by Daryl Griffith
The eighth wonder of the world was last seen on the beloved big-screen twelve years ago, when Middle-Earth royalty Peter Jackson’s care and affection for the iconic ape was poured into a towering three-hour plus vision. Now, it seems that Hollywood is revisiting the classic and tragic ‘it was beauty that killed the beast’ narrative trajectory with Kong: Skull Island.
With director Jordan Vogt-Roberts superb and criminally under seen directorial debut ‘The Kings Of Summer,’ brimming with a great sense of adventure and enthusiasm, and Warner Bros’ cinematic universes seemingly in disarray. Can this be the man to restore much-needed order and be the 2017 king of the blockbuster?
Radiating the stifling machismo of a bygone era right from its opening frames, Kong: Skull Island anchors its action in the year 1973, as America attempts to rally in the midst of the Vietnam War. Displaying little interest in the intense conflict that has unfolded, scientist Bill Randa’s (John Goodman) sole objective is to convince his fellow government agents to grant him the tools to carry out a hazardous expedition on an uncharted island, determined to beat their Russian counterparts to any potential great discovery.
Recruiting the resourceful British SAS ‘tracker’ James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), considerate anti-war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) and a battle-hardened military squadron (Thomas Mann and Toby Kebbell worthy mentions) led by Samuel L. Jackson’s tough-talking Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard, they head for their dreaded destination as the powerhouse sound of Black Sabbath fills the scene. They may have all hopped onto a helicopter, but little do they know they have actually boarded the crazy train, as the imposing chest-pounding Kong makes his presence felt in spectacular style.
Making good on the promise of its thrilling trailers with a visceral take that pushes its 12A certificate to the cliff edge, Kong: Skull Island dials up the guerrilla (don’t you mean… Gorilla? – Ed.) warfare and monstrous mayhem, with Vogt-Roberts orchestrating its hyper-stylised setpieces with real panache. The director is aided here by cinematographer Larry Fong, crafting a sumptuous visual palette as the searing reds and gritty greens help to create evocative imagery that fittingly pays homage to top-tier war epics. Through its stunning design and VFX, its host of creatures never feel throwaway in their look and in being established as a genuine threat to the film’s main attraction, with Kong’s opening salvo truly exciting.
Sadly where Kong: Skull Island falters, rather like many recent creature features, is crafting enough worthwhile human characters to keep you engaged. Moving at such a breakneck pace seemingly looking to avoid accusations leveled at previous incarnations, you’re occasionally left craving the care and emotional connection of 2005. Whilst wonderfully witty elsewhere, Tom Hiddleston looks ill-at-ease with the film’s broad humorous strokes here, but otherwise is a dependable tough-guy presence. Brie Larson has little room to manoeuvre as Weaver yet strikes up a solid on-screen partnership with Hiddleston’s Conrad, providing a nifty suspense-filled ‘flash photography’ moment that could be interpreted as an unlikely visual nod to James Stewart in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window.
Possessing a bombastic and no-nonsense tone, it’s inevitable that the gloriously OTT characters make the lasting impression. Determined to destroy Kong, Samuel L. Jackson’s highly decorated Packard is terrific in conveying the well-worn leave no man behind mantra as the peculiar larger-than-life comedy of John C. Reilly’s Hank Marlow dominates, counter-balanced by a surprisingly touching character arc.
The odd treacherous obstacle through dodgy dialogue and sketchy character development may be littered within its script. But as a pure thrill-ride, Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ Kong: Skull Island is a relentlessly fun watch that proves he is still worthy of being called King.
Kong: Skull Island is out on DVD & Blu-Ray now!