By Ryan Keating-Lambert
King Kong makes an epic return in this Apocalypse Now style rehash of the ancient movie monster. It’s big, bold, and teeming with life and action adventure fun. For what it lacks in dialogue, it makes up for with goofy monster movie realness.
A team of scientists and soldiers explore a newly discovered island at the tale end of the Vietnam war. Led by special forces soldier James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), the team soon uncover Skull Island’s many magnificent creatures, including the king himself.
This film is littered with action movie references and throwbacks which are so much fun to spot. There’s that sweaty tropical sunset aesthetic packed with yellows and reds that make for some incredible long shots and bring to mind films like Apocalypse Now or Platoon. I even detected a hint of the original Predator in some of the jungle scenes.
There’s a real presence of brotherly love amongst most on the expedition, and that combined with the typical Vietnam war rock of Hendrix and The Stones make this a winning tribute to the action movies of the 80’s and 90’s. Even the score by Henry Jackman has a rock and roll quality to it. The track when the helicopters enter the storm is really something, as are the visuals.
Kong was shot in Vietnam, Hawaii and Australia, and you can see elements of all three here. There aren’t that many giant monster movies that are set outside of New York City or somewhere similar anymore so this kind of setting, which is jaw-droppingly beautiful, is a welcomed change.
Director Vogt-Roberts has also put some considerable time into creature creation here. Kong has some truly beautiful Del Toroish designs. There’s enough to get you proper involved in the island, but it never exhausts itself. There’s a great scene in the water that throws back to past King Kong movies as well.
This is honestly the most attention I’ve seen paid to monster movie visuals in recent years, with the exception of maybe 2014’s Godzilla, which is set in the same ‘monsters’ universe. It’s clear though that not even half the effort went into dialogue and performance… Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson, who ironically had to interrupt shooting to receive her Oscar for Room, both compete for screen time but neither are given a substantial past to make them interesting. There is however, a fantastic sense of goofiness portrayed by some characters, especially with John C. Reilly’s cast away Hank Marlow who really brings up the mood in some scenes.
The real star of this film though is obviously Kong himself. Unlike Godzilla’s slow reveal in the 2014 film, we see Kong pretty much immediately, and it’s AMAZING. Some truly incredible shots in those helicopter scenes.
Anyway, Kong: Skull Island is not a great movie, but it’s a great monster movie and worth seeing on the big screen. It certainly doesn’t take itself seriously, unlike the 2005 film by Peter Jackson. Make sure to stay for the after-credits scene as well, there’s still a lot more to discover in this universe…
Photo: Warner Bros.