‘Kong’ isn’t the worst choice for monster movies

By Gary Clift

If you must go see a movie about giant monsters, maybe “Kong Skull Island” wouldn’t be the worst choice. It looks tons better than “Godzilla” (even the newest version). And if its story doesn’t have the figurative kick of “Godzilla,” where the monster stands in for the atomic bomb, it does make a lot more natural sense than does the Japanese classic.

It does begin with a Japanese character, a human. He is a World War II pilot whose plane crashes on the beach of the always storm-surrounded Pacific island. And at the same moment, an American pilot named Marlow also parachutes in after his plane hits. The two airmen begin to fight hand to hand. And then they see Kong, the anthropoid ten stories tall.

Flash forward to 1971, and through a few pop songs from that period—the Chambers Brothers’ “Time,” “Run Through the Jungle,” and (when we first see Oscar-winner Brie Larson) “Long Cool Woman in a Black Dress.” American forces are being moved out of Vietnam, and this frustrates Col. Packard (Samuel L. Jackson).

So he’s willing to take on a new mission accompanying a scientific party and a representative of a satellite mapping concern as they take a stroll across the island, which is uncharted and generally cursed. Army copters somehow get the little troop through the thundering mantle and over the sometimes mountainous, sometimes jungle choked island. Then they see the big monkey.

They’ve dropped a few bombs, supposedly to set up seismic tests but probably actually to stir up the sort of over-sized wildlife Randa (John Goodman), who is the leader of the civilian party, was expecting to find, document, and
report back to the world of man. The bombs upset Kong, who shows he knows how to knock things out of the air. Gunfire wounds him, but doesn’t slow him down.

The surviving humans form two parties, each of them advancing toward what is supposed to be their rendezvous point with their transport. Along the way they see lots more over-sized creatures, dinosaur birds, and “skull crushers” (huge lizards which live underground and will attack even Kong himself).

They also find humans on the island, mute and much painted natives who communicate by bowing. And they find Marlow, now played by John C. Reilly. For the last 30 years, he’s been busy building an escape boat out of WWII vintage airplanes.

Soon we have several stories to follow. One is about Packard, who wants to punish Kong for having fought the helicopters. One is about the company’s tracker, a Brit named Conrad and played by Tom Hiddleston. Hiddleston and Larson are hot movies properties right now, so they are allowed to fall for each other even as they avoid attacks and move toward the rendezvous.

Larson is playing a photographer named Weaver. Out by herself taking nature pix, she finds a huge water buffalo struggling to get out from under a copter fuselage. She tries to help the beast and is seen doing so by the tool-using Kong.

From that point on beauty has influence over the beast.

So there’s that sub story. There’s the one about gas emissions in a crater. These get ignited every once in a while, and the flames seem to call the “skull crushers” out of the ground. We expect to see the big one Marlow
has told us about. Marlow’s relationship with the natives and his prospects for seeing his wife and, for the first time, his 30 year-old son become additional continuing interests for us. And all the while there’s the ticking clock moving on to our friends’ one chance to get off the island.

The story about Packard probably gets slighted a little. The romance really isn’t much established. But the stuff about Marlow gets an additional kick under the closing credits. He’s said his idea of what he is trying to get back to is a Cubs game at Wrigley Field, a hot dog, and a beer. “Go Cards,” the fellow to my right said.

But this is the sort of desert island question “Kong Skull Island” can ask to effect. Does failure to resolve one conflict make us anxious to resolve the next? Does nature return our love? The movie raises these questions and more, and it does it while providing beautiful settings and colorful action.

Oh, man. You can waste your cinematic time a lot more thoroughly than by going to see “Kong Skull Island.” Try watching it while eating a hot dog and drinking a beer. Go Cards.

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