Movie Review: “Apocalypse Kong” is a bizarre miscalculation

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The clever scribes handed the job of this generation’s botching of “King Kong” had a cute idea.

“Let’s make an ‘Apocalypse Now’ riff. You know. ‘Heart of Darkness,’ guys named Marlow and Conrad, helicopters in the jungle — Creedence Clearwater Revival and “White Rabbit” — the works!”

So that’s what they did with “Kong: Skull Island.” They made a bad Vietnam movie — Their only research was in watching Hollywood versions of Vietnam — and ladled on metaphors about a trigger-happy U.S. military “invading” a jungle, attacking the freakishly large natives, and paying the price.

It’s “Avatar” simplistic, glib and dumb and not nearly as funny as they seem to think it is.

“Skull Island” resets the Kong myth in 1973, with America backing out of Vietnam (their history is fuzzy) and a helicopter combat corps sent to escort crackpot “scientist” Randa (John Goodman) and others who want to explore this hidden island that a satellite has just discovered.

Samuel L. Jackson is the chopper commander who recites the myth of Icarus to his dozen crews as they helicopter into the stormy abyss. Because, you know, the whole science makes you “fly too close to the sun” metaphor isn’t obvious enough. Capt. Packard makes the standard-issue “wouldn’t let us win” Vietnam speech about “This time, we won’t cut and run.”

Tom Hiddleston, phoning it in, is the ex-SAS officer hired as “tracker.” Oscar winner Brie Larson is the “anti-war (combat) photographer” who tags along.

And John C. Reilly is the World War II pilot whose dogfight, crash and ensuring fight-to-the-death with his Japanese foe — until the giant ape shows up — is the film’s thrilling introduction to this world. Lt. Marlow survives that fight and almost 30 years on the island, with its mystical natives, giant insects, reptiles and mammals, and serves as tour guide for the large, heavily-armed but overmatched team that arrives in the ’70s.

“We’re all gonna DIE.”

The choppers play rock’n roll tapes as they thump into combat, the GIs, who have bombed the island as their first act, are stunningly quick to accept the impossible and try to do battle with it.

“So are we just not gonna TALK about this?”

skull2The effects are impressive, with Kong often seen striding and swatting down helicopters in slow-motion, accentuating his scale. The “science” of the whole thing is B-movie preposterous in the extreme. More effort was spent on the jokes.

Lt. Marlow needs to be brought up to speed about “the world today.”

“So the war’s over. Who won?”

“Which war?”

“Seems about right.”

“We’ve even put a man on the moon.”

“No kidding? They leave him there? What’d he eat?”

“Tang.”

The comic approach to this feels right. But the Vietnam era racism, the constant Vietnam movie cliches and even more constant sermonizing grate on the ears. And something about the whole ‘Nam thing rubs the wrong way. Goodman, who has never given more wooden line-readings (“a place where myth and science meet”) made me think of Walter Sobchak, his loony, funnier character in “The Big Lebowski,” and his rants about disrespected Vietnam vets, the dishonored dead “lying FACE down in a rice paddy.”

Walter would never have stood for a twisting of that memory like this.

Everything about the picture, from jokes and deaths to the epic King Kong vs. Godzilla brawls, is over-the-top, with sound and visuals that assault us. So if you’re inclined to see this, no sense monkeying around. Pay the extra bucks for the IMAX 3D beating it delivers.

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MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, and for brief strong language.

Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, John C. Reilly, Shea Whigham

Credits:Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, script by Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly. A Warner Brothers release.

Running time: 2:00

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