A gloriously geeky B-movie, elevated by Vietnam allusions & gorgeous cinematography
“We’re all going to die together out here. A-ha-ha! You shouldn’t have come here…”
My word, this is dumb. So wonderfully dumb. I mentioned yesterday how The Kings Of Summer felt like it was made by a 15-year-old – since then, it seems Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ filmmaking style has regressed even further. This time he’s gone all out and made the King Kong film you always dreamed of… as a child. It’s like if somebody developed a loving two-hour-long homage to the atomic breath scene in Gareth Edwards’ underrated Godzilla. The characters are thinly-scripted, the story is (somewhat) lacking and the pacing is relentless – but does any of that matter when you’ve got an 80-foot gorilla plucking helicopters out of the sky?
It’s all rather tongue-in-cheek. At least, I hope it is. There’s actually something admirable about this $100 million-dollar blockbuster that never strives to take itself too seriously. It’s a large-scale, campy B-movie in the skin of a studio tentpole, populated by an overwhelming number of talented actors who feel like they’re simply having a good time (without necessarily delivering their best work onscreen). There’s something pleasantly geeky about this, with all the monsters, myths and Monarch mysteries in play. Even the island feels like its own character – lending the film that Lost vibe (even if it lacks the show’s patient approach to storytelling).
In amongst all the dumb popcorn tomfoolery, Kong is still able to blow you away as a pure, captivating visual experience. Larry Fong delivers his finest work behind the camera, bathing Vogt-Roberts’ feature in a resplendent display of fiery orange embers, gaseous greens and lush aquatic blues. His association with studio blockbusters is likely the only thing that’s kept him from Oscar recognition thus far – and that’s unlikely to change with a movie that, at times, almost feels undeserving of his immense optical talents.
If there’s one narrative strand that Kong: Skull Island gets (mostly) right, it’s the film’s overt connection to the Vietnam War. First hinted at by that Apocalypse Now-themed marketing campaign, Kong proudly displays its period roots here through attentive production design and a memorable soundtrack (headlined by the likes of Bowie & Black Sabbath). It even bleeds into Fong’s cinematography (through that soon-to-be-iconic image of Kong standing in front of a blood orange sun), and helps position the film’s most compelling character (Samuel L. Jackson’s excellent embittered Lt. Col. Packard) as a commentary on America’s war-mongering nature – and humanity’s propensity to venture into places where they don’t belong.
And did I mention the 80-foot gorilla plucking helicopters out of the sky?
This is for a whole other article, for a completely different time, but there’s so much I want to say about how this fast-paced, light-hearted fluff works nicely alongside Peter Jackson’s much darker, mature, sluggish take on King Kong from ten years ago. Together, the two serve as a shining example of how remakes/re-tellings can co-exist – and even complement each other – simply by adopting different styles.