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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019) and AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021).

Monday, March 13, 2017

Viet Kong - a brief review of Kong: Skull Island

Don't read on if you want to see Kong: Skull Island totally unspoiled. That said, I won't hand out any major spoilers. In fact, I'm not sure the movie has any. Once the action gets going, it's all very predictable - which is one of the problems with this movie. Here's a gap in the text if you want to exit now.

I called this post "Viet Kong" for more than the reason that it is set in 1973, at the close of the Vietnam War and that the characters include soldiers from that era. This might have been interesting (I suppose), but it goes further. The expedition to Skull Island is a sort of coda to the Vietnam War, and the events become a miniature re-run of the war. Efforts to kill the giant ape King Kong seem all-too-analogous to America's failed attempt to overcome popular resistance in Vietnam and the activity of Viet Cong guerrillas. Kong himself becomes almost an analogue for the Viet Cong, and let's not even begin with any puns about guerrilla tactics and gorilla tactics. While the latter pun is merely an example of how my mind works, the parallel between whatever America thought it was doing in Vietnam and whatever the expeditionary team thinks it is doing on Skull Island is not my imagination. It's all-too-obvious and heavy-handed.

I was disappointed in this movie. I really wanted to like it, partly because I have some personal connection with the King Kong mythos (my 2005 tie-in novel, Kong Reborn) and partly because I thought Legendary Entertainment did a good job with Godzilla a couple of years ago. I've been looking forward to Kong: Skull Island ever since it was announced, and it did keep me entertained in a basic way, but it never enthralled me. I never found myself caring about any of the characters, and I found my cynicism triggered too much by all its obvious efforts at melodrama and emotional manipulation. At times, the film seemed to be attempting a remake of Apocalypse Now, with appropriate nods to that movie and, inevitably, to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (among other touches, the main character is called "James Conrad" and another character is called "Marlow"!). But we really didn't need a twisted remake of Apocalypse Now with gigantic, noble mammals standing in for the Vietnamese.

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