Kong: Skull Island (2017)
The Horror. The Horror. The entertaining Horror.
Kong: Skull Island is a king-sized blast.
In Kong: Skull Island, the massive ape Kong stands on the shoulders of British novelist Joseph Conrad. By way of film director Francis Ford Coppola.
Coppola directed the classic Apocalypse Now (1979), basing it on Joseph Conrad's classic novel Heart of Darkness (1899). Coppola turned the novel into a film about the futility of war, and moved the setting from Africa to Vietnam.
Kong: Skull Island is set on "an island in the South Pacific." Part of it was shot in Vietnam.
Kong: Skull Island is a tale of a group of scientists and whatnot (the whatnot are wiped out). The group is on a mission to go to an island that may reveal mysteries. It's a motley group led by Bill Randa (John Goodman).
Kong: Skull Island is set in 1973. A Nixon bobble-head bobbles on the dash board of a helicopter. 1973 was the year of the break-in at Watergate, and recognition that Vietnam was a failed experience.
Along for the Apocalyptic ride are survivalist and tracker Conrad - get the allusion to the author's name? (Tom Hiddleston). And on the island what's left of the group is met by Marlow - the name of a leading character in the novel. (John C. Reilly). The character is named Marlow, but is more like Kurtz.
Like Kurtz in the book, Marlow has been on the island for many years. He was a fighter pilot who was shot down in 1944 and has been living with the natives for 28 years. But he hasn't gone mad. Other than he's a Cubs fan.
Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts knows his Coppola. The skies are full of helicopters, bombs fall, and suddenly the huge King Kong plays whack-a-mole with the whirly birds, to the vibrations of powerful music.
Kong: Skull Island wouldn't be what it is without Apocalypse Now.
I expected Samuel L. Jackson, as Lt. Colonel Packard, to yell, "I love the smell of ape shit in the morning."
I half-expected the bald pate of Marlon Brando to rise out of the mist. But instead the curly hair and silly smile of John C. Reilly appear.
Director Vogt-Roberts is way too dependent on close-ups. A lot are meaningless. Objects galore. How many times do we need to see the flared nostrils of Samuel Jackson or the blank expression of Brie Larson as the "anti-war" photographer? She needs a room.
[Dennis Hopper played the photojournalist in Apocalypse Now.]
The cast of gifted actors is mostly irrelevant. Hiddleston is his usual urbane self. But who needs urbanity next to the fearsome Kong?
The music is effective - Grace Slick, John Fogerty, David Bowie, et al. There's a cunning use of Vera Lynn singing "We'll Meet Again," as she did at the end of Kubrick's Dr. Strangelove.
What may be the saving grace is the conclusion of Kong: Skull Island. It emphasizes the empathy among the vast destruction.
I remember when my young son, lying in my bed, watched the original King Kong (1933) on television, and he cried at the ending.
I think at the end of Kong: Skull Island, he wouldn't cry.
He would smile.