Skull Island: A Review

Skull Island: Grumble in the Jungle      a review      ***spoilers!!!***

Skull Island is a new twist on King Kong. I’ll just say it: If I were Kong, I’d sue for defamation of character. This King Kong remake is the second film by director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (The Kings of Summer). Screenwriters, Dan Gilroy (Night Crawler, The Bourne Legacy) and Max Borenstein (2014’s Godzilla) wrote the script. Unfortunately, this Kong is not the 1930’s beast beguiled by beauty or the misfit ape competing with Jeff Bridges for Dwan (Jessica Lange). Skull Island‘s Kong is not the monster intrigued by Naomi Watts’ soft shoe. On Skull Island, Kong, who walks upright like Chuck Norris, is Clint Eastwood’s get-off-my-lawn curmudgeon of Grand Torino.

Cover image Skull Island

IMDB Skull Island image

When old enough, I often stayed up late to watch the 1933 version on Saturday nights.

Despite the wooden acting, the surreal jungle and Kong’s terrifying entrance always pulled me in. The sexual undercurrents of Kong’s attachment to Dwan is all I remember of the eighties version. Later, I found Peter Jackson’s effort moderately entertaining, especially the Jurassic Park dinos. However, I enjoyed it more on DVD; the huge bugs weren’t nearly as gross.

On Skull Island, it isn’t Kong who loses his freedom; there’s no tragic fall. Instead, humanity might fall.

Waiting within the earth are monsters that can wipe us out. Skull Island begins with a WWII dogfight. Planes weave and dive above a sandy shore. When two crash, pilots, an American and a Japanese, struggle out of the wreckage. As they fight, something huge rises on the other side of a cliff; it’s Kong.

Then the scene fades into 1973. The Viet Nam War is ending and Skull Island beckons.

Monster hunters Randa and Brooks (John Goodman and Corey Hawkins) plan a trip to a mysterious island. Randa believes that someday, monsters will emerge from the earth and kill us all if we’re not ready. And oh, yes, they’ll need a military escort.

In Viet Nam, Lt. Colonel Preston (Samuel L. Jackson), who hates to lose, prepares to leave for Skull Island.

A mission to a dangerous island could take the sting out of defeat. Along with tracking specialist Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and photographer, Weaver (Brie Larson), Preston and his men board a ship. Later, they’re on their way to Skull Island. Nearing the island’s mysterious clouds, the explorers pile into helicopters to scout.  In a few days, more helicopters will meet them.

Ala Apocalypse Now, ‘70’s music blasting, helicopters drop bombs on Skull Island.

Testing the depth of the island, they discover Randa’s “monster.”  Predictably, it’s Kong, who reacts with a “who left the screen door open” glower. Unprovoked, Preston attacks and bullets fly. Kong bats the choppers away like giant flies. When they all crash, soldiers die.

Outraged, Preston vows revenge. He and his surviving men will pursue Kong on foot.

Conrad’s group (Weaver, researchers, etc.) looks for the rendezvous site. This means wandering through arid terrain that pales in comparison to the dreamy jungle of the original or the bug infested nightmare of Jackson’s movie. Suddenly, the American pilot (John C. Reilly) of the opening scene appears. A chatty eccentric, the pilot introduces them to the locals. The locals are a National Geographic tribe of mutes who taught him how to avoid the island beasties.

Don’t mess with Kong, the pilot warns. On Skull Island, Kong fights the monsters.

It’s all a misunderstanding, you see. Like Walt, the old man in Grand Torino, Kong defends the neighborhood by removing the undesirables. While Preston seeks revenge, Conrad’s group, including the pilot, scramble for safety. Flesh-eating wildlife dine on several before the rest are rescued. Of course, Preston’s plans do not go well, especially for Preston. Thankfully, Kong lives to grumble another day.

Despite its A-list actors, I was glad to leave Skull Island. I didn’t care who got eaten.

And the monsters? I’ve read several reviews of this movie. Many describe them as innovative and scary. Maybe it’s just me; I couldn’t connect to the story enough to be scared. I missed the sticky hot jungle. Dinosaurs belong on Kong’s Skull Island, not a weird buffalo, giant daddy-long-legs or skeletal things that looked like dead possums. Plus, I want a huge wall hiding terrible things.

There was one thing I liked. I’ve always wondered where Kong came from, meaning: did he have a family?

Was there a Mrs. Kong, a Kong clan? Skull Island takes us to the Kong family plot. Sadly, Kong, we’re told, is the last one. Is this the last of Kong? I hope not. If not, lose the daddy-long-legs and bring back T-Rex or even Godilla. Bring back the stop-motion charm of Faye Wray’s lovesick ape. Most of all bring back the mystery; bring back the wonder.

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