Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Starring Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L Jackson, John C Reilly, John Goodman and Toby Kebbell
Released on 10th March 2017
If the picture above looks familiar, then it should do. It’s exactly what Jordan Vogt-Roberts had in mind in Kong:Skull Island and it’s just the first of many images that originally saw the light of day elsewhere.
Over the years, everybody’s favourite giant ape has moved around in time. This time he’s pitched up in the 1970s as the Vietnam War draws to a close on the mainland. An eccentric scientist believes he’s located the last unexplored island on Earth, containing secrets crucial to the human race and his expedition is approved. So along with tracker, ex-army type Tom Hiddleston, and a military escort with Samuel L Jackson in charge, off he goes. Except that the island in question is Skull Island, where Kong is in residence.
If you’re a fan of Kong and his previous incarnations, you’ll be looking for those familiar footprints. Like his relationship with the girl. He doesn’t abduct photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), but he does save her life. Briefly. And there’s definitely a connection between her and the ape. Briefly. It’s all part of Kong being sympathetic, protective of his territory, even if his methods seem brutal. And there’s the obligatory run-in with aircraft. On this tropical island, there’s no Empire State Building for him to climb, so he’s surrounded by a swarm of helicopters – and he swats them away without a second thought.
Director Vogt-Roberts picked up the characteristics of the Kong movies, presumably to keep the fans happy, but what won’t endear the film to them is that they very much take second place. The ape’s relationship with Mason is under-developed, as is Kong’s more benevolent side in the general. Instead of going deeper into his character, he immerses himself in a retro vibe, full of music and artefacts from the 70s, and constant references to other films. There’s no Ride Of The Valkyrie to go with the helicopters in flight, but Deep Purple’s Paranoid is an acceptable second best. There’s shades of M*A*S*H in the first view of the military with its tannoy announcements, a touch of Miss Saigon with Kong and the choppers silhouetted against the sunset. And Predator rears its head as the expedition’s enemies pick them off one by one. Sometimes we see it happen, others we just see spatters of blood.
Which makes for an adventure yarn in an exotic setting, but with limitations. Kong is a fine creation, with his glowing red eyes, but the other monsters – christened Skull Crawlers by John C Reilly – are well below par and, worse still, bear a striking resemblance to the monsters in The Great Wall. That’s no compliment. And it’s not a film that demands much on the acting front, so Hiddleston and Larson don’t have much to do, except look good and look frightened on demand. The likes of Samuel L as a crazy eyed senior soldier and John C Reilly as the film’s equivalent of Treasure Island’s Ben Gunn, stranded on the island since World War II, have much more fun, which rubs off on their performances. Reilly’s especially.
Vogt-Roberts likes his slo-mo, panoramic shots and misty settings, so that monsters can emerge from apparently nowhere and cause havoc. You get the distinct impression that he’s enjoying his move from TV to the big screen and the ending leaves the door just about open enough for a sequel. He may get the chance to go it all over again. But if he does, he’ll need to give the story and characters a lot more depth than here. And that applies especially to Kong himself.
Kong:Skull Island is released in cinemas on Friday, 10 March and reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 9 March.