UK Release Date: 9th March 2017
Runtime: 118 minutes
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Writer: Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L Jackson, John Goodman, John C Reilly, Toby Kebbell, Jing Tian, Corey Hawkins, Thomas Mann
Synopsis: A team of scientists travels to an uncharted island and finds that the land is home to, amongst other super-sized beasties, the eponymous ancient ape the size of a skyscraper.
While this latest edition of King Kong may share a cinematic universe and – in a couple of years – a screen with 2014’s Godzilla, that can be the only real common thread between this sophomore monster outing and its lacklustre predecessor. For while Gareth Edwards’ film preoccupied itself with drawing out dull characters and hiding the titular dragon-creature from us for much of the movie’s bloated runtime, Kong: Skull Island is a stripped-down, delightfully fun adventure that puts its creatures front and centre and revels in the clichéd characters it draws for itself.
The 70s-set plot kicks off in earnest with John Goodman’s Bill Randa, who works for Monarch – a secretive government agency which in two movies time will likely be revealed as being controlled by Hydra. Through satellite pictures, he has discovered an island he believes is the key to proving that monsters exist. He enlists the help of Conrad, an ex-SAS soldier played by Tom Hiddleston, army boss Samuel L Jackson and his crew of soldiers who have just finished fighting in the Vietnam War, and Brie Larson’s war photographer… who is here for some reason.
It’s usually common to complain about thin characters and clichés, but this movie uses them to its advantage marvellously. Each comfortable character archetype – every kind of disposable movie military grunt you have ever seen, for example – is used as a safety blanket to get you into the bits this movie wants to show, which is the monsters, and it does that with aplomb. Kong himself is the most physical, impressive and stunning he’s ever been in Skull Island. The cinematography and design is enough to help lift what could have been a bland adventure into a really stylish work of cinema. The horrific ‘Skullcrawlers’ are likewise physically-imposing, fresh new creatures for this world that helps separate Kong: Skull Island from Peter Jackson’s ponderous King Kong from a decade ago.
The plotting here is simple and characters are used in a disposable way to further the story gradually into each action set piece and this is a functional way of telling an enjoyable story when the characters have no longevity. The next movie Kong is slated to appear in will be set 50 years after the events of this movie, so we’re unlikely to see these characters again. While thin characterisation is the most common criticism of Kong: Skull Island, it’s a way of saving us from a bloated running time for what will amount to little pay-off for these characters in the long run.
It isn’t a flawless film by any stretch. The freedom with which director Jordan Vogt-Roberts disposes of his characters – even if in doing so it’s a not-so-subtle smackdown of the cliches it draws from – means you may find it difficult to get any sense of real emotion from the movie. Also, John C Reilly’s turn is the movie’s highest and lowest mark as it struggles to reconcile a comedically very gifted actor with a lack of ideas over what he should be doing. Is he the movie’s heart? Or is he the comic relief that breathes life into the more exposition-heavy scenes? Reilly and the movie’s creators never appear to be sure.
Despite this though, Kong: Skull Island is a lean and mean action romp, which is every bit as enjoyable as it is disposable. It is a true celebration of Kong’s basic B-movie concept that allows Vogt-Roberts to craft something that is delightfully fun, feels fresh and gets you excited about a monster movie again.
Pop or Poop?
Kong: Skull Island is a monster movie ding-dong that lacks emotional heft, but makes up for it with enjoyable action and an enjoyable sense of self-awareness when it comes to clichéd characters and creature feature tropes. The performers are left with little to do but, thanks to Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ sense of fun and fighting, you’re often having far too much fun to care about who the characters are.
Do you agree with my review? Let me know in the comments section.
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