Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Starring Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John C Reilly
Shared worlds are a tricky thing in films. While Marvel reigns supreme, the DC Universe often seems on the edge of an Infinite Crisis reboot, and the Universal Monsters Universe makes it’s third attempt to launch later this year. Into this milieu Kong: Skull Island beats its hairy chest and launches into the fray as the second in the Legendary’s Monsterverse. A reboot and re-imagining of the classic Kong franchise, the film sees a squad of Vietnam vets trapped on the island with the giant ape, seeking a way to escape.
After a brief prelude set in World War Two, Kong: Skull Island leaps straight to seventies and an attempt by the mysterious Monarch group to mount an expedition to a recently discovered island. Surrounded by storms and cloaked in myth, Skull Island has been avoided by shipping for centuries as the legendary place of monsters. With the end of the Vietnam War, a military helicopter unit is assigned to transport and protect the expedition. However the group enrages the island’s monstrous protector, Kong, who destroys their transport. With just three days to get the survivors to an evacuation rendezvous, mercenary James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) will learn there are worse terrors on Skull Island than Kong.
After the ponderousness of Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla (Kong’s preceding Monsterverse film) this is a breath of fresh air. For the most part Kong:Skull Island doesn’t take itself too seriously knowing exactly what it is, and playing to its strengths. It’s a smart dumb-film that knows can entertain an audience by showing a giant monkey putting the smack-down on a helicopter. Heck, who doesn’t want to see that? This takes a leaf from the James Cameron’s Aliens play-book (who in turn owes 1954’s Them a debt of gratitude) and pitches a squad of hardened US troops against the monsters. From there, the script pretty much writes itself, and its just a matter of sitting back and letting the fireworks happen, and boy are there fireworks.
In truth, that setup is probably the most enjoyable part of the film. Kong; Skull Island has great fun building its setting, and beautifully exploiting the visuals and music from a slew of Vietnam war films before it. Here it moves at a rapid pace, building to that aforementioned ape versus helicopter showdown, and the first major appearance of Kong. From there the pace does slacken a little before building to a climactic showdown. It may overplay it’s anti-war/ savagery of man theme, and pack one too many Apocalypse Now references in there, but it still manages to deliver the goods by the end. Both in terms of sheer spectacle and a thematically satisfying conclusion.
Hiddleston and Larson are serviceable in the lead roles, but don’t really bring much more to it than that. It is the ensemble cast that really shines here. Samuel L. Jackson strides across the screen like some amalgam of Captain Ahab and Colonel Kilgore, obsessed with extracting vengeance on the creature that killed his men, and apparently bullet-proof in the attempt. John Goodman launches the whole debacle as the similarly driven and scarred head of Monarch. However it is John C Reilly that steals the show, as a crazy castaway World War 2 airman that acts as their guide to the weird and deadly world of Skull Island.
More fun than a barrel of giant monkeys, Kong: Skull Island knows exactly what type of film it is and unashamedly plays to its strengths. Although one piece of advise, stay till after the credits.