Making sure not to repeat the mistakes of 2014’s largely underwhelming Godzilla reboot, the makers of Kong: Skull Island waste little time in introducing the viewer to their hulking star attraction.
The year is 1973, and there’s an expedition out to explore a mysterious island in the South Pacific, recently discovered by satellite. Just moments after showing up, this fleet of military choppers ferrying a team of scientists and soldiers begins dropping bombs to map the terrain and immediately come face-to-fist with the big, hairy ape who is not pleased about the intrusion.
As far as plot and characters go, Kong: Skull Island breaks very little new ground and hardly makes a compelling case for why we needed yet another King Kong origin story. Frankly the film’s big themes – man’s tendency to destroy what he doesn’t understand, and the revenge of Mother Nature – feel overused and over-familiar. Worse still, some genuinely talented actors are completely underutilized. But then you turn to the 100-foot tall beast on the screen, and the answer is staring you in the face.
Visual effects and CGI are much more advanced today than they were even a decade or so ago when Peter Jackson’s thrilling but bloated King Kong movie came out. Which means we get the most realistic and lifelike version of the skyscraper-sized primate, and his sheer size and anger evokes genuine fear in the comparatively matchstick-tall human characters. As it turns out, he’s not even the scariest creature on Skull Island.
The film is most robust when it’s focused on Kong, or on the giant critters that our explorers encounter along the way. In many ways this is a good old-fashioned monster movie whose finest moments are the ones in which the beasts engage in deadly, jaw-dropping duels.
The humans, sadly, are no match for them. Tom Hiddleston, in action-hero mode is completely bland, and it’s a mystery why Brie Larson would follow up her Oscar-winning turn in Room for a thankless role here as an anti-war photographer. There’s none of that classic sexual tension between woman and ape either. Meanwhile, Samuel L Jackson’s war-hardened chopper commander is a clever nod to Colonel Kurtz in a film that’s packed with Apocalypse Now references and imagery. But it’s only John C Reilly who manages to squeeze in a few laughs as a crazy World War II castaway living among the natives.
Kong: Skull Island is handsomely mounted, but it hits its stride when it sticks with the action. Every kind of creature steps up to take a swipe at Kong, and those are the most thrilling bits in the film. Stay on the till the end-credits for an easter egg scene which reveals how this film links to a larger ‘monsterverse’ planned ahead.
I’m going with three out of five. It’s a rumble in the jungle out there, and you won’t be bored.