Kong: Skull Island: One for the Textbooks
By Sandra Olmsted
Rife with political, theological, and philosophical symbolism, this latest remake of the 1933 Kong classic takes this version on a fresh journey into the mythology of monsters, such as the giant apes, carnivorous lizards, and greedy, driven men.
Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, whose only major film credit is Sundance’s The Kings of Summer (2013), sets his version of the King Kong story in the Watergate-Vietnam era of 1973, when Washington will never be “more screwed-up” and the military “abandons” the Police Action in Vietnam. While the music and images of the Vietnam era seem at first just an interesting distraction, these soon become a big part of Kong: Skull Island and the underlying meanings.
The film opens with American and Japanese fighter planes crashing on Skull Island, and the two WWII flyers continuing their battle on the ground. The film them jumps to the chaos of 1973, and Bill Randa (John Goodman) persuades the Nixon Administration to back an expedition to map an island “where God didn’t finish creation, a place where myth and science meet.”
The funding secured, Randa and his cohort Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins), a bookish biologist, need a military escort to ferry them to Skull Island. The hard-nosed Lt. Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), who is angry that America didn’t finish the job in Vietnam, jumps at the chance to lead his helicopter troop on one more mission. Randa also recruits Capt. Conrad (Tim Hiddleston), mercenary, special ops Brit at loose ends, and the tough, fearless, “anti-war” photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) for the expedition.
When the explosions that Randa orders set off as the expedition arrives at the island and brings Kong out in fighting mode, the carnage sets Packard on a mission to kill the beast. Meanwhile, the other half of the separated expedition discovers that Kong is protecting the people of the island from something far worse, thanks to Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), one of the WWII pilots. Everyone’s hope for escape hinges on getting to the extraction point on the other side of the island in only a few days — too bad there are so many giant, dangerous creatures and men with desires to prove something standing in the expedition’s way.
Kong: Skull Island is definitely exciting and interesting. Animal lovers who often thought Kong got a raw deal in some other versions will like the more positive image of the giant ape. Those who long for many of the important points in the story, such as the special bond between the woman and the ape, won’t be disappointed and might even be surprised by the new way it is handled.
The many symbols and allusions in the film should warrant study by film scholars. Because of the layers of meaning, quickly developed characters, and the historical setting, for most audiences, Kong: Skull Island, a Warner Bros. release, will primarily be just an entertaining and exciting film well worth the price of admission.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action and for brief strong language and running a fast-paced 118 minutes, Kong: Skull Island is in theaters now.
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