Film Review | Is Kong: Skull Island a Monster Hit or another Cynical Reboot?

It’s interesting that much of the promotional material for Kong: Skull Island deliberately evokes Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. Don’t put too much stock in this. This isn’t a re-imagining of the King Kong story as a Heart of Darkness style parable. The marketing team did that because it’s cool. It’s the same attitude the film has; hopping from cool thing to cool thing when the mood takes it. Influences are worn on the movie’s sleeve for a scene and then discarded. It might make for a scatter shot story but it also makes for a very entertaining pop culture mashup.

Kong: Skull Island is out in cinemas from March 10th. -
Kong: Skull Island is out in cinemas from March 10th. Source

Set in the aftermath of the Vietnam war the plot is essentially the first half of of the 1933 original. So we don’t see the giant ape climb any skyscrapers but we do see more monster on monster fights. The characters are familiar archetypes. John Goodman is the shady rich guy arranging a mysterious expedition. Sam Jackson is the military man. Tom Hiddleston is an ex-SAS great white hunter type and Brie Larson an ‘anti war photographer’. Once our cast is lured to the uncharted island they get a gorilla shaped surprise in a scene that evokes Aliens‘ ‘They’re coming out of the God damn walls’ set piece except that no one we care about gets killed. This massacre of featured extras prompts Jackson into full on Captain Ahab mode. He’ll kill that ape or lead everyone around him to death in the attempt. He’s not prepared to walk away from another fight after ‘Nam, man.

If that sounds like an historical allegory it’s not one the filmmakers sought to focus too heavily on. Brie Larson also gets to do a Beauty and the Beast routine with Kong but it’s largely desexualised compared to the original. This avoids the 1930’s racist undertones of white lady on black ape love but, as a result, feels neutered. Much of the plot is also taken up by John C Reilly’s entertaining, crazy castaway character. He’s tasked with making long exposition scenes funny and does very well with it, setting up the already greenlit Godzilla universe crossover movie in a way that’s much more entertaining than it should be.

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More than anything this feels like an old school, bubblegum adventure movie in the mould of Journey to the Centre of the Earth. One moment our heroes are trekking through the jungle, the next they’re being attacked by goopy giant spiders in a wonderfully horrific scene. The next few minutes bring comedy and a primate on octopus fight. My inner twelve year old enjoyed this movie a lot is what I’m saying.

Director Jordan Vogt Roberts has moved from the indie feel good comedy The Kings of Summer into the mega budget world of Hollywood franchises and still seems to be having fun. The choices are direct and on the nose (Bowie soundtracking a montage or an opium den with ‘White Rabbit’ echoing through the fug, for example) but, hey, the period fetishisation works. While some moments feel fumbled, in particular several deaths seem arbitrary and casual, the overall impression is that you’ve just watched a big, ballsy B-movie. A willingness to go with the flow and gawp at whatever feels good in the moment elevates Kong: Skull island into a great, pulpy, low entertainment.

Kong: Skull Island is in cinemas from Friday 10th March.


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