associated with in Godzilla MONARCH makes an appearance in this film as well giving the world another possible multi-billion dollar franchise with which to tempt a willing public.
The direction has some refreshing quirks as well redolent of Baz Luhrmann, Edgar Wright, Paul Thomas Anderson, and Martin Scorsese in its speed-up slow-down snapshots of small details, the loading of ammunition, the banter of military and civilian alike with Vietnam Era songs in full accompaniment. Even the characters which turn out to have quick deaths get a cursory treatment more so than same such big action pics. There is some Moby Dick influence in the Captain Ahab like way Samuel L. Jackson takes the naturally defensive actions of Kong personally. There’s a wonderfully poignant stare down scene between Jackson and Kong as the latter smashes down two helicopters or two parts of the same helicopter ripped in half. Massive fireballs wreath the beast’s face in flames which reflect off of Jackson’s equally fierce countenance. It is a testament to the actor’s long and illustrious career that we as the audience see the 6ft man and the 100 ft movie monster as equal in strength and rage.
The rest of the film pits the scattered and scared troops against the horrors of the island with scientific researchers John Goodman, Jing Tian, (who seems to have been cast to look pretty rather than speak for some reason) and Corey Hawkins (who has a rather unacknowledged arc from geologist to badass), and a photojournalist played by Brie Larson (of “Room” fame). Many meet terrible fates being impaled by giant spider legs or eaten and then much later grossly vomited out by giant bony lizards. The journey isn’t all terror-ridden tales. Tom Hiddleston’s lot find the native peoples of Skull Island whom all seem old or otherwise wrinkled and armed to the teeth with stone spears. In their midst is a genial old American pilot played by John C. Reilly with his usual equal parts weirdly charming and charmingly weird performance. He provides most of the exposition about Kong and the island’s horrors and lets the audience breathe a sigh of relief.
We come to learn than there are worse things than Kong around and that he is a sort of protector of the island. As the resident king of the hill, he is constantly vying to stay that way. We see a softer side of him as well as he pulls a fallen helicopter off an ailing giant water buffalo. The parties then fall into two camps: those wanting just to get off the island and those wanting to exact revenge on Kong. This develops into a suspenseful but thankfully not an over-the-top showdown of man versus beast, and good beast versus bad beast which I found to be rather satisfying. The credits reveal the makings of the next film and what we are likely to see there. I felt a bit giddy to tell the truth.