Kong: Skull Island (12A) | Close-Up Film Review
Dir. Jordan Vogt-Roberts , US, 2017, 120 mins
Cast: Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, John Goodman, John C. Reilly
All things special effects considered, it’s possibly true to say that nothing has bested the sheer spectacle of Fay Wray and King Kong in 1933. Nevertheless, that hasn’t stopped Hollywood trying to make a monster out of the huge ape again and again.
There was the Jeff Bridges/Jessica Lange-starring effort in 1976 and director Peter Jackson’s take in 2005 – plus other minor sequels – and now there’s Skull Island.
This time we’re in the tech-slow 1970s, and we meet the large ensemble cast before they all climb aboard helicopters and make for the mysterious South Pacific Island, ostensibly to map it and find out what delights it holds…
On board are people Bill Randa (Goodman), leader of the uber-contractors Monarch, has hired, including ex-SAS soldier-turned-guide solider James Conrad (Hiddleston) and photographer Mason Weaver (Larson).
Monarch has also recruited shouty Preston Packard (Jackson), commander of the army helicopter unit. Bored by science, Packard won’t take no shit from anyone – or anything, come to that –and then there other (obviously very diverse) characters in suits, glasses or fatigues, but it’s not really necessary to know much about them.
The chopper squadron hasn’t even landed when it’s attacked by a huge ape bothered by the explosions the Monarch team has been setting off. It’s one of many breathless and exciting sequences here, and concludes with the remaining helicopters landing on this bizarre place.
Goodman suspected there were strange things here all along of course, but now the scattered survivors have to try and get to the rendezvous point. They find there are humans here; a brightly-painted native tribe that live behind high bamboo walls and share space with Hank Marlow (Reilly), a US airman shot down over the island in WWII and has been here ever since.
Marlow may be eccentric, but he knows his stuff: Kong is king here, and he keeps everyone safe from the hideous lizard/ dinosaur “Skullcrusher” creatures that live here – creatures now awakened by those damn seismic explosions.
These slimy, teethy monsters are just babies compared to their momma though, and of course the wild-eyed Packard is determined to kill Kong in revenge for the handful of dog tags he now has.
Packard won’t listen to any argument that Kong needs to be left alone to fight the good fight, so now it’s a race-against-time as this rag-tag team of scientists and soldiers navigate the island and try to do the right thing – that’s if they don’t get squashed or swallowed first.
Essentially Jurassic Park meets Apocalypse Now, this entertaining and engaging film starts very much like a Vietnam war movie and keeps up that sense of style and tone throughout, a real tribute to director Vogt-Roberts, who came from a small movie background before being given a shot at this biggest of big times.
The producers are the team behind 2014’s Godzilla – another mythical monster tale that’s seen countless versions and reboots – and we’re very much in that fantasy world here (i.e. the real focus is the monsters and their battles).
In terms of the characters, that leaves almost nothing for Hiddleston or Larson to do, and it seems that many scenes might have been cut for time (i.e. Packard’s inexplicable determination to find his lost soldier; the lack of a romance between Conrad/Weaver).
It’s possible the latter has saved for the next film – stay to the end of the credits – but on this island it’s only veterans Samuel L. Jackson and John C. Reilly who get many lines, let alone the chance to elicit any emotion. Nevertheless, this is a great monster movie that grabs you and doesn’t let go and might even be well worth seeing in 3D.
Review by James Bartlett