Whoever would have thought a film about Kong would be so entertaining and so thought provoking at the same time?
My expectations were low when I sat down to watch Kong: Skull Island, given its uninspired title. So, imagine my surprise when about 20 minutes into the film, I began to realise that it was actually really, really good.
Part of the reason is that Kong: Skull Island has an excellent script, fast-paced without being mind-boggling, with some great lines that underscore an already good dialogue, free of the inanities you usually find in movies like this. Added to the script is an epic soundtrack: the film is set in 1973, so rock n’ roll classics underscore the incredible cinematography. A wide range of likeable characters bring the film to life, barring poor Samuel L. Jackson as the demented Preston Packard, a US Lieutenant Colonel who loses it after his helicopters are annihilated by a furious Kong, the default protector of Skull Island.
This is yet another origin story, but a good one. Kong is terrifying, regal, a lonely king in his remote island. While he is initially misunderstood by these explorers who come searching for this much talked about island, the film does a decent job of creating an aura around Kong that clues in the viewer to his true nature: he epitomises the romanticised trope of the noble savage.
In addition to various, quite scary monsters, the film is populated by an ensemble cast including Tom Hiddleston as James Conrad, a quiet but charismatic former British Army captain (the film takes place at the tail end of the Vietnam War), and the talented, lovely Brie Larson as Mason Weaver, a famous photographer and pacifist who tags along on the ‘research mission’, which she senses might entail just a little bit more. Added to this mix, like icing, is John C. Reilly as Hank Marlow, a US lieutenant who has been stranded on Skull Island for 29 years, since his plane crashed there during the Second World War.
The film is an ode to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness – a homage evident from the surnames of Hiddleston and Reilly’s characters: Conrad and Marlow. (Marlow is the main character in Conrad’s novel of a man who slowly loses his mind, trapped in the African jungle). Heart of Darkness was adapted into the legendary Vietnam war film Apocalypse Now (1979), directed by Francis Ford Coppola, and it is easy to see the influences of both book and film on this Kong reworking. This imbues the monster movie with a bit of weight, trying to anchor it in the grave context of the Vietnam war and the woe it brought to generations of Americans as their men floundered in the tropical jungle.
Whoever would have thought a film about Kong would be so entertaining and so thought provoking at the same time? The film is a surprising allegory of humankind’s lack of tolerance for anything it sees as ‘other’, an ongoing failing that may never be rectified.