A team of scientists explore an uncharted island in the Pacific, venturing into the domain of the mighty Kong, and must fight to escape a primal Eden.
Almost 85 years after the first King Kong movie, the giant gorilla returns to screens in the visually impressive but undeniably hollow Kong: Skull Island.
This time, the action largely takes place exactly where the title suggests: a mysterious, uncharted part of the world dubbed Skull Island. It’s during the Vietnam war in 1973, and Government agents Bill Randa (John Goodman) recruits James Conrad (Tom Hiddlestone), a team of scientists and an Army convoy to help out with an expedition to discover the secrets of the island. But what they find is far more dangerous than they could ever have imagined, and must use all their skills and equipment to survive.
This isn’t the classic Kong story of his capture and deportation to New York to be put on show which we’ve seen many times before, but neither is it an original story that has any noticeable substance. Once the initial set-up of the team expressing desire to get onto the island (and their eventual arrival, which admittedly gives us one of the films most impressive scenes) is out of the way, Kong: Skull Island plays out as a series of set pieces where objects on the island appear to be one thing, but quickly turn out to be another – and none of which have any bearing on propelling the already-flimsy narrative forward.
The introduction of stranded pilot Hank Marlow (played by John C. Reilly, the only actor who seems to be having any fun with this) is a welcome addition to a film which is far too straight-faced for the silliness on show. The few attempts of comedy fall flatter than a Kong crushed soldier, but his presence is enough to lighten the mood.
The biggest culprit of this unnecessary seriousness is Tom Hiddlestone, an unusual casting choice who appears to be using the role as his audition for James Bond. Never showing any other emotion than scowling, don’t be fooled by his muscle-hugging tee and eagerness to walk at the front of the group: he is no more useful than any of the other characters on show. It would probably have been a good idea to remind him he’s not in a perfume commercial too, judging from the long distance gazes and slight eye squint poses he pulls in almost every shot.
Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson and John Goodman round off the perfunctory performances, and it’s hard not to feel disappointed at the waste of such a high caliber cast of veterans and up ‘n coming talent.
Having being set in Vietnam, the rock-heavy soundtrack is entirely what you’d expect from a movie set in this era. Black Sabbath’s Paranoid, Creedence Clearwater Revival and Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit all make uninspired appearances. Last year’s Suicide Squad did a similar thing with its soundtrack choice too – pick out overplayed fan favorites with no visible effort to break out of an audible comfort zone.
There’s absolutely no faults with the visuals though: Skull Island is one of the most impressive looking features of the year. The gargantuan gorilla himself is beautifully realized, even if he is less physically imposing the version seen in Peter Jackson’s 2005 effort. The final battle between Kong and the ‘Alpha Skullcrawler’ is a highlight too, and showcases the real might of Kong. But when it occurs over an hour and a half in, it occurs far too late into proceedings to leave any real impact.
An after credits scene confirms a wider cinematic universe of monsters with Kong included, but much more work is needed on interesting characters and stronger base stories before this prospect is anything to really get excited about.
Incredible visual effects work, especially on Kong
John C Reilly lightens the mood
Some gorgeous shots reflect Kong's size
Paper thin story
Waste of high caliber cast, with Hiddlestone in particular disappointing
Uninspired music choices