Monkeys about with classic lore

by Martin McNamara

IF THERE’S one thing director Jordan Vogt-Roberts’s reboot/reimagining of the classic creature-feature can lord over its predecessors, it’s sheer scale.
The spectacle of King Kong towering above the jungle, blotting out the sun, is a terrifying delight – this Kong would make short work of the Empire State Building.
Unfortunately, despite its mostly-impressive visuals and the occasional thrilling set-piece, this is an uneven affair.
Much like the first film in Legendary Entertainment’s planned MonsterVerse (Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla, 2014), Kong: Skull Island (Cert 12A, 118mins) suffers from a distinct lack of its titular beast.
When Kong is onscreen, the thrills are boundless – there’s plenty of violent, visceral action for anyone seeking wanton jungle destruction.
When the film slows down to take stock, it’s burdened with a clumsy, exposition-heavy script – “show, don’t tell” would have been a mantra worth meditating on a little longer here.
Set in 1973 at the end of the Vietnam War, Kong: Skull Island follows a team of scientists and soldiers journeying to the titular Island for a geological survey mission.
Government agent Bill Randa (a healthy-looking John Goodman) hires former SAS captain James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) to lead the expedition, as well as photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) and a helicopter squadron led by the war-hungry Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L Jackson).
Naturally, Randa’s intentions aren’t entirely scientific, and the “seismological” explosives he plans to drop aren’t intended for purely geological purposes.
After the 100-foot Kong swats away the helicopter squadron like so many annoying flies, the team is stranded on Skull Island, where, much like previous versions of the film, they encounter an array of bloodthirsty prehistoric leftovers.
Despite being set during the dying days of the Vietnam War, every effort is made to link Kong to the more contemporary Godzilla.
The events here are very much spurred on by Cold War paranoia; foregrounding the theme of human discovery via technological advancement puts Kong in Japanese-nuclear-lizard territory, nodding furiously toward a future franchise encounter.
The action here, for the most part, is blunt, brutal and brilliant; more exciting overall than anything Godzilla had to offer.
Kong turns human after human into mush with one fell swoop of his fist and there’s no end to the amount of imaginative deaths a jungle-full of prehistoric monsters can facilitate.
We’re always eager to see what manner of fantastical beast the brilliant minds in the creature workshop have waiting around the corner.
Unfortunately, the action often explodes into stylistic overdrive, sometimes evoking the sloppy, slow-motion theatrics of Zach Snyder’s superhero films.
Surprisingly, there are occasional moments of dodgy green-screen effects – unacceptable in 2017.
However, the action is a violent joy to behold whenever the set pieces are accompanied by the film’s irresistible Seventies Rock soundtrack.
The protagonists here are more ‘types’ than actual characters, though everyone does their job admirably enough – Jackson spits rage at everything that moves as a war-hungry colonel with no war left to fight.
Most enjoyable to watch is John C Reilly’s affable WWII pilot, stranded on Skull Island for 30 years – he’s far and away the best thing about the movie.
Kong himself is a spectacle worth beholding on the big screen and, based on pure, violent, prehistoric thrills, Skull Island is worth the price of admission.
However, there’s little here to leave us begging for future instalments in the crossover franchise.

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