At the tail end of the Vietnam war, a scientist (John Goodman) working for the shadowy Monarch group, persuades the US government to fund an expedition to map and explore the mysterious uncharted Skull Island, wherein he hopes to prove his so called ‘Hollow Earth’ theory and discover the existence of a species of underground dwelling monsters. However, not all goes to plan as soon after arriving, the group comes under attack from the giant ape Kong and have to face off against a bunch of extremely nasty creatures known as The Skull Crawlers.
Kong: Skull Island is the second in Legendary Pictures new expanded monster universe that started with Gareth Edwards 2014 Godzilla reboot, and will soon carry on with the just announced Godzilla: King of the Monsters, which then leads to a Kong vs Godzilla mash up that hits cinemas in 2020.
I’ll start by saying that there are many things to like about this new Kong reboot. To begin with it zips along at a rare old pace, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts camera never once kept idle, giving us fantastic sweeping shots of the island and some truly dazzling action set pieces – most notably a spectacular sequence where we first get to meet the eponymous giant ape, who, none too pleased at their arrival to his island home, proceeds to take out the expedition’s entire fleet of helicopter gunships by swatting them out of the sky one by one with his bare hands. Its also well acted – Samuel L Jackson does good work as a kind of Ahab/Kurtz military sort who becomes hell bent on killing Kong in revenge for the loss of his men. Then there is the ever reliable John C Reilly as a never-say-die former WW2 fighter pilot, marooned on the Island since crash landing some decades earlier – to be honest i was pleasantly surprised at how much i liked him here, as the various trailers i had watched for the film made him look as if he was going to be a tad silly.
However despite these positives i did have a number of issues that stopped the film from being alot better than i had first anticipated.
For a start, whist i know that we are supposed to be in the midst of a shared ‘monster-verse’ – it was way too similar in structure and tone to Gareth Edwards Godzilla – sadly giving the whole thing a somewhat unoriginal ‘been there, done that’ kind of vibe. Also, it simply isn’t a patch on Peter Jackson’s 2005 King Kong, which, despite being too long remains to be one of the greatest remakes of all time, and for me it had far better action scenes, and most importantly a far deeper exploration of Kong, portraying him as a very sympathetic character who you really grew to love. At its heart – Kong: Skull island simply doesn’t get close to achieving this.
In addition the central performances from Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson barely register. Both are fine actors, but here are forced to portray very thinly sketched two dimensional roles that give them both almost nothing to do. For example Hiddleston’s James Conrad is supposed to be some kind of bad-ass ex SAS captain – and whilst he does his best with what he is given, he simply cant carry off the role to any kind of positive effect – the plummy English accent and lack of any good back story to his character letting him down badly throughout. Worse off though is poor Brie Larson, so great in last year’s Room – here she seems to have wandered in from another movie and appears to be completely out of her depth altogether. Such a shame.
So, In summary id have to say that, whilst this film did have its moments and was certainly never less than enjoyable, my advice to Legendary Studios would be to try a little harder next time by investing in a better script and doing alot more with the human characters. Im certainly interested in seeing where this new franchise goes – but at the moment, its not doing it for me just yet.
Author: Will Strong aka Grosse Point Geek