Saturday, March 11, 2017

Kong: Skull Island [2017]

MPAA (PG-13)  CNS/USCCB (A-III) (3 Stars)  AVClub (B)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
Los Angeles Times (K. Turan) review (M. Zoller Seitz) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review

Kong: Skull Island [2017] (directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, screenplay by Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein and Derek Connolly, story by John Gatins) ON ONE LEVEL does to / for the King Kong [wikip] [IMDb] story what Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now [1976] did to / for Joseph Conrad's novel Heart of Darkness [wikip] [GR] -- both moved stories about turn-of-the-20th century colonial Africa to 1970s era South East Asia in the context of the Vietnam War.

Now the King Kong story about great and misunderstood Ape was always campier than Conrad's far darker parable about the "limits of Civilization," but in truth the two treaded on similar territory.  And so it is here.  As one of the reviewers I cite above already noted, King Kong is really only one (qualifying) adjective from Viet Cong ;-).  And while it _may be_ that for _some_ A GIANT (!) HUNDRED FOOT APE would _immediately seem_ like "an enemy," it's _probably_ worth taking the time to figure out whether _either_ sheer brawn or mere strangeness would AUTOMATICALLY _make_ someone (or SOMEthing) such.

But there are actually _more_ send-ups, conflations and homages present here than just mashing up the King Kong story with Conrad's Heart of Darkness / Coppola's Apocalypse Now [1976].

There's a Back to the Future [1985] / Forrest Gump [1994]-ish aspect to the film as two truly goofball "scientists" -- a burly, confident (with no particular reason to be) Trump-ish, Paul Randa (played wonderfully by John Goodman) as his quieter, if just as loopy Ben Carlson-ish "Hollow Earth" theorist assistant Houston Brooks (played by Corey Hawkins) get out of a taxi by the Washington Mall (crazy anti-Vietnam War Protests taking place at every side).  They were there to hit-up some Senator in his office for funding for their expedition). "Mark my words," Randa tells his colleague in typically confident form, "There will NEVER BE a goofier time in Washington D.C. than now."  People at the screening that I attended audibly laughed ;-)

The two were going to the random Senator's office because the (then) new Landsat imaging satellite had supposedly discovered some previously uncharted island somewhere in the South Pacific (an island previously undiscovered because it was surrounded by a perpetual hurricane storm system).  They wanted to go there, why?  Because they believed that it could be precisely _there_ that an entrance into the two's postulated "Hollow Earth" could be found.  Such an entrance could not be found _elsewhere_ across _the known reaches- of Earth, so it had to be located a place such as this ... a place previously undiscovered.  Needless to say, the Senator was not impressed.  However, when Randa suggests that the Russians have satellites of their own and could soon discover the island themselves, he gives them the go-ahead ... and the rest of the (ever campy) story ensues.

To get to the previously unknown island, the two "scientists" ask the Senator also for military helicopter escort.  Why?  Well to _test_ whether or not the Island is an entrance to "the Hollow Earth" they hope to "scientifically bomb" it ;-).

This escort is led by a Col. Preston Packard (played wonderfully by Samuel L. Jackson) who was previously quite depressed that the U.S. was pulling out of Vietnam ("After all the sacrifices, why are we leaving now?" he asks rhetorically at one early point in the film).  Well, this mission gives him and his men something still to do (even if a fair amount of his men were just hoping to get home -- alive -- soon). 

Well _bombing_ said island, "scientifically" or not, WAKES UP SAID ONE HUNDRED FOOT GORILLA ... KONG who starts flailing at the Helicopters.  Well, Col. Preston Packard knows an enemy when he sees one (even if he does not understand it, or even doesn't really have the resources to defeat it), and directs the remainder of his helicopter squadron to attack said ONE HUNDRED FOOT GORILLA, which makes a short course of them, swatting them around and around like flies.

What to do now?  Well poor Col. Packard becomes really pissed off (to a CAPT. AHAB / MOBY DICK-like level) and spends the rest of the story trying to find _some way_ to defeat this MONSTER, even as he (and the others in the group) are being given more and more information that would suggest that the GORILLA wasn't really an ENEMY but ACTUALLY SOMETHING OF A HERO ... keeping even more vicious / reptilian monsters from entering our world from below (well, what do you know?  Randa and Brooks were right ;-).

This information came from a jolly ROBINSON CRUSOE-like WW II vet named Capt Hank Marlow (played wonderfully by John C. Rilley) who the expedition encounters on the island after it had been brought down and scattered by Kong.  Capt. Marlow had been shot down over the island during World War II and stuck there ever since.  He (and a Japanese pilot, shot down at the same time) had come to see Kong as a friend. 

What to do?  It becomes clear that there are multiple ways to look at Kong.  Col. Packard keeps trying to fight him.  Others, who come to see some of the reptilian monsters that stranded WW II vet Capt. Marlow was talking about start to see that Marlow may have a point.

As goofy as this film is, it leaves one with much to talk / think about ;-)

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