Kong: Skull Island (2017): A Great Ape and a Great Movie


King Kong isn’t just a giant ape, he is THE giant ape, and Kong: Skull Island reminds us why he’s called “King” to begin with. It’s also a deep movie about man’s obsession with conquering nature.

The Cast/Basic Premise

Much like Peter Jackson’s 2005 King Kong, Jordan Vogt-Robert’s 2017 movie centers around discovering and conquering new territory. Specifically, Bill Randa (John Goodman) is heading the 1973 expedition. He is escorted by hunter-tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), a United States Army Lieutenant Colonel. This, of course, makes it seem like a military operation, which does not sit well with accompanying anti-war photojournalist, Mason Weaver (Brie Larson).

It turns out that, in many ways, Weaver’s fears were totally justified. One of the first things the entourage does is to drop bombs, or “seismic charges” ostensibly to map out the island. Unfortunately for them, this does not sit well with the giant Kong, who very quickly fights back against the hostile interlopers. This, of course, confirms Bill Randa’s fear that giant creatures are a threat to humanity, and Preston Packard makes it his personal life’s mission to exact vengeance upon Kong.

The Folly of Man and the Perils of Skull Island

Kong grapples with an octopus or squid. ‘Nuff said. (Kong: Skull Island)

Kong: Skull Island immediately touches upon certain people’s bravado. Some feel they can go anywhere, do almost anything, and get away with it. They feel they belong anywhere they go, and that their needs must be met above all others’. It’s not just idealistic philosophy (which may be respectfully debated and debunked), but a primal, selfish childishness.

In this case, how do they expect to be greeted by a strange island after dropping bombs from helicopters, like hostile gods from the sky? Had they seen other Kong films, they would’ve known that the island’s creatures probably wouldn’t dig it. Indeed, Randa’s group faces creatures other than Kong, and with mixed success.

Along the way to conquering the island, the group meets the island’s human natives (in classic Kong style) and a former WWII fighter pilot named Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly). Marlow essentially gives them a what’s what rundown about the island. He emphasizes that they shouldn’t have messed with Kong, the island’s “God” and protector, and further warns them about terrible creatures he calls “Skullcrawlers.” Specifically, he states the following, which is much in line with Kong’s cinematic legend: “Kong’s a pretty good king. Keeps to himself, mostly. This is his home, we’re just guests. But you don’t go into someone’s house and start dropping bombs, unless you’re picking a fight.”

As if to be comprehensive, the movie is not just about bashing men for being war-like. Nature itself is regarded as potentially devastating, as the Skullcrawlers are revealed to have slayed Kong’s entire family. It’s a bit of nuance that some would miss, but Kong’s attitude toward the ‘Crawlers — even if reasonable — almost parallels the attitudes of Randa and Packard toward Kong.

Marlow, Voice of Wisdom and Source of Humor

Marlow (Reilly), looking photogenic and ready to be eaten by Skullcrawlers. (Kong: Skull Island)

In addition to being reasonable, Hank Marlow is a major source of humor for the movie. Quite simply, John C. Reilly rocks it in this role, and the filmmakers must have been well aware of his potential. As an inside joke, the back of Marlow’s jacket even reads, “For Your Health,” which obviously references Reilly’s incredibly offbeat character, Dr. Steven Brule, from “Check It Out! with Dr. Steve Brule” on Adult Swim.

While Goodman, Jackson and the rest all give good performances, many will find it’s Reilly who steals the show, and in the best kind of way. Either that or they’ll strongly dislike the character, due to his zaniness, and how his presence comes to basically dominate half of the movie performance-wise.  In fact, Vogt-Roberts expressed interest in doing an entire film about Marlow and his nemesis-turned-ally, Gunpei.  I don’t know about anyone else, but I would watch it.

Nostalgia and Timelessness

Though Kong: Skull Island is only set in ’70s, it comes off as feeling like a long time ago. Perhaps it’s the timeless island itself, or its giant inhabitants. Or how about that the King Kong legacy dates back to the early 1930s? On top of that, you have the Vietnam War references and the great rock soundtrack. Rather than simply being nostalgic, the songs chosen tend to ramp up the action and otherwise set the mood throughout — classic songs by The Chambers Brothers, Jefferson Airplane, The Hollies, The Stooges, Black Sabbath and Creedence Clearwater Revival.  Sorry, folks, but Ed Sheeran just wouldn’t have fit in here!

The Final Verdict

Kong: Skull Island is a memorable tale with decent performances. It has phenomenal CG animation and classic monster moments. The action sequences seem organic to plot, and John C. Reilly rocks the house. You might as well check it out!

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Have you seen Kong: Skull Island? What were your thoughts about the film? Join in on the conversation in the comments section below.