‘Kong: Skull Island‘ opened this weekend. Size matters, but will the latest and biggest version of the classic movie beast win the hearts of darkness and wallets of money…
There is an island, avoided by ships and largely absent from any map. It is surrounded by almost impenetrable storms and only legends talk of what likes on its surface… and Monarch, a group with a dwindling governmental budget wants a last ditch effort to get there.
It’s the mid-70s and Bill Ransa (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (24: Legacy‘s Corey Hawkins) know this is their possible swansong, the last chance to chart one of the world’s greatest mysteries and perhaps arm ourselves against an uncertain future of ancient threats. In the wake of Vietnam, budgets are slashed but they get the permission to take a small team of scientists and trackers with a military escort to see what they can discover.
Whatever they hoped for, it’s more than they expected.
On final approach to the island, several of the military helicopters are taken out by whole trees launched into the air like paper airplanes… launched by a giant gorilla that stands taller than the highest building and doesn’t take kindly to these interlopers in his world, especially when they’ve been dropping explosive charges to measure the land-mass. Half of Commander Packard (Samuel L. Jackson)’s soldiers are dead and suddenly it becomes very personal. Ransa, tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) are more concerned with getting off the island with their lives and important data, but Packard wants revenge, no matter what the cost.
However, as battle-lines and escap- plans are desperately hatched, it turns out the island’s ancient ecosystem might be more dangerous without Kong to rule over it…
Truthfully, it would be hard to completely screw up a film that offers big monsters, war analogies, a soundtrack of classic 70s tunes and the kind of pre-existing strengths of the monster at its heart. Hard, but not impossible, as Peter Jackson’s rare misfire proved when the result was a film that spent far too much time on paying homage to the original and not enough on the hulking presence that gave the film its title. However Skull Island fares much better and while far from being a classic, it hits all the right notes if not always in the right order.
Way back in that ancient era known as the Eighties, Jurassic Park revolutionsied monster-movies and those one can argue that visual-effects have improved in the years since, there’s a solid argument that no movie since has had that tectonic-shift in film-making. The move from stop-motion to CGI made the dinosaurs look impossibly real. But the one scene missing from the film adaptation of the book – and one that was seemed baffling given one would have thought it could be catnip for cinema – was the attack on the island by the military machine. Age old dinosaurs vs modern helicopters… classic imagery. Skull Island rectifies that and though its a gorilla (now the entire size of the Empire State Building) rather than a T-Rex, the effect is largely the same and quite a selling point.
And it is the VFX that dominate proceedings. Apart from Kong himself, there’s a whole range of oversize critters ready to wreak havoc on our intruders and though we’re increasingly reaching monster-overload when it comes to the wide-jawed perils that populate many a summer blockbuster, the ‘skull-crawlers’ prove a viable threat. The humans on the other hand… well apart from the named A-Listers you’d be hard-pressed to remember character names of the supporting players who act as desert.
There’s no denying that Apocalypse Now‘s setting sun casts a large shadow over proceedings and the film doesn’t really try to hide those roots, in fact it actively plays to them. But it’s somewhat uneven, veering from Samuel L. Jackson’s obsessive military man and the soldiers beneath him to all-out adventuring and Saturday-morning heroics from Hiddleston and Larson, to zingy one-liners from John C O’Reilly and John Goodman being… well, the ever-reliable John Goodman. They’re all perfectly decent in the roles they perform but there are times when it feels like they’ve collided, entering from entirely stage left from different movies and merely making the best of it.
Ultimately, Kong: Skull Island doesn’t push any new boundaries or get as profound as it might want, but as two hours of purely escapist fun – and as long as you ignore some of the obvious leaps of logic – it’s perfectly good fun.
‘Kong: Skull Island’ is released by Warner Bros. and out now…