Well the Thor: Ragnarok trailer dropped recently and I’m quite enthused about that, but before that happened a different film had its place in my heart for at least a few days. Aw heck, it’s not like I stopped loving it. Kong: Skull Island is unequivocally the best time I’ve had at the movies since Mad Max: Fury Road, and when I sort through any number of reasons for that I keep coming back to one factor: enthusiasm.
And that, friends and neighbors, is the main reason it’s my blog topic this time around — aside from maybe trying to convince a few of you to shell out the cash for a viewing before it leaves theaters. That toxic, entrenched attitude that genre fiction is somehow inherently inferior, which I talked about a couple weeks ago, is something that still occasionally sabotages movie adaptations of “geek” properties, even though you’d think by now that Marvel Studios would have shown that a policy of embracing your source material can be quite profitable. I suppose that shouldn’t be surprising since Pixar’s overall track record has not changed that many animated flicks still come out offering little more than fart jokes, and make money despite that. If you’re a movie executive that’s not really interested in your job beyond what money and perks it can give you and you can make just as much money not trying as trying, why bother trying?
That’s why a movie like Skull Island, for all that it’s basically about a giant ape who smashes things, is so important. Because if you’re a fan of the IP involved, “why bother trying?” is not even a question that enters your head. You want the people bringing an adaptation to the big screen to be as excited as you are, where it’s not just a job but a labor of love.
Now mind you, words alone aren’t always the greatest indicator of this. Ben Affleck and M. Night Shymalan both professed to be big fans of Daredevil and Avatar: The Last Airbender, respectively, and those productions turned out… not so great. Listen to K:SI director Jordan Vogt-Roberts talk about rebooting King Kong by way of Apocalypse Now and it sounds like a potential misfire/disaster on the scale of Josh Trank’s doomed reimagining of the Fantastic Four. But Trank, I contend, is someone who didn’t embrace his source material, to the point he wouldn’t let any of his cast members read the comics. Similarly, Zack Snyder is on record as not understanding Superman or why people might like him, and as a result gives us a Man of Steel that not many people like.
Vogt-Roberts sat down in the director’s chair for Skull Island with a strange vision. I wasn’t really interested in the film, at least not enough to shell out for a rare theater viewing. Even after friends started reporting it was a decent popcorn flick with lots of giant ape action, meh, gotta have standards. But as fate would have it, Dawn and I ended up needing to get out of the house for a few hours and neither of us were in the mood for something heavy, so we gave it a shot. And we loved it.
Kong: Skull Island is a movie by fans of monster movies, for fans of monster movies, but more than that is just a great action movie, period. You don’t even have to turn your brain off to enjoy it, because the plot holes and mystery motivations are at a minimum, and there’s a cast of A-list actors keeping the human element interesting in between money shot after money shot of kaiju battles. Possibly the best kaiju battles I’ve ever seen on film, and by the end of it I was actually excited for Legendary Pictures attempting to put together a “Monsterverse” with Kong vs. Godzilla slated for 2020 or thereabouts — which by the way, if you do give it a go, stay past the end credits.
Vogt-Roberts embraced his sources with knowledge and enthusiasm, and would seem to have been able to infect his crew and actors with a similar sense of doing something special. I think the film not only succeeds because of that but is going to be the sort of cult classic fans are still watching 30 years from now, up there with the likes of Aliens. I’m not going to go so far as to blaspheme and say it will still be watched nearly a century later like the original King Kong — I don’t think even Vogt-Roberts had any notions of that level of hubris — but this is the kind of genre production that should be encouraged. It’s good for the geeky soul, and Skull as well.