On the day Nixon declares the Vietnam War over, the Monarch institute (first encountered in 2014’s Godzilla reboot) sends two scientists (John Goodman and Corey Hawkins) to a previously undiscovered island in the South Pacific that satellite images suggest may be sustaining an ancient eco-system. They are accompanied by a US Army platoon led by Samuel L. Jackson, an ‘anti-war’ photographer played Brie Larson and Tom Hiddleston as a very British ex-special forces ‘tracker’ hired to keep them safe on the ground.
Yes, it’s a bit Jurassic Park, but remember who did this stuff first. From those brawling dinosaurs in the original 1933 version to that disgusting pit of giant slugs that ate Andy Serkis’ head in 2005, the creature-packed island has always been the dramatic ace up Kong’s hairy sleeve, so it’s very pleasing to report that Skull Island lives up to its title. Nor does it waste any time getting us there; the mid-‘70s America opening set-up is a lot of fun and makes for some neat visual jokes at the expense of the technology of the time (not to mention the very first line being a Trump dig), but before you can say ‘bugged phones’ we’re off to the jungle in a bunch of military choppers, descending through a CGI storm front above the beautiful uncharted island greenery with Samuel L. Jackson giving it his best Apocalypse Now shtick over the radio. It’s not original, but it’s a whole lot of fun.
As is the movie. In only his second dramatic feature (after 2013’s The Kings of Summer), director Jordan Vogt-Roberts has succeeded in making the best Kong film since the very first. Wisely, Legendary have not attempted yet another remake of the original Edgar Wallace and Merian C. Cooper tale, choosing instead to re-launch the mythos with a new backstory and characters. They’ve also done something rather smart with Kong himself, which will stand him in good stead if their plans to launch their own version of the Toho Monsters series come off – he’s now the size of a large office complex. If this ape tried to climb the Empire State Building it would collapse under his weight. But some things never change; he’s still the lovable, misunderstood fuzzball he’s always been - it’s other creatures that cause all the trouble. In a series of standoffs, the human cast does their level best to steer clear of, we get the Toho-style monster throw downs we’ve always craved from these Hollywood reboots. No standing on ceremony here, Kong: Skull Island is wall-to-wall monstering and all the better for it. And don’t think just because we don’t visit New York we don’t get to see Kong snatching aircraft out of the sky and tossing them to the ground with relish, that scene is here but very cleverly re-worked.
The only slightly duff note is the casting of Tom Hiddleston as the tough-guy hero. Hollywood’s obsession with elevating every spare British posho with an Equity card to leading man status has definitely hit the wall here. Nothing about his performance convinces – not the flat-lining dialogue delivery, not the three-month pecs poking off his string bean body, not the laughably forced pose he strikes every time he stands still – zilch. But he’s fun to watch nonetheless, if only because he’s so wrong for the role. And at least he’s not Adrian Brody.
So, big sigh of relief, the ape is back in shape and just maybe we have ourselves a franchise. Stick around after the credits for a Kong vs. Everything primer. Bring it on!
KONG: SKULL ISLAND / CERT: 12A / DIRECTOR: JORDAN VOGT-ROBERTS / SCREENPLAY: DAN GILROY, MAX BORENSTEIN, DEREK CONNOLLY / STARRING: TOM HIDDLESTON, SAMUEL L. JACKSON, BRIE LARSON, JOHN C. REILLY, JOHN GOODMAN / RELEASE DATE: MARCH 9TH
Expected Rating: 7 out of 10