Kong: Skull Island, the latest cinematic incarnation of the legendary big ape King Kong, is not just a thrilling monster movie, but an anthology of the follies of military intervention.
Set in the early seventies, the movie takes place in the backdrop of the end of the Vietnam war. The film begins with a government agent seeking continued support for his secret project to find monsters. He wishes to lead an exploration to a “hidden” island where he believes he will find monsters.
Fortunately he gets permission, or this would be a really short movie. He hires a crew to accompany him– including a cynical former member of the Australian air force, a pro-peace antiwar photographer, and a helicopter squadron.
Upon finding Skull Island, the first thing the Americans do is drop bombs. Having his home bombed enrages Kong who attacks. Kong kills several of the solders, leading the head of the air force squad to single-mindedly focus on getting vengeance on Kong.
The group is split into two groups, with the air force unit looking for Kong while the rest look for a way off the island. They discover a group of natives living on the island, with a World War II soldier who has been stranded there since the war.
They also discover reptilian monsters living beneath the island (named Skullcrawlers by the WWII vet) who are the real threat, not Kong who is peaceful unless attacked. In fact, the natives have come to worship Kong as he is their only protector from these creatures…or as the lost soldier puts it the need for protection from the Skullcrawlers has lead them to “… worship what they feared.”
The American bombs have made it easier for the Skullcrawlers to roam the surface, so Kong must fight more of these creatures, while avoiding the Air Force Captain’s efforts to kill him. The captain is determined to kill Kong even after it is explained that killing Kong will give the Skulcrawlers free range over the island.
The allegory of how the U.S. foreign policy produces blowback appears in the form of turning Kong against the US expedition, and the unintended consequences in the form of unleashing the Skullcrawlers is obvious. The Skullcrawlers resemble groups like ISIS who rise to power when the U.S. removes secular dictators like Saddam Huessin.
The natives’ willingness to embrace Kong to protect them from the Skullcrawlers can also be seen as an allegory of how external threats can cause people to embrace what they fear in pursuit of safety– the way many Americans are willing to submit to TSA harassment or defend the NSA.
Politics aside, Kong: Skull Island is a fun and thrilling film with excellent performances from John Goodman, Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, and (especially) John C Reilly as the stranded solider.
Kong has left the first-run theaters but you may be able to catch it at a second-run theater, on Blue-ray, DVD or download.
You can help support Campaign for Liberty by buying or renting Kong:Skull Island here.