It has been 12 years since Peter Jackson delivered his gorgeous looking (albeit overlong) King Kong. Jackson’s version took its sweet time getting its characters to Skull Island, but once they did get there the movie is an occasionally gruesome creature feature (even if some of the CGI is woeful).
Cut to the present day, and Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ Kong: Skull Island (opposed to the holiday resort Skull Island) is now unleashed in cinemas worldwide. Set in 1973 at the end of the Vietnam war, Skull Island briskly introduces us to the main characters and before you can say “Is that a 100ft tall ape”, Kong is swatting down helicopters like flies. In contrast to Jackson’s more romanticised adaptation, Skull Island is pure entertainment on a massive scale and doesn’t waste time teasing the presence of the various monsters. For that, I give extra credit to Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ movie for giving audiences what they want, but it’s not just the monsters that cut to the chase.
Early on we get a taste of the subtlety we can expect, Brie Larson’s photojournalist receives a phone call and her friend questions why she’s going on this pointless expedition when she’s inline to be featured on Time Magazine. Klang! As subtle as a punch from Kong. We might not go to big budget monster movies like this for character nuance, but Skull Island really does phone in the character development.
Tom Hiddleston’s ever so well spoken (and discharged) Captain James Conrad is similarly treated in the exposition department, he drinks away his days looking ruggedly handsome and has grown a beard. That’s how we know he’s given up on himself. Aside from a clunky mention of a lighter gifted to him by his late father, we’re not permitted to know much about Conrad other his ability to shave quickly.
Hiddleston is a fine actor and is capable of so much more than the laid back heroics on display here. The last year has seen him give towering performances in High-Rise and The Night Manager, but his posh ex-Captain is out of place in the jungle. We’re given next to no reason to root for him beyond the fact he’s Tom Hiddleston and has been putting in the hours down the gym.
Skull Island might deliver the goods when it comes to the creatures, but it’s the lack of depth to most of the human characters that unravels the good work. Thankfully, Samuel L Jackson’s Colonel Packard, John Goodman’s and John C. Reily’s Hank Marlow manage to add some flavour. Packard comes from the Colonel Walter E. Kurtz school of how to go mad in five easy steps, and Reily offers some much needed comedic relief even if it feels like he’s in an entirely different movie. On a side note, Richard Jenkins brief cameo conveyed more character depth and motivation than poor old Hiddleston is afforded.
Having worked alongside motion-capture king Andy Serkis in Tintin, Rise/Dawn and the forthcoming War For The Planet of the Apes, Terry Notary’s Kong is an elegant beast that has taken plenty of inspiration from the original 1933 film for its look.
The post-credits scene sets up 2020’s Godzilla v Kong, well, as that movie will be set in the present day and Skull Island was in 1973, it’s not so much a set up as it is reminding audiences that these two titans exist in the same universe. The Monarch group is a neat way to link the two worlds, and I would be lying if I said Godzilla v Kong isn’t an enticing prospect, but as both titular monsters are effectively the good guys, I doubt they’ll be fighting each other for long.
One day, there will be a monster movie on this scale that has the same attention to detail to its human characters than its digitally rendered ones, sadly, Skull Island isn’t that movie. It might be flawed, but there’s still much to enjoy with this fun romp jam packed with thrilling set pieces.
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