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Eclipse of the supermen - why monsters are Hollywood's most colossal love story

Kong: Skull Island shows monster movies have matured. 

In 2000, Bryan Singer’s X-Men signalled the start of modern Hollywood’s love affair with live action superhero films. There have been tiffs since – Spiderman 3 is a sore spot– but hits like The Dark Knight and Watchmen have made sure that this is a relationship, whether for better or for worse, that is going to continue for some time yet. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Green Lantern Corps bookend a stretch of 16 live action superhero films planned over the next three years.

Hollywood, though, seems to recognise the risk attached to saturation and has lined up a plan B – giant monster movies. In this, heavyweight filmmakers Legendary Entertainment is leading the way. Legendary has been responsible for several superhero flicks, including Christopher Nolan’s brilliant Batman adaptations, but following the success of Pacific Rim, it is pretty sure about what the next long-term trend in Tinseltown should be. The company has acquired the rights to big screen beasts Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, King Ghidorah and King Kong, and their so-called MonsterVerse franchise is already underway. 

The MonsterVerse’s first instalment, 2014’s Godzilla, was spectacular if a little silly. (The plot hinged on Godzilla stopping two other monsters from having sex.) The MonsterVerse’s second instalment, Kong: Skull Island, directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts and released earlier this month, is even better. It is a clever homage to Apocalypse Now and Heart of Darkness on the one hand, and an enjoyable adrenalin rush on the other. This reimagining is equal parts fun and feisty. 

When Peter Jackson remade King Kong as a one-off in 2005, it actually was a remake and largely followed same storyline as the 1933 original: ambitious filmmaker Carl Denham takes unsuspecting actress Ann Darrow and others to an uncharted island with a great ape overlord. Denham then captures Kong, ferries him back to New York and promotes him as the “Eighth Wonder of the World” before he breaks free of his chains, scales and falls from the Empire State Building.

Kong: Skull Island offers a fresh take. Set in the aftermath of the Vietnam War, eccentric American government scientist Bill Randa (John Goodman) enlists the help of former SAS captain James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and the Sky Devils, an elite helicopter squadron led by Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), as part of expedition to the titular location. The group are accompanied by go-getting photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) and are initially under the impression that they are on a mission in the name of geology. 

That cover is blown when the helicopters are brought down by Kong, who is 100ft tall in this incarnation. The film also features the secret supernatural investigations body Monarch, which is what ties the MonsterVerse films together. John C. Reilly, meanwhile, delivers and dually comic and emotional performance as Hank Marlow, an American fighter pilot who has been stranded on Skull Island since the Second World War.

Like Godzilla before it, Kong: Skull Island provides some engaging human stories: Packard’s prejudice is an extension of his residual bloodlust from an unsuccessful war and Marlow struggles with the prospect of never meeting his son. 

Legendary are set to follow Kong: Skull Island with their Godzilla sequel, Godzilla: King of the Monsters in March 2019, before a crossover gambit Godzilla vs. Kong in May 2020, which could either define or derail the genre. That Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice grossed $873.3m at the box office is down more to morbid curiosity than it is representative of legions of fans.

The fact is that giant monster movies, Legendary’s in particular, have matured and we’ve come a long way since Attack of the 50ft Woman or Night of the Lepus. That’s not to say that a 100ft gorilla is any more realistic as a proposition, but thanks to special effects, it does feel more real.

Still, it's not enough to simply cite CGI over stop-motion and call it a success – see 1998's Godzilla. Success comes through characterisation. So goodbye scream queens and cartoon-quality villainy; hello complex questions about humanity versus monstrosity.

 

Rohan Banerjee is a Special Projects Writer at the New Statesman. He co-hosts the No Country For Brown Men podcast.

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Casting the Brexit movie that is definitely real and will totally happen

Details are yet unclear as to whether The Bad Boys of Brexit will be gracing our screens, or just Farage's vivid imagination.

Hollywood is planning to take on the farcical antics of Nigel Farage et al during the UK referendum, according to rumours (some suspect planted by a starstruck Brexiteer). 

Details are yet unclear as to whether The Bad Boys of Brexit will be gracing our big or small screens, a DVD, or just Farage's vivid imagination, but either way here are our picks for casting the Hollywood adaptation.

Nigel Farage: Jim Carrey

The 2018 return of Alan Partridge as "the voice of hard Brexit" makes Steve Coogan the obvious choice. Yet Carrey's portrayal of the laughable yet pure evil Count Olaf in A Series of Unfortunate Events makes him a serious contender for this role. 

Boris Johnson: Gerard Depardieu

Stick a blonde wig on him and the French acting royalty is almost the spitting image of our own European aristocrat. He has also evidently already mastered the look of pure shock necessary for the final scene of the movie - in which the Leave campaign is victorious.

Arron Banks: Ricky Gervais

Ricky Gervais not only resembles Ukip donor Arron Banks, but has a signature shifty face perfect for the scene where the other Brexiteers ask him what is the actual plan. 

Gerry Gunster: Anthony Lapaglia

The Bad Boys of Brexit will reportedly be told from the perspective of the US strategist turned Brexit referendum expert Gerry Gunster. Thanks to recurring roles in both the comedy stalwart Frasier, and the US crime drama Without a Trace, Anthony Lapaglia is versatile enough to do funny as well as serious, a perfect mix for a story that lurches from tragedy to farce. Also, they have the same cunning eyes.

Douglas Carswell: Mark Gatiss

The resemblance is uncanny.

David Cameron: Andrew Scott

Andrew Scott is widely known for his portrayal of Moriarty in Sherlock, where he indulges in elaborate, but nationally destructive strategy games. The actor also excels in a look of misplaced confidence that David Cameron wore all the way up to the referendum. Not to mention, his forehead is just as shiny. He'll have to drink a lot of Bollinger to gain that Cameron-esque puppy fat though. 

Kate Hoey: Judi Dench

Although this casting would ruin the image of the much beloved national treasure that is Judi Dench, if anyone can pull off being the face of Labour Leave, the incredible actress can.