Kong: Skull Island (2017) – Film Review
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L Jackson, Brie Larson
by Roger Crow
We didn’t need another King Kong movie 12 years after Peter Jackson gave us his bum-numbing three-hour epic. That featured some of the ropiest CGI and most stomach-churning scenes I’ve seen in a mainstream monster smackdown.
However, the makers of Godzilla have a plan: they revamp the classic old radiation-born lizard one year; wait a while; resurrect the king of all monster movies and then team them up for the ultimate smack down.
But first we have Kong: Skull Island, the two-hour epic which sees SAS veteran James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston striking heroic poses in a tight tee shirt). His surname obviously a nod to Joseph Conrad, author of Heart of Darkness.
“Edited in the dark”
He’s teamed with a small army of US soldiers and assorted experts sent to investigate mysterious goings on before enemy forces do. Thrown into the mix is Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), a likeable photojournalist and one of the few speaking women in the movie; obsessed military man Preston Packard (Samuel L Jackson); John Goodman, adding gravitas to the proceedings as Bill Randa, one of the team who get the mission green-lit, and countless military and money types who may as well walk around with VICTIM stamped on their jackets.
The whole thing is brisk, snappy and looks like it has been edited in the dark with garden shears. There’s barely a chance to build up any tension before another poor soul has met their fate at the claws or jaws of another monster predator.
But let’s start at the beginning. After a Second World War-set intro when two opposing soldiers face off on a rock on that isle of mystery, we are given another Godzilla-style intro: fast cuts, and flashes of information before things jump to 1973 Vietnam and the assorted members of the mission are assembled.
“Roller coaster sense of fun”
We know what a couple of them do because the tools of their trade are shown in close up. Thankfully it’s a gimmick that isn’t pursued for long. The influence of Apocalypse Now (inspired by Conrad’s Heart of Darkness) is so obvious in its scenes and one advertising poster that I’m amazed it wasn’t crowd funded by a Francis Ford Coppola fan club. But if you’re going to lift inspiration from somewhere, lift it from one of the best war movies ever made.
Following the Army’s squad of helicopters through an electrical storm, in which Sam Jackson spouts the sort of rousing dialogue probably polished by an uncredited Quentin Tarantino, we emerge in the Jurassic Park-style land that time forgot. Had a Doug McClure lookalike turned up with a U-boat full of extras as a homage to those creaky 1970s fantasy movies involving plastic dinosaurs, I would not have been surprised. Oh, and there’s no end of classic pop tracks to keep things moving and give us a reminder of the era.
What Kong: Skull Island gets right is that roller coaster sense of fun. Yes, it’s nonsense, but those assorted films with prehistoric creatures and daring explorers have been the staple of books and cinema for centuries, and they’re not about to fall out of fashion any time soon. Dan (Nightcrawler) Gilroy was one of the writers, and while some of the dialogue is so-so, the creature effects by ILM are mostly terrific.
“Engaging B-movie with a great cast”
The nightmarish skull-headed lizards are gloriously creepy, and it’s hard not to feel for the star every time he takes a bullet or a bite. I’m glad Kong isn’t shipped off to the States for yet another New York-set finale. We’ve seen enough of those in previous incarnations, though arachnophobia-sufferers be warned: one scene is bound to give you nightmares.
While the cast is rounded out by Toby Kebbell and Richard Jenkins, John C Reilly chews the scenery as the obligatory crazy character with the big bushy beard who offers valuable exposition. Even Woody Harrelson’s lovably bonkers character in 2012 might suggest he dial it down a bit.
Is it the best film of the year? No, but it is an engaging B-movie with a great cast and some wonderful action scenes. I don’t emerge from the cinema feeling short changed, but I do wonder whether ‘Godzilla vs King Kong’ will be a let down on a par with Batman vs Superman when it finally sees the light of day in a few years.
Obviously it’ll pop up on DVD, Blu-ray and download in a few months, but like all Kong movies, this is best seen on the big screen with a decent sound system. Watching on your phone will diminish the impact by 95 per cent.