As so the second legitimately active cinematic universe (after Marvel & DC) takes flight with the granddaddy of all monsters taking centre stage for the first time since Peter Jackson’s overly long 2005 love letter. It’s admittedly for an old lover of massive movie monster mashes like me a fantastic geek out of a cinema trip, with giant scraps and subtle references to Legendary’s 2014 Godzilla movie scattered around like breadcrumbs.
But is it any good?
The most interesting thing about Kong: Skull Island is that it’s trying so hard not to be a conventional King Kong movie. There’s no fatal trip to New York, no fawning over blondes and this Kong certainly doesn’t have a problem with ariel attacks, super-punching Hueys out of the air like a UFC fighter with ‘roid rage. No, Kong ’17 is more like Skull Island’s bouncer, decking any oversized jerk who dares start a rumble in his jungle. He (much like Godzilla ’14 and it’s MUTO’s) is a massive, furry balance to the area’s fragile ecosystem, keeping the underground dwelling Skullcrawlers in line with frenzied bludgeonings and eating giant squid like an Oldboy cosplayer. That being said, the result of Kong just being there and not actually having a journey as such means the film isn’t so much about him, but as the title suggests more about the island itself. In story terms, think more an adventure along the lines of The Lost World.
So in shuffle the humans. All stock characters you’ve seen a billion times before but all thankfully played by likeable actors. Tom Hiddleston initially seems horribly miscast but after a scene were he dons a gas mask in order to start slicing up mutant killer birds through a poison gas cloud, he starts to ease into it. Brie Larson is nice and spunky as a determined war photographer and the rest of the cast all know they are there merely to throw out the usual character quirks inbetween staring in awe, running in terror or simply getting eaten, and so get on with it nicely.
However, it is old pros Samuel L Jackson (no stranger to large pesky animal attacks whether they be on a plane or the deep blue sea) and John C Reilly (acting like he’s wandered in from another movie and is enjoying himself immensely) as a snapped military type and a marooned pilot respectively are the two of the human types who comfortably walk away with the movie with their winning combination of fiery death stares and comedic gibbering.
So while it may not break any molds in the story or character department, Kong (again, like Godzilla ’14) earns any originality it has by the telling of the story. Setting the events at the tail of the Vietnam war gives director Jordan Vogt-Roberts free reign to pump the movie full of sweaty locales and awesome 70’s tunes (the choppers get smashed but the record player miraculously survives) which give a rather over told story a cool and original rock and roll feel that grounds it rather nicely (which is needed when your film features a stick insect so large it’s more like a log).
And finally to the REAL stars of the film, the monsters. While never quite fully achieving the “anything goes” insanity promised by the trailers, Skull Island’s menagerie of killey, bitey things offer many a gruesome end during the movie’s satisfyingly high body count and it’s still the only movie I’ve ever seen where a huge ape uses a boat propeller as a knuckle duster (you won’t get THAT in La La Land). And as it’s part of a connected universe and is building to a massive showdown in 2020, you sometimes feel the film is holding back when it should be sprinting, but then it certainly left me wanting more.
More fun than the overly po-faced Godzilla ’14, Kong ’17 overcomes it’s numberous rough edges thanks to a cool ’70’s vibe, far out monsters and shameless referencing to Apocalypse Now.
Next up, Godzilla returns in 2019, and speaking of Big G, hang around to the end of the credits to see who he may be sharing screen time with…