Sometimes, a movie need not have subtext or messages to be “good”. Sometimes, it can just be a movie. What does that entail, exactly? Escapism? Not necessarily. We WANT to escape our respective realities for a brief (hopefully air conditioned) two or so hours of fantasy, but what we NEED and actually GET are reflections of our and introductions into other lives and cultures. The very thing we try to escape is the one thing we rush to the cinema for. So, “just being a movie” doesn’t just mean braindead fodder. At least, not most of the time.
Kong: Skull Island, the second feature in the new shared MonsterVerse with Godzilla (2014), is a perfect example of what is perceived as “escapism”. It is the best possible outcome for a film set on an emotional default setting, being able to enrich the audience by way of putting fantastical creatures over mostly dry human characters. Through Kong, the now skyscraper sized beast with a heart of gold, we get the very touch that films like Jurassic World attempted and fell flat at, which is to believe in good, no matter how impossible the odds, and to see humanity in the most peculiar of places – especially within ourselves.
It’s possible I’m overselling the impression this new Kong feature made on me. When I first watched the original classic in college more than a decade ago, tears welled up in my eyes, afraid of dropping them in front of other students. I should’ve let them flow. The sheer technical skill to bring out such strong feelings out of a seemingly monstrous but ultimately benevolent being is breathtaking to behold. Director Peter Jackson understood this with his epic remake / reimagining / love letter of the same name, where Kong’s very kind and romantic heart was explored, most thoroughly actually. In Skull Island, whose stylistic linguistics tend towards war imagery and occasionally 300 style editing cuts, Kong’s evolution as character and myth only grows, and in all the right ways. It’s a reinterpretation of the classic story beats, but features some new moments of casual meditative behavior and genuinely true kindness from a semi artificial rendering based on an actor’s motion capture. It would be frightening if it weren’t such a joy.
“What makes Kong: Skull Island a blast of fun is not just in the cathartic action bits, but how it’s able to bring about such excitable reactions from kids of all ages…”
Like most “monster” films, the real enemy is turns out to be us. Samuel L. Jackson and John Goodman play characters who wish to exploit Kong for their own personal interests. Where Goodman just wants to be validated in his once thought to be crackpot ideas, Jackson wants to relive his glorious days as a soldier, now that Vietnam has come to a most unsatisfactory but final close. John Goodman usually shines in supporting expository performances, but here he is nearly upstaged by both circumstance and Sam Jackson’s powerhouse stares of vengeance. It’s absolutely fierce watching him eyeball Kong face to face, turning it into a testament to both Jackson’s talent and the special effects that brought the sequences to life.
My initial feelings were of slight disappointment, thinking that this was merely a movie to set up another movie, and nothing more. However, I thought back to my screening, where a little boy sitting behind me provided running commentary for almost every minute of the story. He’d whisper here and there, but mostly speak in average volume the things he would expect to see and how thrilling it all was. Too cute to be annoying, honestly. I smiled, remembering a younger version of myself watching Bruce Campbell in the opening of Congo. What makes Kong: Skull Island a blast of fun is not just in the cathartic action bits, but how it’s able to bring about such excitable reactions from kids of all ages. ALL ages. We as adults may wish to escape these childlike traits of our respective pasts, but we return every weekend when seated at the theater. We don’t come to run away, we go to visit home. With a name like Skull Island, who wouldn’t feel at home? Why would you escape? It’s just a movie.
Kong: Skull Island (2017): Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts / Writers: John Gatins and Dani Gilroy (Story) / Max Borenstein and Dan Gilroy (Screenplay) / Stars: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson
4 out of 5