DIR: Jordan Vogt-Roberts • WRI: Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly • PRO: Alex Garcia, Jon Jashni, Mary Parent • DOP: Larry Fong • ED: Richard Pearson • DES: Stefan Dechant • MUS:Henry Jackman • CAST: Tom Hiddleston, Corey Hawkins, Brie Larson
The latest reinvention of King Kong arrives thanks to the success of Godzilla (2014), which makes this film a side prequel (that is a legitimate term now isn’t it?).
Though partly inspired by the original Kong, in that it features a giant ape who inhabits an island named Skull, this film has its feet set more firmly in the world of Japanese Kaiju movies, established thanks to Godzilla in 1959, which was itself inspired by Ray Harryhausen’s Beast from 20,000 Fathoms.
The first official Kong-escapade. following his untimely death in 1933, came along thanks to the Toho studios, who decided it was time he and Godzilla had a mash-up in King Kong vs Godzilla (1965). Stay with me, this is all relevant. Of course, Kong won that battle and went on to star in one more Kaiju film, King Kong Escapes, where he took on his robot alter ego. A dismal but successful version turned up in the ’70s, thanks to Dino de Laurentis, followed by one of earliest straight-to video-tragedies, King Kong Lives. 2005 saw Peter Jackson’s remake, a film made with such love of the original, thinking about it makes me want to cry. Also, along the way, were many rip-offs… but enough; Kong is back, younger and taller, and being groomed for another bout with the King of Monsters (as Godzilla is called in Japan) in 2020, depending on how this franchise-offering fares.
Opening at the end of the sequel to the World War, a Japanese and an American pilot shoot each other out of the sky. They continue their fight on landing, only to be interrupted by a very large ape. A title sequence using real news footage gives us a quick world history focusing on war, nuclear weapons and cold-war politics bringing us to 1973, the end of the Vietnam war and the beginnings of the end for Nixon. John Goodman, head of a half-forgotten organisation called Monarch, manages to piggyback a mission to a mysterious island. Along the way he picks up British adventurer James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and peace activist, photographer, Mason Weaver (Brie Larson). Also, along for one last mission, is the war-loving Preston Packard (Samuel Jackson) and his band of helicopter warriors. Packard is none to happy at having to leave the war in ‘Nam and is quite happy of the opportunity of one last mission.
After some extensive bombing in the name of science, accompanied by a soundtrack that would not be out of place in Apocalypse Now, the group run into an irate Kong, who, in one of the best set pieces, trashes their helicopters, kills a few of the surprised adventurers and scatters the rest of them around the island. Escape is on the minds of most but revenge is on the mind of Packard, a man who does not like to be made a monkey of (could not resist that one).
Kong: Skull Island is an odd hybrid, Vietnam war movie meets monster movie. Though I love a good genre mash-up as much as the next person, this one does not quite come off. The two never gel. When it is playing at the ‘Nam thing, it embraces all the surface stereotypes we know so well, most of them stolen or inspired by Apocalyspe Now. Kong standing against the blazing red sunset confronting helicopters being the most obvious visual reference. You might have to think of a giant, bald Marlon Brando against a red sunset to get that one. There are some references to the war in Vietnam and how it was unjustified. Kong would even seem to be a big clunky metaphor for the conflict and its uselessness, in fact metaphors don’t come much bigger than Kong. But these discussions of that terrible war feel very out of place in what is, essentially, supposed to be a a movie about very large creatures kicking the tar out of each other and any humans that get in the way.
The monsters are definitely the stars. It is the human characters that come off the weakest. They do little more than function as ciphers for most of the film. Packard’s loyal command of soldiers have the most going on character-wise but for the best part they end up as monster fodder. You know? Monsters are hell! They got out of ‘Nam for this?!
Brie Larson and Tom Hiddleston are perfunctory in their roles; as are a truly wasted John Goodman and an uninspired Captain Ahab-turn from Samuel Jackson. John C Reilly enters at the halfway mark to liven things up. He easily provides the best performance and most rounded character, despite the fact he is also there to explain the workings and manner of Kong.
Despite a slim story and flat characters, the effects are enough to carry this yarn. When the monsters are in the ring, it is great fun to watch and there are plenty of WWF monster bouts to keep a smile on the faces of those that care.
12A See IFCO for details
Kong: Skull Island is released 10th March 2017
Kong: Skull Island – Official Website