He stood there, silhouetted against the searing sun, with smoke rising from the napalmed wilderness around him. The golden glow casts a hallow around the legendary ape, as he faces half a dozen choppers thundering towards him with smoking barrels. Freeze the frame in your mind, for it is one-helluva tribute to the 'primate god'.
Kong (or King Kong, if you like) has always been larger-than-life figure for the movie buffs ever since he first roared into our hearts in 1933. Several remakes and spin-offs followed, with the most recent one being in 2005. The popularity of this 'tragic superhero' ape is only matched by, perhaps, another ancient 'monster', the Godzilla. (Psst... there's some great news. Kong is the second film in the MonsterVerse series by Warner Bros that began with Godzilla in 2014. In all likelihood, a couple of years down the line, we might have the two legendary creatures squaring up against each other.)
Speaking of Godzilla, the film by Gareth Edwards was widely lauded for the way it introduced the behemoth—brief glimpses along with passing references of its legend set the stage brilliantly for its grand arrival. It's a lesson that Jordan Vogt-Roberts would have done well to learn and use in his flick, Kong—Skull Island. There's no holding back, no building up suspense—a few minutes into the film, Kong stares you in your face. Which, on second thought, was inevitable because of a weak supporting cast.
Mind you, it's not the actors who let the audience down, but the characters are not fleshed out well enough for them to keep up the act till the 'hero' arrives. And it's saying something, when you have a cast comprising Samuel L. Jackson as Colonel Preston Packard, Tom Hiddleston as British mercenary tracker James Conrad and Brie Larson as 'anti-war photojournalist' Mason Weaver, among others. The film is set in 1973, when America shut shop in Vietnam—something that the Colonel couldn't digest. Meanwhile, Bill Randa (John Goodman), who heads the Monarch, a corporation dedicated to eliminating 'Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms' (ring any bells? The same Monarch that was in Godzilla), convinces the US government to send a research team to explore a mysterious South Pacific island. The team, which comprises Conrad and Weaver, apart from Randa himself, has the usual suspects like an Asian woman and a black guy. They are given military cover by Packard and his team. The bunch arrive on the island with napalms in choppers with 1970s rock music to boot (read, Black Sabbath's Paranoid) only to be scattered like matchsticks by an ape the size of a mountain. The message is loud and clear—it's his territory and trespassers will be prosecuted without mercy.
Herein lies the biggest change from the earlier Kong films. The film starts and ends in the jungles, on the island. No Kong climbing the Empire State Building, no falling from the top riddled with bullets, no longing stares at the blonde woman before his heart stops beating—in fact, the 'beauty' here is no damsel in distress but a camera-totting journo. Another welcome change, was the peek into Kong's past and how integral he is in sustaining the ecological balance on the island.
Soon, the humans, barring the Colonel, discover that the real enemy is not the ape but what lies beneath the island—'skull crawlers', as Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly) calls them. Reilly as Marlow, a World War II soldier who has been stranded on the island since 1944, is the catalyst that keeps the film going whenever Kong takes a breather. For those who have seen Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now, the scenario might be eerily familiar. If it was Dennis Hopper as an American photojournalist who is head-over-heels in his admiration for Colonel Walter E. Kurtz, it is Marlow here who reveres Kong. The similarities do not end there. Though Larry Fong has done a wonderful job with the camera, capturing the jaw-dropping locales in all its splendour, there are scenes which look heavily inspired from the Coppola's classic.
It's not all grunting and roaring and destruction, though. There is humour, with hilarious exchanges between Jason Mitchell as Mills and Shea Whigham as the 'nothing-surprises-me-now' Cole, and lessons in humanity, too. Cole, at one point in the film, tells Randa that there's no enemy unless you go looking for one, referring to America's stance in the Vietnam War. Isn't that true everywhere in the world?
Film: Kong—Skull Island
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, John C. Reilly