“Kong:  Skull Island”

                The special effects are amazingly good.  But it takes a lot of suspension of disbelief for this monster movie.  The good cast helps.  So does a script that allows some complexity on the part of both the humans and the monster.

                The “monster” in this case, is King Kong.  Yes, there have been at least seven King Kong movies already, and there’s no need to rehearse the cinema history.  Let’s just say this is a new take on an old idea.

                We begin in 1944, when an American pilot and a Japanese pilot both crash-land on a remote island, and naturally go after each other until they realize that they have a common enemy much bigger than both of them.

                Fast-forward to 1973, the end of the Vietnam era.  Troops are just getting ready to vacate the premises, so we can perhaps say that we didn’t lose the fight, we just abandoned it.  Lt. Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), for one, doesn’t feel good about the whole retreat.  So he jumps at the chance at one more mission, this time as a helicopter escort for a scientific expedition to some remote island, where there are supposed to be unique life forms, but it might be dangerous.  And we need to get there to explore it before the Commies discover it.  (Maybe we can stop the Red Menace right here.)

                The scenes at the American base have a “Good Morning, Vietnam” kind of feel to them----there are a bunch of scared kids, a certain brand of protest rock music, a bit of gallows humor, and a lot of PTSD disguised as nonchalant bravura.  Add to the mix an English mercenary, James Conrad (Tom HIddleston), who’s not quite ready to settle down in the suburbs, either, and an antiwar war photographer, Mason (Brie Larson), and suddenly their meeting the World War II vet, Hank (John C. Reilly) doesn’t seem any stranger than his entourage of silent Aborigines with copious body paint.

                It’s not just that this island is always stormy, or that expeditions sent to it keep disappearing without a trace.  It’s like a Jurassic Park of outsized breeds, from spiders to ants to vultures to some kind of lizard/raptor who’s the real enemy here.  Kong, strangely enough, is the humans’ protector.  And yes, there’s a certain chemistry between him and the beautiful young woman (Academy Award winner Brie Larson as the damsel in distress?), as if in homage to previous Kong dynamics.   But we don’t really have time for romance here, of any kind.  We’re too busy trying to get out of this time-forsaken place in one piece.  Not everybody in the expedition makes it out, of course.  But most of the main characters survive, if for no other reason than to try to convince a skeptical world that monsters actually own the planet, and they’re just letting us use it for a while.

                Well, that’s a monstrous theology, but it does make for the tantalizing possibility of sequels.  Annie Get Your Gun.

Questions for Discussion:

1)                  Are there any unchartered islands left on Earth?

2)                  Are there any undiscovered animals left on Earth?

3)                  What’s your favorite “monster movie”?  Least favorite?

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association