Kong: Skull Island
Jacob Richardson | 14/03/2017
While some of the star power is wasted, Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ Kong is taut, fast-paced and quite beautiful. A rollicking good time that, even though it doesn’t live up to it’s potential, does leave one wanting more.
We’ve seen King Kong before on screens; in enduring classics, and adaptations that haven’t quite ignited the same passion. Vogt-Roberts takes a different tact with his version. Set in the 1970’s, we’re introduced to Bill Randa, head of a mysterious Government organization called Monarch. He’s begging a Senator for additional funding for a monster hunting expedition to the recently discovered Skull Island. After much coaxing, he is allowed to piggyback on a scientific mapping mission that has already been approved. Randa sets about assembling a team. Where he enlists Tom Hiddleston’s character, tracker, James Conrad who’s causing significant damage with a pool cue in a dive bar in Vietnam. There, he also acquires the services of Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and his squadron of helicopter pilots. They are joined by wunderkind photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson).
After flying through an insane storm system surrounding the island, the flock of helicopters swoops over the undiscovered island. Beautifully shot and scored with typical Vietnam-era tunes (not to mention the Richard Nixon bobblehead), the rag-tag group seem like joyous adventurers – right up until a giant Gorilla tosses a tree through the windshield of one of the choppers. Kong announces his presence with a roar, as he systematically destroys every helicopter they flew in with. With no air transport, and with the team scattered across the island, Conrad and Packard both lead groups in an attempt to get to the North side of the Island; their only hope for extraction. On the way, they pick up WW2 Fighter Pilot Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), who clues them in on what exactly it is this group have stumbled upon.
Kong: Skull Island initially started out as a Universal film, but was gidted to Warner Bros to facilitate a sequel to 2014’s Godzilla in which Kong will fight the giant reptile himself. Whereas Godzilla eschewed any sort of interesting character in service to its lead beast, this film gives its characters a little more to do, and it is a welcome change. Admittedly, they aren’t the strongest, most fleshed out characters in cinema. Exposition is, occasionally, served up with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer (“Why do you want to photograph a mapping mission when you’re up for the cover of time” is a particularly poor example). But Jackson and Reilly give quite interesting performances and keep things lively, while, when the script gives them room to breathe, Larson and Hiddleston give their characters some funny interplay. You’ll find yourself wishing that this dynamic was developed more.
Vogt-Roberts clearly doesn’t feel the need for much backstory, and his desire to get to the island and introduce us to his Eighth Wonder of The World is evident. Once we do get there, Kong overshadows everything. He is towering, strong and emotional, and undoubtedly the highlight of the film. Although, cinematographer Larry Fong and Vogt-Roberts should also be given credit for keeping us enthralled. Kong: Skull Island gives us some absolutely striking imagery, particularly early on. It’s beautiful and artistic, and if occasionally it doesn’t fit with the tone of the rest of the piece we forgive them for it because it is so picturesque.
In the end, unlike Peter Jackson’s 2005 effort, this Kong story is kept tight by its time-limited plot device. It’s a welcome relief, and keeps the movie firmly in the realm it is aiming to be; entertainment.
Kong: Skull Island lets its titular monster dwarf the human elements of the plot, but still gives us an exhilarating movie coupled with extraordinary cinematography. A success, if a slim one.