Subtlety is not a word that features in Kong: Skull Island’s dictionary and in fairness for a monster movie about a massive monkey, it probably shouldn’t.
While Peter Jackson’s epic three-hour love letter adaptation of the original King Kong film took its time in setting the scene there’s no such restraint here. In Jackson’s King Kong it’s over an hour before the titular chimp makes an appearance, whereas in Skull Island Kong shows his big mug a mere five minutes into the film.
From then on it’s a bright and colourful trip back to the 1970’s as John Goodman recruits Samuel L Jackson and Tom Hiddleston to go and explore the newfound holiday destination of Skull Island. John Goodman plays Bill Randa, a man determined to prove monsters exist and somehow manages to persuade the American government to lend him a helicopter unit of American soldiers stationed in Vietnam led by Preston Packard (Jackson). He also requires the tracking services of human compass James Conrad (Hiddleston), an ex-SAS serviceman who now spends his time drinking in seedy bars and getting into fights.
Add to that Brie Larson’s plucky photojournalist Mason Weaver and you have the key characters of the venture. There’s also a collection of generic scientists and soldiers who you know are there purely for the purposes of getting eaten by the variety of nasties that await the team on the island.
From the get-go Kong is an upbeat monster movie that by no means reinvents the wheel but is a hell of a lot of fun. I found it to be similar to Jurassic Park in many ways, except if Jurassic Park skipped straight to the bit where the dinosaurs break loose. There’s a classic selection of 70’s hits to go along with the chaos, and the film is always pushing forward to its next monster moment. Which is fine by me, as there’s a selection of monsters available in this film and they’re undoubtedly the real stars.
That’s not to say the human characters are bad, they’re perfectly serviceable and most importantly, not too irritating. Though I was confused by Samuel Jackson’s Packard, who I just couldn’t quite figure out as he stubbornly pressed ahead to avenge his fallen soldiers whilst obviously getting more of them killed? But anyway whilst Kong is not designed to be a thinking man’s film, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have heart. John C Reilly’s Hank Marlow is the human heart and soul of the film as a WW2 pilot who having crashed and lived on the island for 28 years now dreams of escaping to see his family once more.
There are a lot of moments in this film where I found myself thinking “Eh, how does that work?” or “What? That wouldn’t happen”, as well as strangely edited scenes that would hurriedly move on or snap to a new location or time of day. But just as I began to think too much on such things a cool new creature would turn up and Kong would arrive to beat the crap out of it and I’d go back to my popcorn and just enjoy the spectacle.
If you’re looking for a fun monster movie Kong ticks all the boxes, there are some great special effects and massive monster battles, people get eaten left right and centre, and there’s the promise of more to come (courtesy of the post-credits scene). Kong: Skull Island is big and dumb but I couldn’t help but enjoy almost every second of it.