If B-grade monster movies are your thing, you’re in luck. Kong: Skull Island, which rears its giant head in cinemas this Thursday, makes full use of its king-sized budget and turns in a campy adventure that is, in equal measures, a classic Kong story, an anti-war cry, and a monsters-ensemble caper.
The film begins just when the Vietnam War has ended and American troops are getting ready to head back home. Satellites have just become the rage and the Americans, who are also in the Cold War with the Russians, want to be the first to get to the last uncharted territory left on the planet — Skull Island, just off the coast of Vietnam. It’s a place not unlike the fabled Bermuda Triangle and infested by legendary creatures that live both on the island and under it. A shadowy scientist (John Goodman), on a mission to hunt these monsters, heads this team.
Helping him get there is an escort of military personnel, headed by the war-mongering Samuel L. Jackson, whose face lights up when he hears he doesn’t have to go back home after all, leading his into a battle of a different kind. Just how different, they only find out when it gets too late.
Tom Hiddleston joins the mix as Conrad, a tracker and former British Special Air Service soldier, who is helping the motley crew navigate the treacherous island.
An ode to Apocalypse Now, Skull Island is also made in the shadow of 2014’s Godzilla, which sets it up for 2020’s Kong vs Godzilla. Names like Monarch and MUTOs are dropped, in an obvious attempt to set this in the same world of Godzilla, albeit a few decades too early for the famed lizard to be spotted.
Not just a Kong film, Skull Island is a fight for turf between the prodigal ape and the Skull Crawlers, vicious, subterranean flesh-hungry lizards, who killed all of Kong’s relatives on the island. So when the humans invade the island, Kong finds both a new enemy and an ally.
An early set-piece shows the skyscraper-tall Kong go stir-crazy, swatting at a fleet of helicopters like they are flies, instantly pulverising the oncoming horde of soldiers against a fiery, orange sun. The rest of the film never quite matches up to the visual majesty of that scene and ends up, in vain, trying to emulate it in different scenarios using various creatures: from giant insects to flying dinosaur-like birds. Another failure of the movie is that none of the characters make any sort of impact; almost everyone is indispensable. Even Hiddleston, looking fine in his retro-themed wardrobe, could have been killed off without a squeak of complaint from the audience.
However, a definite highlight is John C Reilly’s Second World War lieutenant who spent 28 years stranded on Skull Island. He brings some much-needed humour and poignancy to an otherwise repetitive and soul-crushing narrative.
Also, Brie Larson’s “anti-war photographer” is the best you’ll find in the way of Kong heroines: scream-free and completely capable of looking after herself You can tell why Kong would go sweet on her.
Watch this movie if you’re ready to endure creepy-crawlies fight each other repeatedly against a scenic backdrop for two hours.
Run Time: 120 mins
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, John Goodman, John C. Reilly and Samuel L. Jackson
GN Rating out of 5 stars: 2.5/5