I’m going to get real. This film will not change your lives or win any Oscars. It will not give you any deep, introspective thoughts. It will however, show you some footage of a big ape beating the shit out of helicopters. And for that alone we should be grateful.
KONG: Skull Island, directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts is a throwback to those 90’s action films that just cared about entertainment. He gives us a rag tag bunch of cannon fodder characters, a few big star leads, some awesome character actors and a hell of a lot of CGI explosions. It’s a stunning looking film, so many gorgeous shots, the helicopter sequence particularly standing out.
Revealed to be part of Warner Bros’ larger MonsterVerse Cinematic Universe, this take on Kong is, in a way, a prequel to 2014’s Godzilla, with the Monarch organisation again being front and centre. Think of them as a kind of Monster-phobic version of Marvel’s SHIELD. But without all the years of being secrectly run by Nazis. That said, I would watch the shit out of Godzilla vs Hitler.
Our story is set in 1973, giving us some very cool Vietnam era music and a nice backdrop to hang the action on. Monarch Monster Hunter Bill Randa (John Goodman) wants to tag along with geological survey of a previously unknown island and requests a military back up, including the appropriately named Conrad ( Tom Hiddleston) and anti war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson). America has just lost the war so Packard (Samuel L Jackson) is eager to take his troops back into a fight he can win. Of course, on arriving at the island, they’re encountered by a giant, angry Gorilla.
What I enjoyed about this movie, more than anything, is that you can tell the creative team behind it just wants you to have fun. There are running gags, plenty of funny moments and loads of hugely exciting creature scenes. I really loved the variety of odd creatures, seeing them interact with each other and the human characters. The island feels alive, similar to Jurassic Park or Aliens, you’re constantly waiting for something to happen. It’s a nice tension builder, especially when we’re told of a “Big One” that comes out from the ground, we anticipate it’s arrival for the rest of the runtime!
Let’s look at the cast. Tom Hiddleston is billed as the star but honestly, he comes across as just another face in the ensemble, as does Brie Larson. The two most memorable cast members being a grumpy John Goodman and Samuel L Jackson in full bad ass mode, playing a slightly unhinged army general. The army grunts along with Jackson’s Packard remind me of the marines in Aliens ( another very Vietnam war influenced film) with their constant wisecracking and ribbing each other. It adds a layer of character a lot of action films don’t bother with now. Toby Kebbell pops up pulling double duty as both a marine and a motion capture Kong, along with Terry Notary, both actors also played apes in the last Planet of the Apes movie so Kong’s movements look authentic and powerful. I feel like I want to talk about John C Reilly’s character, a World War II pilot we meet in the opening scene, trapped on the island for 3o odd years. He’s a show stealer, so I’m hesitant to spoil him for anyone yet to watch the film.
The creature design is, as expected, awesome, if overly CGI’d. Kong looking grizzled and beaten up, scarred chest and all, lumbers around the island, truly fearless and proud. He’s not a realistic Gorilla. He’s fully bipedal and he is Kong. Peter Jackson and WETA gave us a realistic looking ape in 2005, this flick returns us to a classic monster movie style Kong and I loved it.
For a film as shallow on the surface as this seems to be, I did pick up on a lot of themes and subtext. Vietnam regret and the premise of an army invading somewhere they shouldn’t, lies heavy across the film. Contrasting that is the Samuel L Jackson character wanting to win the war, saving his country from the threats they face. Obviously, they took a fair amount of the symbolism from Apocalypse Now, but hey, if you’re gonna steal, steal from the best. I did like the nod towards Heart of Darkness, the novel Apocalypse Now was based on, naming Hiddleston’s character Conrad, after it’s author.
The music was great, a soundtrack filled with Black Sabbath, David Bowie and Credence Clearwater Revival, alongside a suitably bombastic score from Henry Jackman.
While not being for everyone, Kong: Skull Island was certainly for me. A riotous mix of CGI chaos and old school adventure, I was laughing and smiling for most of the film. Sometimes you just need to see a giant ape use a tree as a baseball bat.
7/10 Kong: Skull Island is in Cinemas now.
For Fans Of:
Dawn of the Planet of the Apes