Tom H. Kong
by ETHAN PETERSON
Kong: Skull Island
dir. Jordan Vogt-Roberts
King Kong had a gentler side. He wanted to be with a woman in order to satisfy his emotional and sexual needs. This is deemed too reductive and animalistic. Now we need a new reason for Kong to protect a woman, in Kong: Skull Island a photographer named Mason Weaver (Brie Larson). This new reason is as follows: Kong respects her.
You see, one afternoon he comes upon Brie Larson, wearing the sort of top that is so crudely described, after the 1970s era events of Kong: Skull Island, as a wife beater. He sees this tiny woman attempting to lift the wing of a plane off of an oversized moose. She can’t move it an inch, so he does it for her.
Later, his faith in this incredibly strong photographer is rewarded during his fight with a massive lizard. At a distance longer than a football field Ms. Weaver strikes the beast in the head with a flare gun. This magical shot indicates she has a future in the Olympics, and in fact the 1976 iteration of those events was held in Quebec. I hope Mason Weaver made it there.
Her other love interest is a human being named James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston). Hiddleston’s upper torso is even more impressive than Larson’s. The two project their chests outwards constantly in a subtle mockery of apes. At one point Hiddleston is patrolling an ape graveyard where the bones of Kong’s family are scattered. It is not his custom to bury the dead. Hiddleston’s chest area protrudes far out as he slices tiny pterodactyls out of the air.
Kong: Skull Island is kind of going for a Jurassic Park-type vibe, but the film struggles to be either scary or funny. A platoon of soldiers exiting South Vietnam is enlisted on a scientific mission. The film’s most exciting sequence occurs very early on as Kong swats about ten helicopters out of the sky. Helos prove to be a very poor choice for the island, since Kong barely notices human beings when they are not in the air firing bullets at his face.
In the island’s interior, we meet a fighter pilot (John C. Reilly) who crashed on Skull Island’s beach during the last war. Coming across the comic aspect of this extremely serious film is a relief to everyone involved, although we quickly notice that Hiddleston has zero interest in any of the people around him. Some of the hot jokes Reilly is given include wondering if the Cubs have won the world series yet, and the names he has given to the local fauna and flora. He lives with an ancient, silent civilization who, along with Kong, have kept him from harm.
The depiction of these native people, suggesting that in one thousand years they haven’t developed a spoken or written language of any kind, is distressing. Reilly aludes to the possibility that the group has a primitive form of telepathy, or maybe he is just saying that they can only understand each other through body language. This is even less advanced than dolphins.
Samuel L. Jackson is given the thankless, pseudo-satirical role of a commander who never wanted to leave Vietnam. He hates Kong and plots to destroy him, eventually managing to burn the monkey quite seriously with napalm. As Kong writhes from his wounds, it is hard to feel too bad for him, given that all he really does is mope around the island and kill foes. What kind of life is that, even?
Mr. Jackson is murdered by Kong’s fist before he can achieve his goals. We never get to know anyone else half so well – I think Hiddleston has like six lines in the entire movie. Now that Kong is just a pathetically whiny beast, the entire theme of the original has been overwritten. The replacement for this allegory of man as beast is that Kong is only a man after all. It is almost impressive in a way that Vogt-Roberts (The Kings of Summer) is even able to construct a film this insubstantial, this devoid of plot or character. It is like eating a marshmallow the size of a human head.
Ethan Peterson is the reviews editor of This Recording.