I can’t stress enough how bonkers Kong: Skull Island is.
There’s one scene in which Tom Hiddleston’s super hunter, tracker, Air Force “badass” James Conrad launches himself through a cloud of toxic gas, whilst wielding a samurai sword which he’s using to chop up pterodactyl-like creatures. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the film’s ridiculousness. Because there are still huge spiders, prehistoric looking nasties called Skullcrawlers, and Samuel L. Jackson’s borderline suicidal Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard left to unpack. Oh, and a giant gorilla, of course.
But, you know what, as crazy as it all might get, at the heart of Kong there are swathes of fun to be had in what is simply a good old-fashioned adventure romp. It’s not as elaborate as Peter Jackson’s 2005 attempt at the tale of the famous beast, and director Jordan Vogt-Roberts certainly doesn’t have as strong of a grip on the development of the human characters as Jackson did (in fact, it’s a lesser film in almost every way), yet as a pure monster movie, there are plenty of successes found. Most significantly in Kong himself, and in his island home, both of which are realised beautifully, and are central to some spectacular action sequences.
And no, you don’t have to wait half of the film as you did in King Kong (2005) before you get to see the iconic monster, though his collective screen time is relatively low (still, at least not as minimal as the screen time his franchise counterpart Godzilla had in the 2014 film of the same name). This time around, Kong is into the mix within minutes. This is a bigger version of the beast than we’ve ever seen, hulking over everything else that surrounds him, convincingly brought to life thanks to some mighty impressive CGI. And unfortunately for World War II pilot Hank Marlow (played firstly by Will Brittain, followed by John C. Reilly), he has just crash landed in Kong’s backyard, the unchartered land of Skull Island, where he will remain lost without hope until 1973.
With the arrival of the ’70s comes new visitors to the Island, a rag-tag group that descend upon the (gorgeous) dense jungle in hope of unravelling its myths and mysteries. And with them they’re bringing all the guns, and all the explosives. Their approach brings shades of Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, with the film leaning heavily into its setting. Think rock and roll, Vietnam, choppers silhouetted by the setting sun, and lots of napalm.
Among the newcomers to the island there’s the aforementioned typically heroic Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), Samuel L. Jackson’s driven army jock Preston, John Goodman’s questionably shady government man Bill Randa, Toby Kebbell’s grunt with a heart Jack Chapman, Brie Larson’s strong-willed photographer Mason….the cast list goes on and on and on. Barring a very select few though, they’re largely just all there as fodder. We get only the most basic of backstory for the majority, small wrinkles to try to give us reason to care when they inevitably get stomped on, wrinkles that barely pass as character progression. Larson and Hiddleston might be positioned as the heroes, yet we’re given more incentive to care about John C. Reilly’s Hank, who isn’t nearly as annoying as you might expect from the trailers.
Meanwhile the film is exceptionally economical in its development of Kong, showing that a little can go a long way, when done right. He has humanity, in spite of being a 100 foot-tall, chest-pounding gorilla. If a bit more of that humanity had been shared around it would have done the film the world of good.
Rating (out of 5):