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Kong: Skull Island

A review by Nalini Haynes

A US soldier and a Japanese fighter crash on Wonder Woman’s island. There can’t be two islands that look the same.

Bill Randa (John Goodman) rocks up to lobby a senator in Washington. The first dialogue in the movie was Randa getting out of a taxi saying something to the effect of ‘Washington is in the biggest mess it’ll ever be in’, presumably because it’s 1973 and Nixon is still president between Watergate’s exposure and his resignation. Best opening line ever. Best line of this movie.

Randa is trying to get approval to visit Skull Island because he believes there’s a monster there. Apparently he was wrecked there in WWII and miraculously escaped (we don’t know how) to spend his life hunting monsters with government funding. Under threat of the Russians finding and claiming resources on the island, the senator allows Randa and his assistants to go to the island with military support.

The next scenes are the traditional ‘getting the band together’ scenes where Tom Hiddleston is recruited as James Conrad (no reference to Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, no, not at all [wink]) and a photographer decides to tag along. A military unit about to be returned home are redeployed because their lieutenant colonel, Preston Packard (Samuel L Jackson) is unhappy about abandoning the war in Vietnam.

As soon as the scene cuts to Vietnam to the military unit, I got a vibe of Good Morning Vietnam although I can’t quite explain it. However, my gut instinct is right: Kong Skull Island is an intelligent anti war movie with some pertinent points for our current political leaders and those who vote them in.

Before we reach the island, I was squeeing about the attention to detail for everything from a Richard Nixon bobble-head on a helicopter dashboard to the slightly sepia, slightly grainy shots reminiscent of 1970s footage and Vietnam-era docos. This ambience was later abandoned except when looking through a camera lens (photographer’s point of view) in favour of clarity, color and detail.

The island is surrounded by a mysterious never ending storm periodically lit by flashes of pink lightning. Of course our intrepid heroes have a pissing contest about whether or not they’ll brave the weather, then they head on through the lightning storm, as you do.

There are aspects of this movie that are entirely predictable and others that took me by surprise. The predictability was about playing up the cheesy aspects, which was done brilliantly.

I won’t detail what follows because I highly recommend watching Skull Island: it is one of the few movies that succeeds in embracing both cheese and action blockbuster elements.

In doing so, Skull Island displays the best elements of Indiana Jones movies, Jurassic Park, Good Morning Vietnam and Heart of Darkness.

The attention to detail is amazing. Kong has personality. The special effects are brilliant. Some of the minor detail had me squeeing. Splodeys galore in a well-paced movie.

My only criticism of Skull Island is that it fails the Bechdel Test. It even has two named women characters, a scientist and a photographer, but I don’t think they manage to exchange words let alone have a non-men oriented conversation without men present.

The central characters consist of a team that includes the lieutenant colonel (Samuel L Jackson) and some other non-white dudes. The woman scientist, San (Tian Jing), is Chinese, which seemed to be an oblique nod to the Japanese origins of Godzilla (also referenced in Skull Island). I’m not sure who the first person was to die but I think he was white not black, which is a refreshing change. Also, the survivors include people of colour — amazeballs [snark]. The casting was excellent but then I’d watch anything with Tom Hiddleston in it, especially after the Night Manager. The cast was full of renowned actors. For some reason I expected the photographer to be Jennifer Lawrence and was pleased that, instead of JL, an actor was cast. Perhaps Brie Larson is a ‘JL-type’ who can actually act?

Even though we have a DVD review copy my partner is talking about purchasing it on bluray. I rarely rewatch movies unless forced and, if I do, I want a substantial break between viewings. However, I wouldn’t mind sitting down to rewatch Skull Island again really soon. Like the next time I have a day off. Highly recommended.

There’s a post-credit scene setting up sequels. While I cringe at another franchise starting, I would definitely watch it, especially if all or even most of the survivors were in it.

Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5 stars for the best cheesy action blockbuster I’ve ever seen. It loses half a star for failing the Bechdel Test; passing the Bechdel Test is the only way they could have improved this movie.
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Writers: Dan Gilroy (screenplay), Max Borenstein (screenplay) Derek Connolly (screenplay), John Gatins (story), Merian C Cooper and Edgar Wallace created some characters and weren’t credited
Stars: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L Jackson, Brie Larson
Running time: 118 minutes

Kong: Skull Island

Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.


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