Kong: Skull Island

If you’ve never seen King Kong then you should. It’s marvelous. Like Star Wars before Star Wars. It’s basically a clinic on how to do Special Effects fantasy filmmaking. 

It’s also nearly impossible to remake. Jackson’s version is actually pretty good. It’s just way too long. It’s one of those films that I deeply enjoyed the first time I saw it in theaters. Since then each viewing seems longer and longer. But aside from that film all other Kongs are basically trash. Except when attached to Godzilla.

And that is one of the reasons that the newest Kong works as well as it does. This is easily the best remake of King Kong so far. That isn’t saying much. But it’s still very good. The current US resurgence of interest in kaiju hasn’t produced any turds so far. And the Monsterverse or Monarchverse or whatever it’s called could potentially be the golden age of kaiju movies. That’s heresy to diehards but from my perspective the greatest period of kaiju films was the 90s. And this has nothing to do with nostalgia because despite growing up in the 90s I did not watch any of these films until recently. 

But aside from the dark spot of the American Godzilla (which is not nearly as bad as people make out today, I mean it’s bad but I’ve seen worse) it’s a treasure trove. The rebooted Gamera trilogy is the brightest spot. Then you also have the rebooted Mothra trilogy. And from 89-04 12 Japanese Godzilla films were made, about 4 or 5 of which are best Godzilla films ever. Also if you include the Jurassic Park films as Kaiju then that only strengthens the argument. But if they’re included then Lake Placid, Anaconda, and Komodo could be thrown in there as well, and despite their corniness those films are very enjoyable. But the Monarchverse could become bigger. Smaller Kaiju films like Colossal are evidence that maybe other companies besides Legendsry are interested in these films. And with the Pacific Rim series and a revamped Jurassic Park series it seems like a real possibility that these are days of Giant monsters. And of course WB and Legendary will be making loads of cash off all of it.

I think the kaiju genre should be more strictly defined as not just big monsters but ridiculously huge monsters. That doesn’t seem to be the standard opinion since King Kong is usually included as the first real kaiju film. But really if they’re just big monster movies every dinosaur movie ever made is a kaiju film and that just seems wrong. It makes more sense to include Jurassic World because the Indominous isn’t a dinosaur but still, big monsters are just big. Giant monsters are towering gods.

In any case Kong: Skull Island is certainly a kaiju film. Kong hasn’t been this big since his Japanese days. I think he’s only featured in 2 Japanese kaiju films, one is King Kong vs Godzilla and the other is King Kong Escapes.

I watched KKvsG this morning for the first time and I’m gonna publish a review of that later (I liked it, remember I don’t usually do reviews for films I don’t like). But K:SI actually has more in common with that film than the original. Not just the ridiculous size but the plot, the setting, and the fact that they are both truly kaiju films.

Kaiju films are about big monsters fighting. Or big robots fighting monsters. And King Kong really only has the one monster fight. In the original he fights an allosaurus (I think it’s called a T Rex, but if memory serves it can’t be due to anatomy) and that’s it. It’s awesome but not exactly a kaiju fight. Jackson got much closer with his Kong vs multiple V-Rexes fight. That felt like a giant monster fight.

And K:SI is sorta like that fight as a film. Lots of monster fights. And no dinosaurs within sight. All original monsters in this film. Except for the big guy himself.

It’s very fun. It has that Apocalypse Now vibe without the darkness, the jungle feels sweaty and gross, the atmosphere is sick with dread. But the elements that work the best are the richness of the setting and the actors. The original premise is very absurd. And I don’t mean absurd as in not real. None of this crap is real. It’s all fantasy. What I mean is that the world isn’t coherent or intentional. Here everything has some sort of explanation. And as Blake Smith of MonsterTalk said the explanations are very Lovecraftian.

I didn’t see that in Godzilla 2014 but this world is an extension of the Cthulhu mythos in theme if not actual continuity. The smallness of humans is always at play, the randomness of survival, and ancient gods that are theologically not gods at all just Giant monsters.

Of course these films are not horror and they do not feel bleak. But that stuff is all still there. We are small, we are recent, and this planet doesn’t belong to us. Also if they’re getting into hollow earth stuff (something that comes up early in the film) then the pulp Sci Fi tropes may start overflowing! In fact Tarzan could easily get in on the action. 

WB (not Legendary) made The Legend of Tarzan last year. I don’t know what the deal is currently in terms of Tarzan rights but if WB was able to make one Tarzan film they can probably do it again. And Edgar Rice Burroughs invented 3 major mythologies. The Tarzan one, Barzoom (which sadly we have seen almost nothing of except the excellent John Carter film from a few years ago), and Pellucidar. Two of my favorite films as a kid are Pellucidar adaptations: The Land that Time Forgot and The People that Time Forgot. They haven’t aged well but the point is that Pellucidar is a hollow earth setting. Now Tarzan doesn’t live there but he did go there at one point.

Maybe he “fell asleep” there a hundred years ago and was recently awakened. Plus Pellucidar makes sense as a source for all these monsters that are obviously coming. It’s a primordial world full of monsters.

In any case the Monarchverse is going to be really fun if they keep this up. They should call it the Nerdverse. There’s so much nerdy stuff at play.

K:SI was a lot of fun. If you like giant monsters and adventure films you need to watch it. I give it an 8/10. The actor’s were all well chosen and fun to watch together. Goodman lends credibility to everything he touches. He is very underrated. And all the leads are basically pitch perfect in their various rolls.

Also this film has one of the best codas ever. I don’t want to fool spoil it if you haven’t seen it but it’s awesome.


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