Monstrously entertaining smash ’em up
Peter Jackson’s ape effort in 2005 was a cinematic milestone for many, particularly younger audiences. If only a touch long, it was enthralling and memorable. On another note, back in 2014 we saw the return of another giant monster – Godzilla, in a flawed effort that still gave hope for the future. Then the announcement came; Godzilla v Kong was happening, sending film fans round the world into a frenzy. Kong: Skull Island is the first ape entry in this monsterverse, which delivers on Godzilla‘s shortcomings and tingles your spine for the future.
A team of scientists, accompanied by the military, head out to one of the last uncharted places on Earth; the ominous Skull Island. There they meet Kong, a giant ape who lives on the island. From here, they must try to escape before the island kills them.
Don’t go in expecting the traditional Kong tale; there’s no romance, no film crew, no climbing the Empire State. This is a new take, one that should be welcomed with open arms. Jordan Vogt-Roberts, whose previous work includes the hugely underrated Kings of Summer, knew from the beginning what the world wanted – to see Kong going apeshit. From our opening scene which treats us to a terrifying close up of the beast, to our first formal introduction which sees him tear apart a whole squadron of helicopters, it’s a maelstrom of destruction and mayhem that will make you want to stand up and rumble your fists across your chest.
Roberts has also soaked Kong in Vietnam war nostalgia (it is set in 1973),taking clear inspiration mostly from Apocalypse Now and featuring music from likes of Creedence Clearwater Revival. The film also embraces its own cheesiness; it’s a bit wild with CGI, close ups of Samuel L Jackson ragingly staring, one liners. Considering we’re dealing with an ape it’s justified, but when it’s done in a way that still keeps it refreshing, it’s an absolute pleasure. Whilst it perhaps is a bit heavy handed with the throwbacks and instead could have borrowed some of the atmospheric tone from Godzilla, you can’t help but feel great listening to Bad Moon Rising.
Now the film isn’t just all Kong (although I’d watch that) but the cast haven’t been given enough attention. Our main leads, Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson are given virtually no back story to go on, meaning any emotional grip is virtually a non-starter. Larson is a personable actress anyways, and Hiddleston is a constant charmer, but as an action star he doesn’t quite fit the bill. Trying to take forward his excellent Night Manager performance, he instead comes off underwhelming, even more so in a gear shift slo-mo sword scene which should turn him into an icon but instead brings back memories of Kate McKinnon catching ghosts in 2016.
Samuel L Jackson is born for the army role, especially within material that allows him to embrace his Tarantino-esque attitudes. The real star though is John C Reilly, who plays an abandoned soldier on the island. In moments of peril and horror, Reilly offers comic relief. In times where our leads may try to sound epic, Reilly makes it almost tongue in cheek. His story is tragic, but that’s the thing; we know his story. In terms of the humans, he is easily the highlight.
In a similar sense to 2014’s Godzilla, Kong isn’t necessarily the main threat on the island. The disgusting Skullcrawlers are our team’s main concern, but unlike Godzilla, we don’t spend 80% of the running time with them waiting on the titular monster. Watching Kong flying punch one of the horrific creatures in the face is one to make you chant, much like any fighting scene in the film. But unlike the humans, Kong offers emotional depth (yup you read that right). We see him stroll round the island, keeping to himself and tending to his wounds, which does better than what Godzilla tried in making us see that Kong isn’t an absolute enemy.
To sum it up…
Kong takes the criticisms of Godzilla on board to give us one hell of a time. If seeing a giant gorilla unleash its fury is what you’re after, Skull Island is for you. Let’s hope when the pair eventually face off, it’s even more entertaining than this fine effort.
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Author: Cameron Frew