FILM REVIEW: Kong: Skull Island (2017)

The Verse’s Oliver Pendlington reviews Kong: Skull Island released Thursday 9th March 2017

Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Screenplay: Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein and Derek Connolly
Stars: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Brie Larson and John C. Reilly
Plot: In 1973, an US Government-funded expedition team travels to the mysterious and uncharted Skull Island. The intention is to seemingly map out the island and find new species. What they are unprepared for is how big and monstrous these species are, most of all a gigantic ape known only as ‘Kong’.

King Kong. Perhaps one of Hollywood’s greatest and most iconic fictional movie stars. Not bad for a giant ape making his (literally) GIGANTIC comeback in the second instalment of Legendary Pictures’ ‘Monster-verse’. (2014’s flawed Godzilla re-boot was the first). Though this is actually Kong’s second feature film appearance of 2017 (he had already cameoed as an ‘uber-villain’ in The Lego Batman Movie), Kong: Skull Island is very much more canon. It is also, for the most part, a rollicking action-horror film that more or less does justice to Kong’s new lease in moviemaking life.

From a stylistic perspective, Skull Island is a triumphant stand-out amongst modern Hollywood blockbusters. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts clearly relishes taking advantage of the film’s 70s setting. Both visually and culturally. The cinematography, refreshingly shot mostly on location in places like Hawaii and Vietnam, channels most films from that period. Particularly Apocalypse Now’s hazy and besieged jungles. Meanwhile, the score cleverly blends 70s music with then-popular songs to capture the overall atmosphere of the decade.

The film’s pacing is also one of its strongest points. From the moment the expedition reaches Skull Island, it moves at such a frantic speed that the quieter moments offer some much needed respite as the perfect balance from the action and horror-filled ones. Those segments come courtesy of the genuinely terrifying creatures of Skull Island. Superbly designed, they provide some very tense (and disgusting!) moments that can sometimes question why the film was given a tame 12A certificate.

In fact, Skull Island’s biggest flaws lie within its generally clichéd story and characters. While this is admittedly expectant from a massive stylistically-driven monster film, it still seems a shame. The action sequences are let down by the more dramatic moments, which lack real emotional impact. On paper, the star-studded cast is superb. Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Brie Larson and John C. Reilly sound like a dream team.

However, while all give solid performances, their characters are largely miscast (Hiddleston’s ex-SAS tracker). One-note (both Jackson’s veteran Colonel and Goodman’s shady Government operative) or under-written (Larson’s rather dynamic photojournalist). The only character who has any real depth is Reilly’s eccentric WWII soldier. Stranded on Skull Island for 28 years, he provides much of the humour and emotion that the rest of the team lacks. Easily making him both sympathetic and memorable.

Of course, the film’s real star is Kong himself, which is just as well really. After all, what would a King Kong movie be without a great Kong? By far the largest screen iteration of any Kong (standing at a GIGANTIC 100ft tall), Skull Island’s giant ape is an impressive technical wonder and massive crowd-pleaser whenever he is on screen. And yet he is justifiably constructed less of a monster than a powerful but feared protector of his home. This is the perfect way to characterise him, enough to make Skull Island a well-made entry into his filmography. Here’s hoping that his eventual tussle with Godzilla will not take away any of his impact.
Rating: 4/5

The Verse Staff

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