This review has some minor spoilers, but if you’ve seen the trailer you pretty much know what to expect anyway.
Kong: Skull Island, is not a film about a giant monkey. It’s a film about Brexit. I’m serious.
And frankly, I was astonished that the filmmakers were able to get $190m to spend on such a timely and obvious political parable. What do you mean you don’t see it?
Kong is essentially playing the same role as the European Union. Kong is an enormous, unwieldy beast, but ultimately he does something good and hugely important, which benefits all of Skull Island’s inhabitants. He provides stability - enabling all of the other creatures, from mega-fauna to human beings, to exist in relative peace, without having to constantly worry about the Skull Crushers, who are a fairly obvious analogue for Russia.
In exactly the same way, the EU plays an equally vital role as a guarantor of peace and stability. Its promotion of human rights and strong institutions by using trade as an incentive is the only bulwark Europe has against a rising tide of Putinism. Without a strong Kong, Skull Island is at the mercy of the Skull Crushers. Without a strong EU, Europe is at the mercy of Putin.
The reason that Kong: Skull Island feels so timely, despite being set during the Vietnam era, then is that the plot of the film closely resembles the story of the referendum. In the film John Goodman’s character begins as an outsider - but is given an opportunity to promote his crazy ideas, and before you know it there are dozens of people helicoptering into the unknown and all hell breaks loose. He’s essentially playing Nigel Farage. To everyone with half a brain, heading directly into a massive storm towards the unknown seems like an obviously terrible idea - but the UK, like the cast of Skull Island, decide to do it anyway. Yes, it makes for exciting viewing - but it doesn’t make for a great way to carry out international politics.
As if the analogy isn’t striking enough, after the referendum Farage declared Brexit a “political earthquake”. How do the Monarch agents in Skull Island want to lure Kong out of hiding? By causing seismic shocks, of course.
And as with the EU, Kong is wrongly identified by around 52% of the characters as the enemy: Something to be fought. When the reality is that Kong was really looking after us all along.
The other characters fit into the Brexit narrative too. Tom Hiddleston’s mercenary character is Skull Island’s Theresa May: A valueless chancer, heading to doom not out of political conviction but out of a cheap desire to, in May’s case win votes and in Hiddleston’s case make money. Brie Larson’s anti-war journalist character is an analogue for the “Lexiters” - the left-wing Brexiteers, who have been complicit in putting us on this dangerous path because of wildly misplaced assumptions. Samuel L Jackson’s army colonel who can’t let the war go is barely even an analogue - he’s exactly the same as the sort of Telegraph readers who can’t let WWII go when discussing Europe.
John C Reilly’s character - a World War II airman who has spent 28 years trapped on the island is, of course, roundly ignored when the other characters show up. But this isn't surprising because, to paraphrase Michael Gove, Skull Islanders have really had enough of experts.
The parallels are almost so obvious, it makes you wonder whether the filmmakers knew that the Brexit parallels were a bit on-the-nose.
Hold-On To Your Butts
Every era has a film that reflects the culture and the politics of its time. In the 1970s, Star Wars perfectly captured Cold War hysteria by telling the tale of how an Evil Empire was overcome by an army of robots and men in bathrobes (that’s how it happened, right?).
In the 90s, Jurassic Park was this film. Opening almost 24 years ago, in July 1993 (yes, you are old now), it was not only a huge critical and commercial success, but it was also a razor sharp parable about the neoliberal economic consensus of the 90s. With the Soviet threat vanquished, “life finds a way” could be easily a substitute for “capitalism finds a way” - and the story it tells is of how capitalism run amok can easily lead to unforeseen circumstances. The T-Rex was one, enormous two-legged and sharp fanged metaphor for the concept of “creative destruction”.
And now in 2017, Kong: Skull Island is serving as a blockbuster reflection of our times: It’s a lesson in the importance of stability, the perils of charting uncertain waters - and the real danger of what happens if you try to misguidedly take out the giant ape that keeps the peace.