One of the most instantly recognisable figures in cinema history (despite his humble beginnings in stop-motion and miniatures), King Kong, is back on the big screen.
Directed by The Kings of Summer’s Jordan Vogt-Roberts, Kong: Skull Island is a very Apocalypse Now-inspired reboot of this classic character.
The story unfolds pretty much as one might expect. A shady government lobbyist (John Goodman) leverages his power to assemble a ragtag group for a dangerous journey to a previously unexplored island. The crew is comprised of a general swashbuckler (Tom Hiddleston), a sassy photographer (Brie Larson), a Lieutenant Colonel teetering on the brink of a mental breakdown (Samuel L. Jackson), and eventually the comedic relief (John C. Reilly – who must’ve tested well with focus groups, as he gets a whole post-credits scene to himself).
Once they make it to this uncharted territory, the gang discovers a paradise unmarred by mankind – as well as a bunch of giant spiders, buffalo and man-eating lizards.
And then, there’s Kong himself.
Kong is a brutish giant with a heart of gold, who can swat army helicopters out of the air as if they are mosquitoes. When the explorers arrive on the island and immediately start dropping explosives “for science,” Kong cracks it and intervenes.
After killing half the human characters in the movie, he makes himself an immediate enemy of Samuel L. Jackson’s tightly wound and emotionally wounded army man Preston Packard. As Kong and Packard stare each other down after the initial confrontation between man and beast, the audience is spoon-fed the philosophical underpinning of the flick, to legitimise the action: who is the real beast here?
Kong: Skull Island wears its influences on its hairy sleeve. There’s the commentary on the Vietnam War, the shimmering red sun hanging low on the horizon, and a lot of talk about napalm – a la Apocalypse Now. And then, of course, there are the nods to the 1933 King Kong. While Skull Island’s Kong doesn’t become obsessed with a pretty blonde and want to steal her for his bride, he does rescue a pretty sandy-haired woman and cradles her gently in the palm of one giant hand.
With a 70s soundtrack heavy on the Creedence Clearwater Revival, the film offers an enjoyable retro aesthetic, exhilarating action sequences, and solid performances from the cast. Kong: Skull Island isn’t one of the all-time great monster movies, but it’s a serviceable installment in the mythology.
This also isn’t the last we’ll see of Kong. Legendary and Warner Bros. have already jointly announced Godzilla: King of Monsters for 2018, will be followed by a Godzilla vs. King Kong film in 2020. This also won’t be the first time that these two iconic beasts have faced off against each other.
It’s an internet-accepted truth that the success of the 1933 King Kong kick started the Godzilla franchise, and certainly had a hand in popularising kaiju films in Japan. In 1954, 20 years after the original King Kong was released, Ishiro Honda created Godzilla, and from there went onto make seven sequels. In 1962, the first King Kong vs. Godzilla was released – and as Den of Geek writer Jim Knipfel says – “introduced the era of the kaiju smackdown."
In cinema, Kong has frequently been depicted as a misunderstood softie, while Godzilla is traditionally more of a classic villain in giant lizard form, wreaking havoc wherever he goes. The 2014 American monster film, however, positions Godzilla as maybe being on mankind’s side, as he fights off the MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism). The end of the film shows a news lede asking ‘KING OF THE MONSTERS – SAVIOUR OF OUR CITY?’
Now that both Godzilla and Kong might secretly have hearts of giant gold, it’ll be interesting to see the outcome of the next epic kaiju knockout round.
Who will prevail? King Kong, God of his island? Or Godzilla, King of the monsters? Bring on 2020.
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