In 2014 Godzilla made his reappearance to a western cinematic audience in Gareth Edwards eponymous film. It was a commercial success and prompted Legendary Pictures to greenlight a reboot of one of cinemas oldest and most beloved characters, who debuted over eighty years ago, King Kong. Godzilla and Kong previously clashed in 1962’s King Kong vs. Godzilla, but with the surge in technology over the last fifty years it is not surprising that there are plans to bring the gargantuan duo together once again meaning Kong himself needs to be reintroduced with Kong: Skull Island.
Set in 1973, just after the U.S announces it will be leaving Vietnam, Bill Randa (John Goodman), a senior official at MONARCH, convinces the US government to fund his expedition to the uncharted Skull Island. He is given a military escort led by Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and hires former SAS Captain and renowned tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) to assist them, also along for the ride is Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) a renowned photo-journalist and peace activist. Upon reaching the Island the group drop seismic charges to, allegedly, map the terrain, but by doing so they provoke the wrath of Kong (Terry Notary) who brings down their helicopters leaving them stranded on Skull Island.
Kong: Skull Island opens with a strong first act, introducing a parade of characters who are swatted down by the almighty Kong. The opening brawl between Kong and the military is enthralling, and showcases the presence of the gigantic beast. It’s easy to make something look large on screen but it’s a challenge to communicate such scale to the audience and to make Kong feel like a living, breathing animal. The motion capture work is fantastic and Kong is beautifully transposed into the world of the movie, in part due to the performance of Notary as the creature. Less compelling are the people surrounding Kong, despite being well introduced few of the characters develop beyond the periphery of two dimensions. Hiddleston is supposedly the male lead, but you could remove him from the film and it would make little difference. Hiddleston’s performance isn’t the problem, his natural charisma stops him from becoming unwatchable, but his lack of personality or insight makes him an issue, especially as the lead character. Larson suffers the same issue, Mason Weaver is never fully realised beyond having the obligatory sequence in which Kong shares a semi-intimate moment with a woman because, well, he does in all Kong movies. The ensemble flare between promising and underutilised. Jackson and Goodman bring the heft of their experience to the movie and manage to make even the most expositional dialogue scenes interesting through their fine work. Jackson is the most fully realised of any of the characters, a man whose lost so much that to surrender would be an insult to those who sacrificed their lives. The scene stealer though is John C Reilly as Hank Marlow, a WWII pilot who has been stranded on the Island for twenty-eight years leaving him a peculiarly eccentric figure.
This film feels like a battleground. Between the director’s vision of making Apocalypse Now but with a massive ape, and the studios hopes of starting a franchise. The actors battle for screen time, with each other and Kong. It has some astonishing effects and clever visual motifs, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts clearly has an eye for spectacle, but the screenplay can’t match his ambitions leaving most of the characters adrift of interest. Solid, but not quite worthy of the King.
Dir: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Scr: Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly
Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Toby Kebbell, Terry Notary, Jing Tian, Corey Hawkins, John Ortiz, Shea Whigham, Thomas Mann, John C. Reilly
Prd: Thomas Tull, John Jashni, Mary Parent, Alex Garcia
DOP: Larry Fong
Music: Henry Jackman
Runtime: 118 Minutes
Kong: Skull Island is out now in UK cinemas.