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The ‘Kong: Skull Island’ Exit Survey

Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson’s trip to a monster-filled isle is the latest outing for our favorite giant primate, with a correspondingly gigantic opening weekend at the box office. We weigh in on Kong, the magic of John C. Reilly, and the power of a good monster movie.

(Warner Bros.)
(Warner Bros.)

King Kong’s latest onscreen adventure — full of monsters, Vietnam War–era movie references, and Tom Hiddleston — won the box-office weekend, teeing up a whole slate of monster-starring films from Warner Bros. yet to come. We asked the Ringer staff 12 pressing questions after seeing the film.

1. What is your tweet-length review of ‘Kong: Skull Island’?

Andrew Gruttadaro: Yo, how dope would it be if Apocalypse Now had a giant ape in it?

Alyssa Bereznak: I didn’t care if any of the main characters died, but Tom Hiddleston looked nice.

Kate Knibbs:

Sam Schube: I didn’t realize I was this scared of giant monsters.

Allison P. Davis: I don’t care if it was Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson or John C. Reilly and Kong, someone needed to fuck in that movie.

2. What was your favorite moment of the film?

Davis: Any time John C. Reilly spoke, truly.

Bereznak: After the initial helicopter encounter with Kong, there’s a close-up of his giant clenched fist. There’s no way this wasn’t a reference to the Arthur fist meme.

Knibbs: When Tom Hiddleston slow-mo sword-fought the creepy lizards.

Schube: When John C. Reilly’s character explains that there are ants in the trees. I’ll paraphrase: they sound like birds, but they’re fucking ants.”

Gruttadaro: When Shea Whigham was all, “I’m gonna be a hero and uncork these here grenades and let myself get eaten by this monster,” only to be tail-slapped half a mile by said monster. I’m pretty sure that’s going to be the funniest film moment of 2017.

3. What was your least favorite part of the movie?

Bereznak: The brief and uncomfortable montage in which Brie Larson’s character photographs the village people/asks them to pose with peace signs. It felt very Humanitarians of Tinder to me.

Davis: You know, it’s 2017. Why do movies still do “generic tribe”? I’m sure some fool is going to come up with a “we did research” defense, but quite honestly the natives on Skull Island felt like someone was given a list of “tribal stereotypes” and was asked to pick eight.

Gruttadaro: When John Goodman rolled up on 1973 Washington, D.C., and said, “Mark my words, there’ll never be a more screwed-up time in Washington” while winking directly at the camera. (That last part didn’t actually happen, but it might as well have.)

Knibbs: There were too many characters.

Schube: The throat-destroying giant spider.

4. How did you feel about this movie’s Kong? How does he stack up next to other Kongs, or other monsters?

Knibbs: Kong was great! I could’ve used more Kong. I liked seeing what he was up to when he wasn’t fighting. He’s the Lonesome George of the monster world and I feel sorry for the guy.

Gruttadaro: I am pro this Kong. All Kongs carry a sense of inner-remorse, but I really felt it from this big guy. I’ve never seen someone look sadder eating calamari. I also appreciated how Skull Island’s Kong wasn’t trying to date Brie Larson — this Kong would never take a white woman ice skating in Central Park, and I respect the hell out of that.

Davis: I felt literally nothing for this Kong. He didn’t really have a lot of personality, and I wasn’t sure why he cared about Brie Larson so much. All we know about him is he would probably enjoy squid ink pasta or fresh uni.

Schube: I really liked how BIG he was. Previous Kongs have been about the size of the needle on top of the Chrysler Building. This dude was the Chrysler Building.

Bereznak: Here’s what I know about 2017 Kong:

  • He does not like being shot.
  • He likes to eat octopus.
  • When he’s not eating his fellow monsters, he’s saving them.
  • He’s an orphan.
  • He protects the island’s humans.
  • He might have a crush on Brie Larson, but not a big enough one to steal her away.

These tidbits of information weren’t really enough for me to establish an tenderness for Kong, but I ultimately understood his necessity to the island’s ecosystem enough to root for him.

5. King Kong — and all movie monsters, generally — typically stand for a widespread cultural fear. Did you think that this King Kong meant anything?

Gruttadaro: Other than Warner Bros.’s ceaseless thirst for tentpole franchises?

Bereznak: You have to try hard to decipher any kind of cultural commentary from this movie, which basically stood for nothing. But if I had to pick one deeper message, it’d be … environmentalism? Even though scientists Corey Hawkins and Tian Jing had an embarrassingly scant number of lines, they made it clear that killing Kong would mess with the island’s fragile ecosystem, and leave it to be ravaged by a bunch of terrifying lizards. I guess that would make Samuel L. Jackson’s stubborn quest to earn revenge against Kong a metaphor for the downfalls of reckless American hubris? Again, this is all a major stretch.

Davis: The fear of taking a risk and being original in a movie?

Knibbs: I guess this Kong represented the American fear of being dominated by foreign forces? I don’t know.

Schube: Nope. He was really big, though, which was cool.

6. Which of the various monsters on Skull Island was your favorite?

Schube: The dinosaur-sized water buffalo. The 20-foot spider scared the stuffing out of me.

Knibbs: I would like to know more about the giant squid situation.

Gruttadaro: Stickbug, all day. He was so chill, which was a refreshing change in a movie that featured massive daddy long-leg spiders piercing dudes through the mouth and pterodactyls pulling scientists apart, limb by limb. One soldier sat on the stickbug and he was like, “Um, excuse me? Can you please do that somewhere else?” That’s my kind of monster.

