Film review KONG: SKULL ISLAND, from ‘Built For Speed’

The King Kong movies form one of cinema’s longest franchises, the classic original having burst onto screens in 1933. Since then there have been numerous trashy sequels only vaguely connected to the original and two Hollywood remakes including the ludicrously overlong Peter Jackson version in which all monster credibility died when the creatures failed to outrun Jack Black. Does the latest Hollywood incarnation of this classic monster, Kong: Skull Island – which stars Samuel L Jackson, Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson and John Goodman – radically reinvent the franchise for something more artistically challenging? No, this is fast food cinema, very tempting at first, briefly exhilarating but ultimately devoid of substance.

The film does, however, have an unexpectedly novel set-up. Taking place in 1973 Kong: Skull Island combines monster movie with Vietnam War movie in an oddball ‘Kong meets Apocalypse Now’ mash-up.  Aside from that odd mating of genres and a fairly superficial attempt to critique American militarism, though, it’s mostly beast movie cliché.

John Goodman is roughly analogous to the original’s the Carl Denham here playing Bill Randa, a slightly loopy monster hunter who cons a US army colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L Jackson) who seems slightly disturbed after his time in the jungles of Vietnam, into loaning him his helicopter unit to allegedly conduct geological surveys on a mysterious uncharted island on which a flotilla of ships have disappeared over the years. Accompanying the small army are former SAS soldier now tracker-for-hire  James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and gutsy photo journalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson). The precarious mission goes immediately awry when the troop encounter the real reason for the mission…Kong. After an exciting and inventively staged Kong smack down, the members of the mission are scattered across the island and are forced to battle the giant creatures who roam this strange world.

The wafter thin plot really just amounts to a succession of monster encounters with the group confronting the familiar humungous spiders and the impressively less familiar giant stick insects and water buffalo. Unfortunately, we are also subjected to that tedious cliché of the modern monster film, the skeletal sinewy insect/ reptile creature. Oddly, a certain type of creature is missing from this film.

Kong: Skull Island intertwines action and goofball comedy in a style that approaches a Michael Bay film although this movie is thankfully more coherent and less headache-inducing than the likes of Armageddon.

The film’s biggest crime is the way it badly under-uses its all-star cast. Tom Hiddleston, as the would-be hero, is typically suave but he’s never given the chance to make much impression or to affect the story line and he doesn’t look remotely 1970’s. John Goodman is initially impressive but his character, Randa, isn’t satisfyingly developed. John C. Reilly plays a mysterious island inhabitant who was seemingly meant to be a Colonel Kurtz figure but he delivers such a goofy performance he’s more like a guest on Gilligan’s Island. Brie Larson and Samuel L Jackson are given more to do and make the most of their roles but it’s hardly a glowing addition to their respective resumes. It’s clear from the outset that just about everyone else on the mission is earmarked as monster food.

We watch a film like this for monster violence and there are plenty of brutal behemoth fight sequences although some contain annoying jerky slow-motion cgi that’s less impressive than the effects we saw in Jurassic Park 24 years ago. There are also too many close-ups of angry, snarling motion-capture ape face something that has become a tedious cliché in the Planet of the Apes reboot films. Still, this is at times a visually spectacular film due to the stunning Hawaiian locations.

It’s also good to listen to as it very obviously and successfully panders to Gen x-ers with a magnificent soundtrack of 70’s hard rocks songs including classics from Black Sabbath, Iggy and Stooges and David Bowie.

This superficial and cartoonish film will not join the famed original Kong in the pantheon of classic monster movies but for those wanting a guilty cinematic pleasure Kong: Skull Island will satisfy.

Nick’s rating: ***

Genre: Action/ monster.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Jordan Vogt-Roberts.

Release date: 9th March 2017.

Running time: 120 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.

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