This movie is akin to a retrospective of big budget films post the Vietnam era. Of course, the visual design is identical to that of ‘Apocalypse Now’, especially the opening helicopter attacks, but there are many other references, like the Jurassic Park dinosaur series of films, and the past makes and re-makes of King Kong.
Probably the finest scenes in Kong: Skull Island are the many silhouettes of the one hundred foot tall Kong that we are treated to; against the backdrop of mountains, under the setting sun and striding through water and mists. He is, as ever, the symbol of an evolved creature of nature that has been mistakenly placed in a human environment dominated by technology. At Skull Island, a remote location in the sea that is buffeted by volatile weather patterns that have made it impossible to penetrate, let alone explore, a strange combination of life has been incubated. Underneath the ground are T-Rex like reptiles. Above it are animals that have never stopped growing in size, as if to suggest that the DNA code which deals with maturity of organic growth has been switched off. Ants and spiders are not insects, but monsters, and Kong himself is an ape that is now as tall as a mountain, and still growing.
Into this heart of darkness arrives a motley group of scientists and military men who have never recovered from the devastation of the Vietnam war. According to Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) who leads the expedition, the US never lost that war, they ‘abandoned it’. He is desperately searching for psychological healing, and finds it when he discovers a new enemy, Kong.
James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) is a former British Air Officer who brings some sanity to the gung-ho attitude of Packard, and suggests to him that he appreciate the wonder of nature, before deciding to eliminate it. In a sense he is right, because despite the gargantuan size of the animals at ’Skull Island’, there is a Darwinian balance to ecological structure even here. Natural selection is not just the survival of the strongest, but the fittest for that particular environment. An entire tribe of human beings, for example, survives here, thanks to the protective influence of the largest, Kong.
So Kong: Skull Island has a few surprises, but what you are left with at the end, after you figure out the general themes laid out by different humans and the cultural baggage they bring with them, is a monster movie that never ends. Epic battles unfold, and it doesn’t really matter who wins or loses, because the stage is clearly being set up for a sequel, coming in a few years to a theatre near you.