One thing is certain: Kong: Skull Island is a feast for the eyes. This big-screen monster feature is an undeniably glorious spectacle that recaptures the essence of old Hollywood, and reminds us what the magic of cinema is all about: pure and absolute escapism! If there is a concern, it’s that modern audiences have become very discerning (too much for my liking) and may just criticise the film for the very reasons I believe it should be praised.
Ignoring Peter Jackson’s 2005 film and rebooting the King Kong story for the unfolding Legendary Entertainment-Warner Bros. “MonsterVerse” (which includes Godzilla), Kong: Skull Island presents an opportunity to give the resilient legacy a whole new dynamic. Set in 1973 at the end of the Vietnam War, the film tells the story of a secret government-funded expedition to a newly discovered island in the South Pacific, where a new eco-system is said to flourish. With a military escort and a former secret service tracker taking lead, the group find themselves in a hostile environment where Kong is king & protector. Using the ‘Hollow Earth’ theory as the scientific basis for their story, the creators of Kong: Skull Island have given themselves an excuse to unleash a menagerie of monsters on their unsuspecting audience, and the result is exhilarating.
I arrived at the film with a modest degree of reservation. The various trailers that preceded it felt rushed and uninspired, and the buzz surrounding its release was almost non-existent, at least to me. I feared that the promos had blown their loads and revealed too much, but, thankfully, I was wrong. The film begins with a vintage newsreel sequence that bares a clear resemblance to the opening of 2014’s Godzilla, and within minutes of the title card we are dropped into the action and swept away on a classic adventure.
Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (The Kings Of Summer) understands that there is no need to keep Kong mythical. We already know what he looks like, and so for the first time we have a King Kong movie that doesn’t insult the audience with pointless suspense. Where former films have kept him hidden in the shadows for long periods of time, the new film puts him centre of screen within minutes. And what a stunning beast he is. The detail in his digital creation is spectacular, as are the many other gigantic creatures. Despite these creations obviously being computer generated, it is to the credit of an amazing visual FX team that the distinction between live action and animation is so well infused.
Perhaps the most unexpected quality of the film is the production design and its influences. Skull Island owes as much gratitude to Jules Verne as it does Oliver Stone, and if you can imagine a hard-edged Vietnam War film set on Mysterious Island, then you will understand what to expect as a platoon of American soldiers go up against a lost world of fantastic beasts. A gritty pastel colour grade lends the film an authentic war-like quality, and an enthusiastically crafted barrage of action sequences keep the movie charging forward at a relentless pace (the brutality of the action might actually shock some people). Add magnificent cinematography to the list, as well as an energetic Vietnam-inspired soundtrack, and all signs point to a kick-ass cinema experience.
The cast is made up of consummate talent, with current Hollywood A-listers Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson leading the pack. Hiddleston steps up to the action-man plate while Larson follows her Oscar win with a compassionate – yet stoic – turn as an anti-war photographer. Larson has bright and appealing presence on screen, however, her talent is wasted on a series of hilariously contrived lines. Being the only female throughout the entire film, I would have hoped she’d been handed a more heroic place within the story. Nevertheless, she makes the best of what she’s been given and her character’s limitations don’t detract from the story. The rest of the cast includes Samuel L Jackson as a military commander on the brink of insanity, John Goodman as an elusive scientist and John C. Reilly as a marooned WWII veteran who knows the island back to front and provides the film with a welcome sense of humour.
Giant gorilla. Giant spider. Giant buffalo. Giant birds. Machine guns. Explosions. Beast-to-beast combat. Needless to say, Kong: Skull Island relies heavily on the tropes of the genre and makes no apologies for being nostalgic. It is a film blockbuster that aims high and – like last year’s The Legend of Tarzan – represents the sort of adventure that once occupied the silver screen in years of old. Let’s hope that it turns out to be a crowd pleaser amongst a movie-going audience who seem to be getting harder to please.