In the song “Send in the Clouds,” the Silver Jews asked the question, “Why can’t monsters get along with other monsters?” Then they answered it: “They don’t want to.” Thank God for that.
I fucking love monster movies, when they’re done well, like Pacific Rim and Godzilla 2000, War of the Gargantuans and Destroy All Monsters. When they suck, like the 1999 Godzilla, they suck harder than a whore with a waiting list.
Can you imagine how shitty movies would be if Godzilla only got parts in romantic comedies, where he and Mothra only think they hate each other because of some silly miscommunication? Their mutual friend is a sassy gay barista at the coffee house they both frequent. Then, it turns out, they’re actually in love, and they’re going to have a big wedding with all the monsters, and Baby Godzilla as the flower girl. Granted, the King of the Monsters would be more watchable than Gerard Butler, but that’s like saying burning diarrhea is more better than bloody diarrhea. I just want to live in a world where the Nora Ephrons and Katherine Heigls are more likely to be eaten or burned to a crisp by prehistoric beasts than they are to make movies.
All of this leads me to Kong: Skull Island, which is a great monster movie wrapped n a tortilla of human shit. In that sense, a lot like a Taco Bell burrito, except they tend to have human shit on the inside too. In Kong’s case, the tortilla is pointless and dull characters and stories that do nothing but keep us from getting right to monster fights. And those fights are glorious: Kong, the giant ape, grapples with a squid, two-legged lizards from the belly of the earth, and finally with the biggest and baddest hellbeast. There are giant water buffaloes, pterosaurs and spiders. Blood is shed, guts ripped out, tentacles eaten, human heads barfed up, ancient ship props used as maces, and the mayhem is all spectacular.
Kong: Skull Island takes place in 1973. Why? Three reasons, I guess: a cockamamie excuse to have a stranded WWII survivor (John C. Reilly) on the island and not decrepit; military helicopters are fun to watch crash; and so they can cram as much overused Jefferson Airplane and Creedence Clearwater Revival music onto the soundtrack. The Vietnam war is piddling out shamefully, the Marines don’t know where to go next, and John Goodman plays a man who believes monsters exist. He doesn’t tell anyone else that when he cons the government into funding an expedition to a mysterious and uncharted island using idle marines. The expedition also includes some nondescript scientists, mostly there to be killed, and a photographer (Brie Larson) and “professional tracker” (Tom Hiddleston).
Those last two consume way too much screentime given that they’re as interesting to watch as a yuppie couple feeding their children at the food court. Seriously, they suck the air out of the movie. It’s like they’re in a different, overly serious and lame, war drama. The tone of their scenes is out of touch with the sillier and far more enjoyable parts of Kong. Come on, this is a movie about a giant ape; it’s supposed to be silly. Plus, Brie comes across as a moron forced to utter some of the most inane shit you’ll hear from someone who isn’t homeless and arguing with a lamppost: when trying to stop a marine Colonel (Samuel L. Jackson) from going all Kurtz in the jungle, she says, “The world is bigger than us.” Fucking hippie. I bet that cheesy line felt like a mouthful of month-old Habitrail cedar chips coming out of her mouth.
Once on Skull Island, Goodman and crew start dropping bombs, ostensibly to measure seismic activity, but really to smoke out Kong. That pisses the ape off and he starts wrecking shit; helicopters, people, trees. I can sympathize. One afternoon, the neighbor kid Carlos threw pencils at me through an open window to wake me up. I threw his bike into a trash compactor. And I gave him an atomic wedgie.
I can think of no better use of technology, all that CGI firepower, than making giant lizard nostrils flare, or great ape blood spurt. Kong looks great, better than in 1933, 1962, 1976 and 2005, more fluid, more ape like and more expressive. He’s easily the most sympathetic character in the movie. Poor guy didn’t ask for outsiders to come and screw up the delicate balance of his life.
Unlike the self-indulgent and plodding Peter Jackson movie which was made more to memorialize Kong than to make him entertaining, the new Kong moves fairly quickly toward the good stuff: spectacle. Not fast enough, though.
Samuel L. Jackson leads the marines, and he squeezes a little life out of a shitty role. But there’s only so much an actor can do with garbage. Likewise, John C. Reilly, as he WWII vet stranded on the island seems to be having fun. I don’t know if his character was written looser and goofier or whether it’s just because Reilly’s such a great fucking actor that he understood what the flick needed. Either way, the whole thing would have been better if it played it the way Reilly does.
Actually, if you stick around until after the credits, there is a “bonus” scene that feels how the entire film should have. And it gives hope for the future.
Kong has a ticking timebomb plot. Those left on the island have to traverse it in three days to reach a rendezvous. If they’re late, they’ll be left behind. Who fucking cares? The real plot is similar to almost any Godzilla movie: the humans better stop hassling the monsters if they want to live. Let the beasts hash it out amongst themselves, and enjoy the show.
Which is exactly what I wish this movie would have done. Three Fingers for Kong: Skull Island. The ape’s great. The people mostly blow.