Big Monkey Breaks Stuff [Kong: Skull Island]

Kong: Skull Island gives anyone wanting to watch a monster movie exactly what they are looking for, a big-ass monster who wrecks shit right from the jump. 

Godzilla (2014), which I wrote about here, builds slow and burns long, equal parts disaster film and monster movie. Kong at times, maybe due to their eventual convergence, feels like it is trying to tap into the philosophical quality of Godzilla, but only tangentially and when it is at its worst. Most of the time it is pure, in your face, chest pounding monster mashing. 

I’m here for it. In fact, due to the overuse of the slow reveal of the monster, which, more often than not, feels lackluster and anti-climactic, there was something exciting about that tree that flew through the front windshield of a helicopter in the opening half hour of the movie. And then something akin to shock, when we don’t just glimpse a fading hindleg of a receding Kong, but the entire monster in all his glory, beating his chest amidst swirling helicopters. No teasers, no taunting. These guys dropped bombs on Kong, and we are about to see some shit. 

And that shit is really cool. It is highly stylized, probably due to the reliance on special effects, with freezes in the action at the moment of greatest impact, huge explosions, fast cuts of men getting weaponry ready and in position, and lot of Kong fodder. In short, when the movie leans into the whole “giant monkey kicking the shit out of annoying humans” shtick, Kong: Skull Island works.

But there is a whole other aspect to Kong that confused me. I had an annoying itch that I was missing something.

This Godzilla/Kong multi-verse is quite obviously leaning into man’s relationship to nature, and I enjoy it, the commentary feels appropriate (if maybe heavy handed), and it creates some resonance inside movies that could feel hollow. But Kong also has this Vietnam era period piece feel that seems highly interwoven with the plot and the series’ overarching storyline about Mother Nature but gets lost in the sauce.

I really thought that I’d be writing some piece about the intersection between Mother Nature and imperialism, some weird amalgamation of how Vietnam style tactics reveal our deepest insecurities about our inability to control the climate, or how climate change is the next proxy war we cannot win. But like… those pieces suck… and it doesn’t reflect Kong at its best or even what it is most often.

But that phantom thread that lingers like a word on the tip of the tongue does affect the feel of the movie. We seem to be rolling into an amazing monster movie, and then, after the helicopter fleet got its ass handed to them by Kong (How amazing was that shot of Kong in front of the rising sun? Got me so hyped) and they are all scattered to the four winds of Skull Island, things seem to get more serious- a twitch of the phantom thread- as Samuel L. Jackson’s character Col. Packard locks eyes with the beast and declares it his mortal enemy. There are some serious ‘Nam fucked me up overtones to that storyline, some path of vindication that Packard looks to walk after America lost its first war (‘withdrew’ as Packard put it). But, as we walk down that new path, we get… John C. Reilly… as a slightly crazy WWII era pilot after being stranded on the island for two decades?

We think we are heading towards Jaws and instead we get Talladega Nights. But lest you think the problem is John C. Reilly, it’s not. He is really funny. But it took a while to embrace that funny when we thought we were headed towards something more profound. 

And just to be fully refutational, movies can be funny and profound, but not like this. My point is not that it could never work, but that it did not work.

By the end, I gave up on the Packard storyline having any significance other than the need for a villain, and once I did, I was much happier for it. Give me Kong running through napalm, give me pterodactyls carrying away annoying scientists and ripping their arms off, give me John C. Reilly with a katana, or Michael Fassbender- wait, is that Tom Hiddleston? Okay- give me Tom Hiddleston in a gas mask killing dinosaur birds, give me a skull crawlers brain ripped out of its skull by its weird tongue-thing…. Oh yeah, that’s the good stuff. 

In the spirit of Godzilla vs KongKong: Skull Island was not up to the high standard of Godzilla, but it succeeded where it did not attempt to be like Godzilla and leaned into its own unique monster, and the storyline that monster dictated. And when it did that, *chef’s kiss*.

Check out the rest of this series here:
[Godzilla: King of the Monsters] But That’s About It…
The Battle Of The Titans: And The Roundabout Way We Got There [Godzilla vs Kong]

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Controlling the Control: A Disaster Film Meets a Monster Movie [Godzilla] (2014)
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