King hit for new Kong?

Review: Kong Skull Island

(M) Tom Hiddleston, Smauel L Jackson, Brie Larson

The giant ape has been a film icon since the 1930s and continues to be the subject of countless films, publications and comic books. He is one of the most recognised brands in the film industry and is the inspiration for a new version every decade. There is an underlying understanding that the driving force behind these films will be special effects and action, not necessarily  great dialogue or profound plot points. Even with this knowledge, King Kong’s animal magnetism seems to draw award-winning actors to line up to be on screen with the furry behemoth. From Jessica Lange to Adrien Brody to one of the most recent Academy Award winners, Brie Larson, there is quite a legacy of great acting talent in King Kong films. With minimal expectation of a different storyline, can this latest instalment of the old franchise have the same cinematic muscle as its predecessors? Yes, with tongue squarely in cheek and the understanding that audiences will get the very thing that they have come to expect from the historic beast and his human on-screen counterparts.

This rendition begins in 1973, when the world was coming into an era of extreme change and political chaos. The Vietnam War was coming to an end and US President Richard Nixon was still sitting in the Oval Office. Due to new satellite initiatives of the US government, scientist Bill Randa (John Goodman) sees a window of opportunity to get an expedition funded. As the senior official in a government organisation called Monarch, he has been eager for years to explore the uncharted Skull Island in the South Pacific (a similar place to the legend of the Bermuda Triangle). With the assistance of a seasoned US military helicopter division led by Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L Jackson), a war photojournalist, Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) and a former SAS Captain James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), Randa leads this odd crew of misfits on an adventure into the unknown. The apparent goal is to seek out new geological findings, potential medicinal discoveries and find new animal species. But as the team arrives at their destination, the ulterior motives of the Monarch are made clear. Randa and his crew are forced to disclose their priorities as the whole entourage is confronted by the beastly inhabitants of the island. They must figure out how to survive and determine how to confront these beasts who are led by none other than the giant gorilla, Kong.

The quintessential primate villain is back, but in a new twist to his role as the anti-hero. Throughout the opening sequences of Skull Island, there are no surprises in his vicious attack on the invading human horde. Kong is king of the island hideaway does all he can to protect his territory. He is the defender of all inhabitants that are above ground, which include the local native human tribe. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (The Kings of Summer) takes his central character down a slightly varied path as a visceral defender of this land of behemoth creatures. This role for Kong goes even to the point of him being labelled a god and saviour to all creatures great and small. Even when he is under attack by Colonel Packard and his soldiers – or the other worldly ‘Skull-crushers’ – Kong manages to maintain his distinctive nature of patron-saint of Skull Island.

Vogt-Roberts underlying homage to Apocalypse Now does add a nostalgic edge, but does not change the familiar ‘King Kong’ tone of the film. The star-studded cast all play to their cliched roles and are bit players in this monster-focused adventure. Even though they are strong figures, very few prove to be anything other than a specific ‘type’ of character that have all been seen before. Tom Hiddleston (The Avengers) seems too refined for the former SAS officer. He has the swagger attitude, but lacks the look and presence needed to be convincing in the role.

If anyone should be able to deliver on the role of the grizzled leader of the helicopter squadron, it should be Samuel L. Jackson (The Legend of Tarzan). The main issue is that Jackson has come to lack originality in his performance of Col Preston Packard. Brie Larson (Room) and John Goodman (Patriot’s Day) are left to play trivial characters that seem below their reputations within the acting community. The only highlight of the human players has to be the inclusion of John C. Reilly as a stranded WWII flying ace. He provides the needed levity to the science-fiction action and becomes the heart of the whole story. He is a shining light among the rest of the cast’s relative perfunctory performances.

What it comes down to is realising that this is Kong’s film. It is predictable and formulaic, but it still proves to work for audiences. There is nothing new to add to the canon of King Kong films, but it provides a mindless escape to enjoy some light entertainment and popcorn at the flicks.

What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film?

The violence of humanity flows powerfully through Kong: Skull Island. This on-screen treatment of how much we can hurt others reminded me of something famous film-maker Orson Welles (Citizen Kane) said more than 40 years ago about violence in film. “We’re brutalising the audience. We’re going to end up like the Roman circus, live at the Coliseum. The respect for human life seems to be eroding,” Welles told fellow direction Peter Bagdonovich in 1970 (as reported by Hollywood Reporter).

How should Christians respond to violence in the cinema? 

Miroslav Volf from Yale Divinity School is a professor of theology and author of a number of books and articles. His latest work is A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good. In this interview, he discusses the relationship between Christianity and violence and why he believes more religion is the key to reducing violence.

Russell Matthews works for City Bible Forum Sydney and is a film blogger




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