Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Staring: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L Jackson, John Goodman, Brie Larson, John C. Reilly
Kong is back baby! It actually hasn’t really been that long since we last saw the world’s largest gorilla. 2005 to be exact. That was when Peter Jackson gave us his remake of the 1933 original classic and it was very much a straight adaptation, just with a little more Jack Black. Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ (director of one of my favourite films of the past decade, Kings of Summer) film isn’t quite the same. It’s very much its own beast and aligns itself more with Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla, which I loved incidentally, and is probably one of the reasons why I enjoyed Kong: Skull Island as much as I did.
The story is pretty familiar. Set in 1973, right around the time of America’s exit from the war in Vietnam, John Goodman’s Bill Randa works for a company called Monarch, who’s main job it is to locate and find dangerous creates and uncharted territory. He finally manages to get the green-light on an expedition to an island they’ve dubbed Skull Island and be the first to claim the newly found land, and also see what sort of creatures live there.
This planet doesn’t belong to us. Ancient species owned this earth long before mankind. I spent 30 years trying to prove the truth: monsters exist.
Randa hires the services of Tom Hiddleston’s ex-SAS Captain James Conrad, who happens to be a skilled tracker, a couple of military folks, led by Samuel L. Jackson’s Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard, and Brie Larson’s photographer, Mason Weaver, who manages to sneak on the expedition due to the unisex nature of her name. Then they head for the island and that’s when Kong and Skull Island’s not-so-small creepy crawlies come into the picture.
What Kong: Skull Island lacks in story and character development, it makes up for in spectacle. Jordan Vogt-Roberts has made a truly remarkable looking film. From the CGI, to the lighting, to Kong himself, this film looks sublime. The island is gorgeous and terrifying at the same time. When it comes to visuals, Kong: Skull Island leaves it predecessors in the dust that the big gorilla kicks up whenever he brings down one of his giant feet.
We don’t belong here.
Speaking of Kong, this is the best he’s ever looked, and you would expect that since it is 2017. But it’s more than that. I spoke of character development before, well Kong is actually the most well-rounded character in the movie. You actually feel empathetic towards him, as you should do since he’s got a pretty tough job on his hands. The battle scenes between Kong and the great big lizard-looking things are filled with adrenaline pumping action. The final monster brawl is easily the best I’ve ever seen on-screen, and I’m a big advocate for the final battle between Godzilla and those weird looking monsters in Edwards’ movie.
However, it has to be said that the human characters in Kong: Skull Island are much less interesting. Brie Larson does her best, but ultimately her character doesn’t do much more than just run away from things and look up occasionally. Although she does manage to kill a scary lizard, or as John C. Riley’s character calls them, Skull Crawlers, with just a lighter, and some highly flammable gas. Then there’s Tom Hiddleston. I had a problem with his character from the off, mainly because I kept on thinking, “What’s an ex-SAS officer doing in this film.” His character would have made much more sense, and been much more poignant, had he been American, since the whole film is a metaphor for how the Americans treated the Vietnamese during the brutal war.
An uncharted island. Let me list all the ways you’re gonna die: rain, heat, disease-carrying flies, and we haven’t started on the things that want to eat you alive.
The other problem I’ve been having with Hiddleston recently, is the fact that he’s obviously picking roles that demonstrate his potential to be the next James Bond. I’m sorry to say this, but Hiddleston is no Bond, no matter how many film he turns up in holding a gun and walking around in a tight fitting t-shirt. That said, he’s been spending a lot of time in the gym and he does look good in that t-shirt. It still doesn’t make him a front-runner for Bond in my eyes unfortunately.
Samuel L. Jackson and John C. Riley delivered, in my mind, the film’s two best human performances. I know a lot of people felt that Riley’s jokes didn’t quite match the film’s tone, but I couldn’t disagree more. I felt his character, who had been stranded on the island since World War II, was completely necessary and offered some much needed levity. Samuel L. Jackson delivered a fine performance as the Army Officer who still felt he had a point to prove after the war in Vietnam. Yet, he is basically playing Samuel L. Jackson and I half expected him to yell, “I’m tired of this mother-fucking monkey, on this mother-fucking island.”
Sometime’s there’s no enemy until you look for one.
Ultimately, Kong: Skull Island isn’t really about the human characters at all, it’s all about Kong, and Jordan Vogt-Roberts got him spot on the money. The film is an exhilarating, exciting and action-packed blockbuster and didn’t fail to entertain. There are problems with it, but I could forgive it those slight missteps. It has me very keen to see what they do with this new classic movie monsters universe, which has been lovingly named the MonsterVerse film series, and I’m eager to see a Kong vs Godzilla movie, although I wouldn’t know who to root for between those two.