“Mark my words, there’ll never be a more screwed-up time in Washington.”
This is the opening line of Kong: Skull Island, and it comes across today as more knowing even than it presumably did when the scene was shot. The movie, directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, is full of such winks, though they tend to be cinematic rather than politico-cultural.
Unlike the disappointing Kong remakes by Dino De Laurentiis in 1976 and Peter Jackson in 2005, Vogt-Roberts’s is a full-on reimagination of his subject: no trip back to the States as the “eighth wonder of the world” this time; no ascent of the NYC skyline. Skull Island is essentially a war movie, and more specifically a Vietnam War movie—there are two Creedence songs on the soundtrack—just one that happens to feature a 100-foot-tall gorilla. And while it doesn’t quite hit all its marks, it is a mostly amusing diversion that boasts some truly exceptional visuals.
After a brief preamble set during World War II, Skull Island settles down in 1973 during the waning days of the Vietnam War. The speaker who observes how “screwed-up” things have gotten is Bill Randa (John Goodman), a quasi-scientist, quasi-explorer, quasi-conspiracy theorist who has come to DC in search of funding for his latest project: an expedition to Skull Island, a mythical atoll ringed by impenetrable storms that has for the first time been pinpointed by satellite image. It is, Randa promises, “the land where God did not finish Creation”—a line borrowed from the opening of Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo.