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Kong: Skull Island


Kong: Skull Island - The latest chapter in a long tradition

So how many times is it that weíve seen the big ape? King Kong, the big gorilla from the mysterious island was probably the first monster in movie history to be a star and have a movie named after him in 1933. He and screaming Fay Wray were accompanied by lots of publicity, warnings to the audience, and an ambulance in attendance outside the theater (if you were in a famous venue). Kong became part of movie mythology and has been resurrected numerous times, often accompanied by other monsters, epic battles and a history of screaming actresses. Most recently, in 2005 Peter Jackson reanimated the hairy beast, with Naomi Watts doing screaming duty.

This time around, itís Jordan Vogt-Robers doing the direction with Tom Hiddleston (James Conrad), Sam Jackson (Preston Packard), Brie Larson (not screaming that much as Mason Weaver), John Goodman (Bill Randa) and John C Reilly (Frank Marlow) in the lead roles, accompanied by a bunch of disposable soldiers, adventurers and strange natives. A mysterious island has been discovered, obscured by a perpetual hurricane. It must have some sort of strategic value, because the US wants to be sure that the USSR doesnít get it. After all, itís 1973 and if the Russians are interested, then so are we, but we want it first. A bunch of Viet Nam era Hueys is dispatched with soldiers and corrupt civilians to see whatís there. Thereís some sort of Hollow Earth theory circulating among the crew that monsters can escape from the inside of the planet. The movie doesnít waste a minute on niceties.

The first thing the team does is to drop a bunch of bombs on the island, thoroughly pissing off the dominant inhabitant, our favorite giant gorilla, who proceeds to make junk and mincemeat out of the copters and much of the team. The survivors are split into two groups, trying to make sense of what has happened and trying to escape with their lives. This is, of course, Kong Island, so we know that there are a lot of different monsters and Kong just might be the most reasonable of all of them. As you probably expect, encounters with mysterious natives, giant spiders and ďskull crawlersĒ makes for a lot of noise, fighting, screaming, running and flying palm trees. The crew includes regular military guys, in full Viet Nam regalia, led by macho guy Preston Packard (Jackson), a Huey commander who doesnít leave a soldier behind. The civilian leader is James Conrad (Hiddleston), a creepy CIA guy of some sort, also accompanied by Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), the lone ďpacifistĒ in the group. She does not want to go in shooting. Along the way, they find Frank Marlow, an American who has been stranded on the island for a long time, half crazy and gone native. As veterans of many Kong movies, what we already know, is that Kong is just trying to protect his island, and is the least scary of the creatures. This becomes apparent to the crew.

So, how does this one rank among the many, many movies in which King Kong has appeared? Iím sure I have not seen all of them, but Iíve seen many, and one of my early childhood traumas was seeing the 1933 version of the story on TV, the one that made me mess my diaper, so itís a long history for me. Fortunately, as amped up as the FX were, this was pretty good. The movie really doesnít waste much time on overblown exposition, since they know what we really came to see. Itís heavy on action, light on confabulated explanations for how this island came to be. Kong is also a decent mashup. Aside from the early stop-motion black and white movies, it draws elements from the various remakes and the Japanese monster movies in which Kong was a character. It also draws heavily on Viet Nam era lore, having elements that look like outtakes from Apocalypse Now, especially Reillyís Marlow character, whoís gone off the deep end, but becomes a likable character. It has a great early 70ís soundtrack. Almost everything in the movie is rendered digitally, and considering the content, itís pretty good. The plot line works and acting is as good as it needs to be, considering that most of it is running and screaming. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed itÖ.fast moving, economical and having a good climax and ending. Be sure to NOT leave it before the credits are done. There seems to be a plan afoot for something to follow, and you donít want to walk out without knowing what it is. I canít finish without the naturalist in me remarking that the entire franchise, back to 1933, has given real Gorillas an undeserved reputation. This does a little but to fix that since Kong is only protecting his domain. Itís a fun movie, with lots of suspense and action, a good addition to a tradition thatís 84 years old now. I did not see it in 3D, but, technically, all of the action and animation was well done, settings and costumes are good and Kong is as scary as the one that traumatized me as a kid.