Getty
Show Hide image

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.

GETTY
Show Hide image

Upon Remembering Westminster Bridge

"Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie, Open unto the fields, and to the sky" - things to help remember the best of Westminster Bridge.

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by,
 A sight so touching in its majesty:
This city now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning: silent, bare ...

When I think of Westminster Bridge, I always think of these lines by Wordsworth. But whenever I turn on the news this week, the thought of them makes my chest seize. Other images come to mind instead.

On Wednesday 22nd March, the bridge turned into a death trap. An assailant driving a rented car drove up onto the pavement and straight into the path of passersbys. Four of those people are now dead. Tens of others are severely injured. 

The two associations now sit alongside each other in a grotesque marriage. 

But as those present become able to share what they saw and felt, we will likely learn more about the acts of compassion that unfolded in the minutes and hours after the attack.

The bridge itself is also becoming a site for remembrance. And just as laying flowers can become marks of defiance against an act nobody wanted or condones, so too can memories. Not memories of horror stumbled upon on social media. But of the brave actions of police and paramedics, of the lives the victims led, and of Westminster's "mighty heart" that these events have so entirely failed to crush.

So if you find yourself upon the bridge in coming weeks, perhaps commuting to work or showing visitors round the city, here are some other thoughts had upon Westminster Bridge which no man in an estate car will ever take away:

Tourists taking photos with friends:


GETTY

 

The end of the film Pride - and the 1985 march on which it is based

 

Virginia Woolf and Mrs Dalloway’s “moment in June”

One feels even in the midst of the traffic, or waking at night, Clarissa was positive, a particular hush, or solemnity; an indescribable pause; a suspense before Big Ben strikes. There! Out it boomed. First a warning, musical; then the hour, irrevocable. The leaden circles dissolved in the air. Such fools we are, she thought, crossing Victoria Street. For Heaven only knows why one loves it so, how one sees it so, making it up, building it round one, tumbling it, creating it every moment afresh; but the veriest frumps, the most dejected of miseries sitting on doorsteps (drink their downfall) do the same; can't be dealt with, she felt positive, by Acts of Parliament for that very reason: they love life. In people's eyes, in the swing, tramp, and trudge; in the bellow and the uproar; the carriages, motor cars, omnibuses, vans, sandwich men shuffling and swinging; brass bands; barrel organs; in the triumph and the jingle and the strange high singing of some aeroplane overhead was what she loved; life; London; this moment in June.

 

Brilliant Boudicca guarding the bridge's Northern end


GETTY

Penis Shadows! (I say no more)

 

 

Sci-fi scenes from 28 Days Later

 

The “Build Bridges Not Walls” protest from January this year


GETTY

 

And “Upon Westminster Bridge” by William Wordsworth (1802)

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear

The beauty of the morning: silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.

Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!

The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.