During World War II, in the battle of the Pacific, an American pilot and a Japanese pilot, locked in combat over the water, contrived to shoot each other down and unexpectedly parachuted down onto an uncharted island. Not far from one another, they resumed their aggression on the ground, eventually ending up at the top of a cliff, but just as one pilot was about to deliver the death blow, a huge, hairy paw slammed down beside them, then another on the alternate side, and finally a massive ape's head rose to stare at them with considerable fury... That was nearly thirty years ago, and a lot has changed, but the United States is still at war - for the next three days, for a cease fire has been arranged in Vietnam, and the clock is ticking for a certain mission.
One thing the original King Kong movie from 1933 made a selling point, aside from the state of the art special effects, was its pathos: here was a monster movie with the emphasis on moving, designed to tug on the heartstrings. However, when Toho got their hands on the property in the nineteen-sixties, the diehard fans were up in arms, how dare this Japanese outfit cheapen this classic with their notably cheaper man in a suit version of Kong - and pit him against Godzilla to boot? Well, come 2017 and those duo of Toho efforts were looking remarkably prescient, especially as Kong: Skull Island had a franchise in mind, and was set to effectively remake one of those flicks since the focus was on action and lots of it.
Even Peter Jackson's incarnation of the big ape was less contentious with the fans, but the fact remained this was a big enough hit to greenlight the next Godzilla movie where the green guy would fight the sort of hero of this, as Hollywood adopted the Japanese model for giant monster movies. Here the gimmick was that someone had apparently noted the enemy forces the Americans were struggling with in 1973 were the Viet Cong, so change one letter et viola: Viet Kong! Imagine the high fives in the boardroom when that came up. Therefore when the mission is confirmed and John Goodman's team joins with grumbling U.S. Army soldiers who were hoping to be headed home by now, the metaphor was hard to miss.
That was down to it being pointed out by director Jordan Vogt-Roberts at every opportunity as the helicopters, up to date and fitted with all mod cons, transport the explorers through the stormy weather system that protects Skull Island and almost before they can take in their surroundings (a lot of shots of taking in of scenery here) they are batted out of the sky by King Kong himself, who either resents the intrusion or mistakes them for a foe, which they may well be, and certainly some are after this attack. Photographer Brie Larson was the sole female character of note (Jing Tian was there too, but barely registered), yet all thoughts of romantic longing as seen in previous tellings of this tale were abolished for the sake of more action. Actually, the title character was sparingly used, and only exhibited a tender side in the final stages.
That was because there were worse creatures on the island than Kong, though the so-called skull crawlers were of a disappointing design, purely present as a menace for him to beat up and far from the iconic style he carried. That said, homage was the order of the day, not merely for past Kongs, but also anywhere from Apocalypse Now to The Flight of the Phoenix to Jurassic Park to Jumanji - you could be very distracted ticking off what bits of this movie you had seen before. The human aspect was more in service to running away from, and occasionally being caught by, the beasts, than it was building up strong personalities, with Tom Hiddleston as a British agent set adrift in the Far East hardly mattering, and Samuel L. Jackson with the supposedly meaty role of representing the military in all its gung-ho, misguided and headstrong power was offered one Tarantino-esque speech and that was about it for making an impression. As an anti-war movie, it made the common mistake of rendering war exciting and spectacular, par for the course in an action fantasy but hypocritical in effect. Still, it was amusing enough as far as that conceit went. Music by Henry Jackman.