Jordan Vogt-Roberts has delivered a right crowd pleaser here – and perhaps surprisingly it’s a little deeper than your average monster movie blockbuster.
Beginning with a prologue set in World War II and then showing us newsreel footage of technical advancements made in the world in the immediate aftermath- the story opens up in 1977 as the Vietnam War comes to its end.
Government Agent Bill Randa (John Goodman) gets funding to lead an expedition to the mysterious “Skull Island”. He manages to wrangle himself an Army platoon to escort him in by helicopter – and hires Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) a tracker to further help in the mission. Also joining them is photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson).
Samuel L Jackson is Colonel Preston Packard – leader of the platoon. Disillusioned at having to abandon the war in Vietnam – he wants a victory of some kind for his men and himself. He thinks he may have found it:
On arrival at the island they set off seismic charges which angers King Kong – a giant ape which rules the island and is worshipped by it’s indigenous tribe.
Looking to defend his land he attacks the helicopters causing the team to get split up.
Conrad and Weaver meet the local tribe and find Lt Hank Marlow (John C Reilly) a pilot who crashed there many years before. He tells them that Kong is not actually evil. The real threat is a race of disgusting reptilian creatures who live under the surface.
Whilst this is going on – Packard and his men plan to take the fight back to Kong – unaware that he’s not the real enemy.
The first act is little rushed and the exposition a little clunky at times – but Kong: Skull Island is rollicking entertainment. Fantastic action scenes, great special effects – all with a surprisingly political undercurrent. This film is really about the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Preston’s obsession with destroying Kong works as a metaphor for that tragic conflict. It really adds some substance to the movie and it really works.
Even though it’s obviously first and foremost a reboot of the King Kong franchise it takes time to reference many other classic movies. There are nods to Hell In The Pacific, Apocalypse Now and there’s a touch of Indiana Jones to Hiddleston’s Conrad.
Also – note how Hiddleston’s character is called “Conrad”. Apocalypse Now is based on the book Hearts Of Darkness by Joseph Conrad. I doubt that was an accident!
Lots of giant beasties roam this island. The CGI here is almost photo-real. The lizards are disgusting, frightening and responsible for one of the best jump scares I’ve seen in a movie for a long time. The giant spider is freaky.
The star is Kong himself. Beautifully rendered and used sparingly – he is a standout creation. Terrifying when he’s angry, sympathetic in his quieter moments – he’s more a character than a special effect.
With a brief run time of just under two hours – Kong: Skull Island is great entertainment. The blockbuster season starts here!
And stick around till after the credits. Seems that everybody’s doing shared universes these days!
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