It’s a strange film that would reference both Full Metal Jacket and Jurassic Park, but that just shows how tonally uneven Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ Kong: Skull Island truly is. Although the film starts out as a surprisingly intelligent commentary on war and the absurdity of invading and destroying foreign territory in the name of military triumph, it winds up delving into sillier territory about halfway through, creating a strange thematic rift in the project which hints at some confusion behind the curtain. It is pretty cool how big Kong is, though.
In the film, James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) is recruited by Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) to travel to Skull Island, a mysterious place that supposedly has never been touched by man, and explore the uncharted territory for hidden treasures. The gang adds a few soldiers for protection and a war photographer for documentation purposes to the mix, and sets off on a mission which will hopefully change the course of history. Little do they know, they’re about to stumble onto the grandest discovery of all: King Kong. Now, in a land infested with gigantic spiders, Skull Crawlers, and a hundred-foot-tall ape, the crew becomes less concerned with fame and glory, and more desperate to merely escape the unforgiving jungle with their lives.
Set amongst the chaos of the Vietnam War, the film opens in the year 1973, starts out with images of hippie protestors and a smug broadcasted Nixon announcing the end of the skirmish overseas, and the immediate return of American troops. Between establishing itself during a time period when the nation so politically divided and the choice to use the tagline ‘We don’t belong here’, it’s pretty clear from the beginning that Kong: Skull Island is setting up some pretty strong parallels between the controversial invasion of Vietnam and the sketchy invasion of Kong’s island. Pushing this agenda even further are the Apocalypse Now vibes hanging blatantly overhead as the gang goes up river, bombs terrain that might possibly be populated with innocent civilians, and are led by stuck in the past military general Preston Packard, who insists that “we didn’t lose the war, we abandoned it”.
Enter Kong into the equation and the metaphor is almost fully complete. Kong has always been an iconic cinematic character that represents a feeling of being misunderstood, much like Frankenstein’s monster. Once Packard, who we can assume lost a lot of good men during the war, shows up and sees the towering giant who swats at helicopters like a child would a fly, he immediately identifies the beast as a predator, and cathartically sets out to destroy the unknown thing he labels as the enemy. It’s just another war he can’t win waged for reasons he can’t understand, but somehow, he believes that killing this monster might make up for the fight he couldn’t finish the first time around. What he fails to realize, however, is that by picking a fight with an entity that he doesn’t understand may actually wind up bringing more harm to ‘troops’ than good.
All of the pawns are put in place to make this a symbolic movie about meddling with forces we don’t understand when we choose to invade foreign countries in the maddening name of war. Al of the likenesses are evident and smartly illustrated…that is, until John C. Reily shows up.
While searching for sanctuary from the massive monkey after their planes have crashed, the gang crosses paths with a man named Hank Marlow, an ex veteran from World War I who has been stuck on the island for more than thirty years. Suddenly, a wrench is thrown into the system, and what started out as a highly intelligent and equally exciting monster movie swiftly turns into a buddy comedy with a crazy typecast Riley at the helm. Undeniably, and expectantly, Reily’s character is quite a laugh riot – he just feels so out of place in this movie that was trying so hard to send a message.
From that point on, the movie takes a different turn and becomes something else entirely, which is a little disappointing, to be honest. It’s not that Kong needs to carry a political message, or that it needs to be anything other than a monster movie, it’s just strange how Skull Island seems to encompass two entirely different films in one tightly condensed package. However, despite this odd little break in theme, the film is still a very fun and enjoyable action flick that will be worth watching just to pass the time on a sunny Sunday afternoon. It may not stand the test of time, especially considering that Peter Jackson outdid the grand finale of version within the first thirty minutes of his, but it will still be fondly looked up by movie goers looking for a good time at the movies. At the end of the day, the coolest thing about this movie is how Kong is bigger than he’s ever been before, standing at a hundred and something feet tall, which is not only thrilling to see in contrast with the puny helicopters that circle him and try to bring him down, but also sparks a promising curiosity that makes the viewer wonder what it will look like when Kong finally faces off against Godzilla in the 2020 movie Godzilla vs. King Kong.
With that notion in mind, make sure to stay after the end credits for a sweet little surprise and a hint at the upcoming epic monster standoff feature.