Davis: Oh man, loved that weird giant tree bug. Did you see the look he gave Jack Chapman after he started shooting at him? It was so powerful.

7. How do you feel about Tom Hiddleston, Action Star?

Knibbs: I thought Tom Hiddleston was the Hollywood equivalent of a Saltine but now I feel that Tom Hiddleston is the Hollywood equivalent of a sexy Saltine.

Gruttadaro: The scene where he flips on a gas mask and turns into a monster-dicing ninja for 15 seconds made me forgive Tom Hiddleston. For everything.

Bereznak: I thoroughly enjoyed Hiddleston as hunky jungle guide. His shining moment was when he put on a gas mask, grabbed a Samurai sword, and began twirling through clouds of colorful chemical smoke as he owned skull crawler after skull crawler. A+ skull crawler killing, would watch him kill skull crawlers again.

Schube: He was … weirdly muted? The gas-mask-and-sword-fight scene was great, but this was a diet leading-man role.

Davis: Remember that sequence where good ol’ Tommy was wearing a gas mask, slow-mo chopping those birds with a random machete in a blue cloud of toxic gas? Remember how hard you laughed? My character notes for Tom Hiddleston: Stick to what you’re good at, like talking British and wearing tight pants.

8. Did Brie Larson get a bum deal?

Knibbs: Brie Larson is responsible for her own choices.

Gruttadaro: Possibly. For at least the first half of the movie, Larson’s character seemed to exist so that men can be surprised at the concept of a lady photographer.

Bereznak: Sadly, yes. I did not like Larson’s role in this movie. She’s salty about the war in conversation with Tom Hiddleston, but just barely. You’d think that tension would’ve translated into a satisfying hook-up later on, but that didn’t pan out either. All I really remember of her character was that she always had a camera, stood with absurdly correct posture, and occasionally voiced moral, but bland opinions about what to do. If the writers had cut down on the absurd number of characters this movie, maybe they could’ve flushed out her backstory and given her a more complex personality.

Schube: I’m really glad that Brie Larson thinks she made a documentary about war photographers.

9. Who was your best supporting player? Shea Whigham? John Goodman? John C. Reilly?

Knibbs: John C. Reilly, for sure. Goodman really bunted this one.

Davis: John C. Reilly. Would watch a buddy comedy or a rom-com starring John C. Riley and Kong.

Bereznak: Definitely our beloved island weirdo, John C. Reilly. His character, Hank Marlow, delivers the funniest, most self-aware scene of the movie, in which he becomes self-conscious immediately after he reveals his “skull crawlers” nickname for the island’s giant reptiles: “I never said that name out loud before. It sounds stupid now that I say it. Just you call them whatever you want.” I laughed out loud.

Gruttadaro: Shea Whigham is the best supporting player in everything. Not even John C. Reilly doing a Rip Van Winkle thing could change that.

Schube: Big shout-out to whoever cast this movie for getting Dr. Dre (Corey Hawkins) and Eazy-E (Jason Mitchell) on board. I am also #WhighamHive.

10. How did you feel about ‘Kong’ cribbing liberally from war movies like ‘Apocalypse Now’ with the ’70s soundtrack and overall vibe?

Davis: Are there only six songs you’re allowed to use in a movie about the Vietnam War?

Bereznak: I have no problem with the movie’s pairing of ’70s jams with action scenes. Black Sabbath and tropical military explosions go together like Tom Hiddleston and bolognese. But aside from the music, the characters didn’t seem at all shaped by the era they existed in. These soldiers had just finished a tour in Vietnam — VIETNAM — and weren’t nearly as traumatized as they should’ve been. Not to mention pretty much all of them spoke like human beings from the year 2017. I don’t think people were nearly that sarcastic in the ’70s.

Knibbs: I thought it was unnecessarily derivative.

Schube: I’ll give it a studied “Why not?” Those movies are good at what they do; better to steal from them than to add a generic monster-movie score.

Gruttadaro: It’s not that I minded the overt references, I’m just not sure I understood why the movie makes them.

11. How did you feel about the movie’s tone? Horror plus action plus war?

Gruttadaro: Plus comedy! Tonally, Kong: Skull Island is the most confusing movie I’ve seen in a long time. The movie tries to be all things and ends up being nothing in the process. It’s not clear if you’re supposed to laugh or feel fear when John C. Reilly tells another character, “We’re all gonna die,” and that’s a problem.

Schube: [whispers] I … kinda liked it? The one guy complaining that no one else is freaking out about the giant monsters, Reilly’s weird vibes, and the rest: This movie did not take itself seriously, which was a good thing.

Bereznak: I thought the tone of the movie is what saved it from being a complete miss. Yes, the character development was somewhat shallow, but the atmospheric jungle scenery and constant battle scenes kept me distracted.

Knibbs: I didn’t get much of a horror vibe. It seemed like a delightfully cheesy action movie with a strange Vietnam War varnish added on to its own detriment.

Davis: I felt this movie was like a blank canvas — it was neither scary, nor exciting, nor really that moving, so it’s up the audience to set the tone for themselves. My Kong was drunk and rowdy — what was yours?

12. If you stuck around past the credits, you saw a scene setting up a “MonsterVerse,” with characters like Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah. Is this something you want?

Bereznak: Sure, why not? Monsters for all.

Gruttadaro:

Schube: Absolutely not.

Knibbs: I didn’t know I wanted to kiss Tom Hiddleston before I saw Kong and I don’t really know what I want anymore.