When it comes to reviewing movies, I have spent a good time talking about what some of my favorites are. (Or sometimes making fun of myself while talking about them. The men of MST3K are my heroes.) I’m a classics movies guy. This means that I like stories that take their time building to something bigger. This doesn’t mean that I have to understand everything about every story before it starts. Obviously, mystery movies hold back secrets until later on. But I want to have the layers peeled back slowly. (Like Shrek. Or if you are feeling a bit more like Donkeyish, then parfait.)
So on this weekend with my daughter it made perfect sense that I would watch Kong : Skull Island. Now, I know that you are positive I have lost my mind. First of all, I’m sure some of you are looking at me and wondering, how could I subject my daughter to such a thing? And secondly, doesn’t watching Skull Island go contrary to my thinking about what makes a good movie? I’m going to see Skull Island, which is the ultimate experience movie. True… in a kind of a way it is an experience movie. But given society today, my thinking went, that Kong : Skull Island was a good starting point for talking to my daughter about the world, for better and for worse.
So if you want to check back on what I thought of the movie without all of the details, come back the last paragraph. Maybe then we can share a plate of nachos. Or grab a cup of coffee? Or Rances Chicago Style Deep Dish Pizza? That sounds perfect.
The movie begins in a fire fight with an American fighter pilot and a Japanese plane in the Pacific. (Maybe that’s a little far fetched as we don’t see the man trying to beat of sheet metal with wings. He’s actually going up against a Japanese fighter pilot.) Both of them have to eject from their planes; and and as they land, they immediately start fighting one another: first with guns; then swords; and eventually with their bare fists. Finally when the Japanese pilot has the American pinned to the ground and a knife he’s trying to plunge into his heart, we see two enormous hands coming up over the ridge. Everything stops. Fade to black.
From there, we move into the opening credits sequence and we see history passing by us. There is so much different than the way things were back in the 40s. There was the ending and beginning of multiple wars. We had multiple presidents elected. We even landed a man on the moon. But now it’s 1973 and two gentleman with briefcases have made it to the capital to discuss something important. Bill Randa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) are the two men who feel the need to convince the government that they have to visit Skull Island to find out what’s out there.
While there are in the cab on the way to the Capital, there is what seems a throwaway line said by Bill. “Washington will never be crazier than it is right now.” I think it’s supposed to make the audience laugh nervously. After all, we do have Senior Orange as Commander in Chief. But it also reminds us that crazy comes in cycles. And that no matter how bad we think we may have it, bad things have happened before. This I believe is an essential theme in the piece.
So then, after having to convince the senator to finance something based upon fear of someone else discovering it first, we move on to them recruiting people for the mission. (Fear and what it inspires plays a major role in this movie. Duh!) Randa recruits a military attachment from Vietnam led by Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson). He then makes sure he recruits a tracker. They find one in the form of a former British special forces officer Captain James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston). Now they set off on a mission to go to Skull Island.
And of course this is utterly ridiculous because who in their right mind would think going to a place called Skull Island would be smart??? Unless of course you are a pirate, and then go right ahead. And then the Island isn’t just difficult to get to, or remote; it’s much worse. Bad would be a magnetic wave messing with pilot’s instruments, like in the Bermuda Triangle, which they made reference to in the film. But worse than that? Yup! It’s surrounded by an ever-circling hurricane, with the island magically always in the eye of the storm. Nothing implausible here to see. Moving along.
Given the implausibility, or the stupidity of these men, we are thrust onto Skull Island with a simple “geological” mission, to drop seismic bombs on the Island. We eventually find out that Mr. Randa has been there once before. And despite surviving the wreckage of his ship, he thought it was a good idea to go back to this place and throw bombs into the surface of the island. And then Kong appears on cue to shred this military band of brothers. Finally, Colonel Preston goes crazy and decides the best course of action is to blow up even more bombs to go after Kong, spider creature, giant water buffalo, and huge walking sticks, not to mention whatever unknown baddies might come his way. You can feel the intelligence quotient drop by the minute.
So the rest of the review should read like this. Me afraid! Me very afraid! I will not share my cookies! Blow up bad man! Blow up bad monster! Oh no! Yuck!
This is where we run into the aforementioned fighter pilot Hank Marlow, now older(played by John C. Reilly), and the IQ of the film and it’s characters slowly begin to rise. We now realize he didn’t die; and we find out that his Japanese pal didn’t either, at least not until later. Kong didn’t kill them. Neither did they kill each other.
Kong turns out to be the good force on the Island, sparing its humanity. For those who have watched the older Kong movies, this should come as no surprise. In fact, my daughter reminded me that Kong is never the bad guy, just misunderstood. And what we think is a danger, turns out not to be.
But there are, of course, real baddies on the island. There is a group out there of Skullcrawlers who are out to destroy the world and all of it’s inhabitants. They are the real danger, not the creature who looks like a big hairy ape. All I can say is Duh!
Leaving out the politics, beginning with the camera woman Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) who said she wasn’t a journalist but a anti war journalist and moving to whether the old gasbag Skullcreature was Senior Orange minus the orange toupee, I believe this movie had an amazing message to it. Impossible you say! Inconceivable you think! (And then you imagine yourself to be a balding Sicilian boss named Vizzini.)
I think this message begins with the understanding that bad things have happened before, and somehow we find our way through it that was alluded to about the 70s just post Vietnam and pre-Watergate scandal. How do we get through bad times? We get through them understanding our common connection to humanity. It is with this understanding that we find our way through the difficult times. We do it by seeing what’s common in each person, no matter how different they look, where they are from, or what set of beliefs they hold. Our humanity binds us together in so many amazing ways that go beyond fear, belief and prejudice.
Hank Marlow was the perfect example. He bonded with the Japanese pilot. He bonded with the inhabitants. And he immediately bonded with the military at the end, of which he had been a part of when he crashed. Everyone’s a brother when we fight in the trenches. Here is no different. It’s such a great message that I think many people who easily put up barriers between themselves and others need to hear.
I will try not to spoil the plot any more for those interested in seeing the movie. I’m just going to say that this is part of a new Monsterverse. And just like Marvel and D.C. films, you better stick it out to the end to find out the plans that they have for this new cinematic universe. Also, there is a slight bit of irony here that they grabbed so many people here who had been characters in Marvel Movies. It will be interesting to see where they go from here.
So why did I take my daughter? And what did I think of the film? I took my daughter because with so much fear being put out there in the world, we need to know that it’s never as big a challenge as we think it is. I wanted her to know that just because someone looks different and behaves differently than we do, does not make them bad. Bad is about what we do, not about how we appear. The film itself was beautifully shot, creditably well acted, and had just the right touches at the right times. People can act stupid in all movies. I would venture to guess that they do so in real life as well. (Just a hunch.) And, despite my protestations to the contrary, sometimes it’s nice to be sucked into a whole other world for two hours and enjoy the mindless ride. Bonus on the good message. Oh! And they had the trailer for the new Blade Runner sequel on the movie. Totally worth it! I’d give the movie 3 out of 4 stars. Or for those who loved my previous rating system: mostly toasty. (Yes I was crazy.).
So I’m dropping you off again for another couple of days. See you again on Tuesday. This is me, signing off.
David Elliott, Single Dad’s Guide to Life