In 1975 an expedition led by Bill Randa (John Goodman) journeys to a mysterious island surrounded by perpetual storms, under the guise of exploring one of the last uncharted places on Earth. Accompanied by mercenary James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) and a squadron from the US military, Randa reaches the island, but the explosions the team sets to complete a geological study incurs the wrath of one of the island’s inhabitants, a giant ape, named Kong.
It is hard to believe it has been 12 years since Peter Jackson’s remake of King Kong, and although Kong: Skull Island still tells the story of the giant ape named Kong, this is a very different story to the ones we have seen before, and includes elements of Apocalypse Now and Jurassic Park.
The cast of Kong: Skull Island is impressive, with Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Hiddleston, Toby Kebbell, John C. Reilly, John Goodman and Jason Mitchell all running toward, and away from danger throughout the film. The performances of the cast are solid enough, but since the real star of the story here is Kong – played in motion capture by Terry Notary – the god of the island, living in isolation until the outside world comes calling.
Dan Gilroy and Max Borenstein’s screenplay for Kong: Skull Island combines the traditional monster movie with a war film, as the outsiders barrel into Kong’s home and set about upsetting the balance. There are plenty of references to the Vietnam War throughout the film – which provides a backdrop to the story – and the idea that creating an enemy is almost as easy as finding one. There are also references to Apocalypse Now throughout the film, both in the feel and the cinematography, and more than one nod to Jurassic Park as the tiny humans find themselves taking on creatures they have never encountered before. There are times, however, when the Vietnam War allegory becomes incredibly heavy handed, and the audience begin to feel as though they are being bashed over the head with it, over and over again. The dialogue in the film is fairly minimal, and what there is of it is not terribly clever, and there are also references to the Kong Vs Godzilla movie that is coming down the line.
As director, Jordan Vogt-Roberts makes Kong: Skull Island feel old fashioned in the best of ways; like the tentpole summer movies of old, complete with complicated monster, killer soundtrack, beautiful cinematography and tons of fun to be had. As mentioned, the cast don’t have a whole lot to do but run away and look scared – and it is often difficult to buy Tom Hiddleston as a mercenary for hire – but they run away well, John C. Reilly brings some much needed comedy to proceedings and although the allegory comes off rather strong at times, there is a lot of fun to be had with the film. 3D is not needed though. As usual.
In all, there is a lot of fun to be had with Kong: Skull Island. The film is not anchored by human performances but each does well, the monsters are complicated and often scary, and the cinematography and soundtrack are especially well handled. A little less allegory and obvious references to films of the past could have made the film stronger, but as it stands, Kong: Skull Island is fun, well paced and exciting.