The same could be said of Skull Island, which takes place on a just discovered island at the close of the Vietnam War. You have, perhaps inevitably, choppers flying to the soundtrack of Jefferson Airplane and Hendrix as well as disillusioned men who are more than a little crazed from the failure of the war. Sound familiar? Well, Skull Island owes more than a shared time period to Coppola's Apocalypse Now, giving you a fair case of deja vu throughout the movie or a situation of "how much is an homage an homage?"
Something that Kong suffers from its proximity to the Coppola classic is how unearned it all feels. Apocalypse Now gives a horrifically beautiful, or beautifully terrible vantage of the war and what it does to men. And so in all its emulation, no one and nothing in Skull Island feels earned or accurate at times. The men seem far too carefree, and it doesn't seem to make sense that they can drop bombs to a carefully curated 70s soundtrack when they don't also concurrently face that dark despair that the war should have incurred on them.
Kong teeters on the edge of campy fun (cinematographer Larry Fong has done work for the visually distinctive Zack Snyder and J.J. Abrams) and 2:40 anamorphic cinema titan, and the film might have done better if it planted itself firmly on one side or the other. As it is, although there are moments of pure cinematic visual bliss and ingenious visual winks, it doesn't always settle. Consequently, we're not always certain of our footing when confronted with a green smoke screened battle or when characters deliver dark lines that are meant to hold a profound meaning about war.
Kong succeeds when it embraces its pure monster movie fun. Monster movies are forever in the Jaws universe of "wait-for-that-reveal" or not, and the titular monster makes a rip-roaring appearance within the first ten minutes, in such a massive way that it allows the audience to experience exactly how puny humans and their quarrels are in the face of primal authority. The script is uninspired and the characters aren't particularly layered, but it's uncertain how much complexity was really aimed for in the first place. Although it's a breath of fresh air to have a feisty Brie Larson shatter the Fay Wray archetype, there isn't really much beyond that badass facade other than a penchant for misty eyes.
Kong's look is half the fun, even if most of it is bagged from Apocalypse Now. Fong has always given sharp colors and been more influential in the comic book look of Snyder's films than perhaps Snyder himself. Here we get insistent motifs of red and blue, even if there isn't a purpose to it other than the aesthetics. The red and blue hues are so insistent, it calls to mind Refn's Neon Demon.
The stellar cast actually lift this film beyond what could have been its primordial depths. Because of the skill of John Goodman, the comedic timing of John C. Reilly (when not interrupted by unskillful edits), and a supremely likable and talented cast all around, we're able to enjoy the spectacle of giant monster clashing with giant monster fully. Unlike Eddie Redmayne's (possibly) overacted role in last year's Fantastic Beasts, we're not once wondering about the actors interacting with a tennis ball rather than what we are seeing in glorious 70 mm before us.
Vogt-Roberts gives us a romp through his favorite influences -- we can see glimmerings of Princess Mononoke, The Host, and even The Thin Red Line -- and unlike so many recent blockbusters, he keeps the story sweet, simple, and full of guts and glory. It's not Hitchcock, but I don't think we ever wanted it to be. Settle in for a romp, make sure there's plenty of popcorn and soda at hand, and enjoy the ride.