KONG: SKULL ISLAND is not a good movie. But it is a great movie. The kind of movie that you just plain enjoy. The kind of movie that is committed to itself in the way we all wish we committed to things as simple as coffee orders. The kind of movie that earns a title rendered in all caps.
The premise: there’s a giant gorilla on an island shrouded by a permanent storm.
I mean, there’s more to it than that, but how much does the plot really matter?
Okay, fine. John Goodman (you know who he is) and Corey Hawkins (Straight Outta Compton) want to map out a semi-mythic place called SKULL ISLAND (again, you simply can’t say that without using caps), and they hire Tom Hiddleston to help them do it. Hiddles plays JAMES CONRAD, the requisite pulp hero. He wears a vertical shoulder holster, and is a former British Special Air Service fellow who doesn’t work for them anymore. Wikipedia describes him as “broken but noble”, because the collective consciousness of Wikipedia understands that this movie accepts no pulled punches.
Along for the journey, as their military escort, is Samuel L. Jackson, playing PRESTON PACKARD. I want you to read that again. Preston. Packard. Packard is the Captain Ahab of the movie: when their helicopters get taken down by Kong, he sets his sights not on escape, but on revenge.
Brie Larson is also there. It would be misleading to say she’s only there as The Woman, but I can’t actually recall her doing anything other than taking pictures of the island’s native inhabitants.
When the group reach the island, they get attacked by Kong (...well, they attack Kong, so Kong attacks back), and….
No. No, I want you to go see the movie. Buy this movie. The plot is (surprisingly) good well constructed, but irrelevant. Here’s what’s important:
Kong has a fight with a giant squid.
If that doesn’t sell you, well, fine, how about this:
The depth of allusion in this film is staggering. Everything has been carefully orchestrated to be not just reminiscent of the ‘70s, but a recreation of it. Movies, television, and music are all references to things, both overt and subtle.
Further, the plot is too good for this movie. Nothing is wasted, and it never feels like the movie takes left turns purely for the sake of taking left turns. This is an incredibly tight story.
Nextly, the movie is much more culturally sensitive than you expect from a ‘70s monster movie. It isn’t perfect, but the movie avoids treacherous stories about “the natives”. There are natives on the island, but they aren’t exploited. They explain why John C. Reilly’s character (HANK MARLOW) a stranded survivor from WWII, was able to survive, and through him we hear their story. We come to understand why Kong is important not just as a movie monster, but as a presence on this island. The protagonists meet them, and then get out of their land as soon as possible.
The film is also plain gorgeous. I’m not usually a fan of this much CG, because I’m hugely opinionated, but there are sequences in this film where I got swept up in the action in a way that rarely happens for me.
Are there issues? Sure. The film feels, at time, disjointed, like there isn’t enough linking the scenes. So, what is it? What makes this movie so good, in my view?
The love. I know, that’s odd in a movie where there’s a scare with stick bug. But, bear with me.
Everything about this movie shows an honest love for not only the film being made, but the films it honors. The love is evident in every performance, particularly Hiddleston. For a portion of the movie, I was confused. His performance seemed...lacking. Like he wasn’t acting. This isn’t normally the case with Hiddleston, and it wasn’t until halfway through that I realized: it’s on purpose. Hiddleston is embodying the lead actor of all monster movies: a blank slate onto which the audience can project themselves.
I can’t find the quote, which is driving me crazy, but several years ago I heard an observation from Christopher Nolan. He said, and I’m badly paraphrasing, that all he needs to enjoy a movie is to believe that the filmmakers cared about what they were making. And it is evident, in every nook and cranny of KONG: SKULL ISLAND, that the creators cared about what they were doing.
I couldn’t find that quote, so here’s another one to close us out:
“You know when Hollywood does a great big blockbuster that really wraps you up in a world, and lets you believe in extraordinary things that move you in some way, in an almost operatic sensibility? That to me is the most fun I have at the movies.” — Christopher Nolan
Cheers for now. Look for Chapter 13 of Smilin’ Jaq, out tomorrow.