Love and scandal are the best sweeteners of tea. —Henry Fielding

16 September 2017


Kong: Skull Island is a veritable Boschian garden of delights from start to finish. The entire structure of the film is that the characters fight one giant monster after another, and although the movie is about 105 minute long, it almost never slows down at all.

There are other good things, too. Nearly every moment of exposition is delivered by John C. Reilly doing a kind of clown–crazy man thing, so that even the information that we need to know we get delivered to us in a funny way (despite the fact that really insanely disgusting monsters are threatening to eat and kill our little band of heroes).

And the CGI is pretty excellent. There are giant musk oxen, giant spiders, a giant octopus, a giant gorilla (incidentally every character who refers to Kong's species refers to him as a monkey), and then there are these evil fucking reptiles with heads like the skinless skulls of giant, dead lizards. All of this looked very real to me, and the CGI team also gives us countless explosions, waves, and helicopter crashes, as well. All of it works well, and the sound effects editing is also excellent.

But it's Kong's plot that works the best. It never bothers with sentimentality – substituting the protagonists' feelings of wonder and awe for sentiment and renewed courage and other well-worn action-movie tropes. Kong simply doesn't have time for that sort of thing. Or rather it doesn't take time for those sorts of things the way a lesser movie would. In Kong there's always another monster attacking that we need to figure out how to neutralize.

Kong killing monsters? Thank you, and more, please.
There are a group of themes, and these mostly articulate the dangers of misguided revenge fantasies and close-minded masculine military bravado. Kong is set during the Vietnam War (with a small section in World War II), and this not only puts Kong in the time period just after many of the great monster movies (Mothra, Rodan, Godzilla, The Crawling Eye), but it also links the film's fighting of monsters to larger themes of the fighting of many-headed "monsters" like, say, ISIL or terrorism in general or Al Qaeda or even the so-called war on drugs. The film is invested in communicating to its audience not only the futility of fighting Kong with grenades or helicopters or machine guns but also the insanity of fighting with Kong in the first place. The massive ape, as it turns out, is defending the island from disgusting, vicious, and remorseless subterranean terrors. So the military was aiming its firepower in the wrong direction all along.

Mr. Kebbell, when not covered by a mo-cap suit
As for acting, everyone does just fine. Thomas Mann (honestly, I can't believe that's his name, but this is the kid from Me, Earl and the Dying Girl) is lovable as the soldier attached to Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larsen, and John C. Reilly is very funny as the soldier from the 1940s still stuck on the island. Best in show is Toby Kebbell, the British actor who is mostly known for mo-cap roles. He was in Warcraft and also in the new Planet of the Apes movies, where he plays Koba, the son of Caesar (Andy Serkis). Kebbell is great in the second Apes film, and he's great here – he does double duty as the loneliest of the soldiers and Kong himself (a mo-cap prince, if you will, to Serkis's king).

In any case, I recommend this. It's much better than the third Apes movie, doesn't take itself at all seriously, and never slows down for a minute. The third act, in which Kong fights beast after beast, is an absolute pleasure. The fact that Kong: Skull Island was directed by the same guy who directed The Kings of Summer is a bit shocking to me (this is only his second feature!), but it makes as much sense as anything else does in this world.

(Also, I obviously love monster movies. I don't think was clear to me before, but it is now.)

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