“Is that… a monkey?”
Kong is up there with Hollywood’s most iconic beasts. This, his 8th cinematic outing, may not put a new spin on things or reinvent the wheel, but it is quite a lot of fun. This is part due to the incredible, and immensely knowing, direction and cinematography. From the earliest artwork, posters and eventual trailer it became increasingly clear that this blockbuster would be refreshing in its cineliteracy.
‘Apocalypse Now’ is a clear reference point – the poster above emulates the older film’s stylistics – with the whole film being something of an homage to the 1979 classic. From the posters, to the positioning & camerawork, to the use of the reflection of sunglasses to reveal an explosion – it’s all there. Plus there’s that soundtrack; Creedence Clearwater Revival, Black Sabbath, Jefferson Airplane, The Stooges and Bowie. No wonder the film was chosen to be set in 1973 to get a soundtrack like that. No ‘The End’ though, which would have been one allusion to many…
Ever wanted a Vietnam movie with a gigantic gorilla in it? Well, you’ve got it now either way. The film isn’t particularly subtle when it comes to this – characters refer to the nature of conflict, why they are in Vietnam and how/why things played like they did. Admittedly the line “a camera is way more dangerous than a gun”, uttered by Samuel L. Jackson, is one of the dialogue finest moments of profound yet unsubtle reflexivity.
In fact, the film isn’t exactly subtle when it comes to anything. The entirety of its dialogue is procedural and expository, what little characterisation there is supplied wholly from character conversations (the bit involving Larson’s ‘anti-war photographer’ and Time magazine is groan-inducing). Perhaps this is because the character’s need to be disposable so we don’t mind so much when they die (the opposite logic to that of Rogue One).
Our hero, as played by HRH Sir Hiddles, is given a pretty nifty introduction via the means of playing pool (side note: When did playing pool in a film first get associated with a being a ‘hero’? It’s been used as shorthand for as far back as I can think of.) From then on neither he nor Larson really get that much to do – apart from looking equally pretty whilst enduring endless onslaughts of attacks from hell monsters.
It’s the main man/ape himself who manages to come across as the most human; be that as intended point to aid the film’s reading as a war movie or through dodgy screenplay.He’s given far more to do than any of the human characters and, somewhat surprisingly, gives the film’s most nuanced performance. This is not said to undermine the performances of the cast – John C.Reilly provides great comedic relief, Samuel L.Jackson is as mothercluckin’ good as always, Thomas Mann is adorable and John Goodman reminds us yet again that he needs to be in more films (may I propose that Hollywood impose a yearly quota of Goodman performances?). It’s just that this isn’t their movie. It’s His: the 100-foot tall chest-beating primate. That’s the reason you’re there.
It’s just a shame the bonkers mayhem is a bit uneven; it’s more stopy-starty than out-and-out chaos. But, if that doesn’t dampen your enthusiasm, the spectacle is reason enough reason to go and while away your friday night.
‘Kong: Skull Island’ opened in UK cinemas on 9th March.
Year: 2017 Runtime: 120 minutes Dir: Jordan Vogt-Roberts