By: Jordan Aaron, Sawdust Editor
Kong: Skull Island marks the return of the Hollywood B-movie that knows what it is. Only the second feature in the filmography of long-bearded Jordan Vogt-Roberts, Kong veers away from the dark, brooding style that has plagued blockbuster franchises since The Dark Knight. And although I enjoyed the dark fantasies of 2014’s Godzilla, it was nice to see a monster movie be goofy.
Set in the wake of America’s exit of the Vietnam War, the film pits war hunger with peace and order. Legendary’s monster films are uniform in their stance of anti-war and removing human-intervention with nature: a staple of classic Tojo films. In Kong, the monster is not Kong, but Samuel L. Jackson’s Preston Packard and his soldiers who were shipped from Vietnam to Skull Island. Kong – the King, the Keeper of Peace – is worshipped by the native people when he saves them from the evil lizard monsters that hunt humans. And Tom Hiddleston’s James Conrad and Brie Larson’s Mason Weaver are the humans that try to reason with beasts.
This brings me to one of the biggest problems with this movie: Why on earth is Tom Hiddleston there? Conrad’s established as the big-time Special Forces battle man, but he doesn’t do any day saving, and only exists to be the man that delivers messages for Mason. While the film tries to depict Mason to be a woman, thus pushing back against gender discrimination, the presence of James Conrad still looks like nothing other than a blockbuster maintaining it’s leading man credentials.
However, John C. Reilly’s portrayal of Hank Marlow deserves an Oscar. Marlow’s been stuck on Skull Island since crashing there in World War II and is starting to lose it up there. He’s become a member of the native society and learned to value peace over war, but he’s loaded with one-liners and a humanist outlook on life. His advice to the camp stuck on Skull Island: don’t kill Kong. Leave the natural order as it is; there is no need to interfere. Reilly’s character’s humor is the face of this movie’s tone.
Kong is a movie that cuts away from intense action sequences between Kong and several Military helicopters to show shots of a Richard Nixon bobblehead in one of the cockpits. It’s a movie that shows super 16 footage of Hank Marlow drinking a beer and watching the Cubs during its credits sequence. It most certainly is a movie that is willing to laugh at itself. It’s nice to see a movie that allows one to sit in whimsy while watching a bunch of inept humans fight a gargantuan gorilla, and one that’s willing to rewrite Apocalypse Now Colonel Kurtz as a goofy peace-lover who just wants to get home to see his family. This is exactly the movie we need to see in the age of Trump: anti-violence without being melodramatic, pro-nature without being preachy, optimistic without being naïve, and above all, human. Kong: Skull Island knows its faults. It’s not perfect. It’s not Oscar material. It’s not pretentious. It is what it is. The quote that comes to mind when talking about this movie is, “If you can’t handle me at my worst, you don’t deserve me at its best.”