Kong: Skull Island is the second move in the long-feted attempt for Toho Studios and Warner Bros. to collaborate to bring two of cinema’s (literally) biggest titans together for one almighty smack-down (due in 2020), after last year’s supremely cinematic and thrilling ‘Godzilla’ and this latest effort sees this thrilling and curiously old-fashioned action-adventure brought vividly to life to line the next pieces up nicely (hint: stick around after the credits for piece three) for that film.
This 1973-set adventure sees America still reeling fresh from losing / withdrawing from the Vietnam War and there is a scathing bitterness that permeates the tone of the film throughout. Of course, this also means it equally helps and hinders the plot too.
The film is highly remisnscent of the works of Spielberg protege Joe Johnston in that it has a nice line in convincing period detail and a charmingly old fashioned feel to it (Captain America: The First Avenger). It also has a series of thrilling land, sea and air-based set-pieces that reminded me much of the hugely underrated Jurassic Park III. The film definitely had the look of the 1930’s Saturday Matinee RKO Radio Pictures which clearly inspired Johnston so much in the first place.
As usual I won’t go into the plot, other than to say it involves a scientific expedition to an uncharted island (always a good idea) which is hitherto unexplored as it has its own “permanent storm system”. So, the signs were there from the beginning then, it’s safe to say.
So the mission begins and its no spoiler to say that it all goes royally tits-up before you can say FUBAR. Kong is introduced to us in a surprisingly unbuilt-up fashion and his introductory set-piece is very impressive, especially the ‘copter POV of some poor sap clinging onto the stricken vehicle for dear life as Kong pinwheels it through the air.
The pace rarely lets up from here and it’s not long before the next set of vile beasties is just around the corner. The film manages the tricky act of being gruesome yet family-friendly (unlike the brutal carnage of Logan two weeks ago) and there is a satisfying glee to seeing to giant insects blown open with M60’s, only for their falling viscera to drench the US defendants from above, or seeing Samuel L. Jackson emptying an entire clip into a spider’s eyes before going all primal on us like Arnie during the last half an hour of Predator.
Yes, the action is thrilling and exciting and admittedly had the author flinching in his seat on several occasions. Kong is of course omnipresent and his personality develops wordlessly throughout the film to impressive effect. Much of the human cast failed to leave the same impression sadly. It’s not as if they are bad as such, it’s just that most of them didn’t really convince in their respective roles.
Tom Hiddleston is far too young, slim and posh to convince as a hardened ex-Special Forces tracker, Brie Larsson is impossibly glamourous and fresh-faced as an embitterred, battle-hardened “anti-war photographer”. John C. Reilly / the script is not really quite as funny as he / it thinks it is and not quite as batshit-crazy enough as…well, you’ll find out who he is. Jackson, of course – with a chest full of medals, a thousand-yard Vietnam Vet Stare and THAT voice – can play this kind of role in his sleep, so is reliably great.
The film makes no pretences that it is a thinly-veiled Vietnam War analogy (or maybe apology letter?) and the Troops, the Choppers, the M16s, the terrain, even the soundtrack is pure Vietnam War film (yes, ‘White Rabbit’ by Jefferson Airplane inevitably features) – some choice quotes include: “you don’t start dropping bombs in your neighbour’s back yard unless you’ve come to pick a fight”…”this is one war we’re not going to lose…”…”we didn’t lose the war, we just abandoned it…” – and this was more than a little distracting, this author found. Virtually every war-film cliche is thrown into the mix for good measure: the imminent engagement, letters from home, the philosophical outsider, self-sacrifice, under-estimating the enemy…
But, overall,let’s s not forget that the purpose of this type of fim is purely to entertain and, that, it certainly does. This is a pleasantly old-fashioned adventure romp brought bang up to date with flawless CGI and green-screen work and its was definitely very enjoyable.
The film’s best set-piece (in this author’s opinion) involves a giant skeletal graveyard and a “Skull-Crawler” – imagine a giant two-legged bony turd crossed with Alec Baldwin’s post-mortem face in Beetlejuice – amid a cloud of green sulphurous smoke and an inspired use of a camera-flash to ratchet up the impending dread. It is so tense and stylish it might well have been directed by Zack Snyder (that’s ‘300’-era Zack Snyder, not ‘Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn Of Justice’-era Zack Snyder, by the way).
Overall, this is pacy, thrilling and consistently entertaining if never quite the five-star classic we all wished it was.
It is, however, the only time you will ever see a ginormous Gorilla using ship’s propeller as a knuckle-duster and that kind of sums up the whole point if the film existing in the first place really: deeply silly, highly enjoyable and thrillingly good Saturday night escapist entertainment.
And that, by no means, is a bad thing at all.
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