Since his first appearance in Merrian C. Cooper’s groundbreaking 1933 classic King Kong, the mighty ape has stamped his simian footprint into popular culture and been reimagined for subsequent generations with varying levels of success – from the awful 1976 remake and risible King Kong Lives (1986), to the more recent Peter Jackson film. Kong: Skull Island is a different beast again – a standalone adventure set on Kong’s stomping ground.
It’s 1973 and newfangled satellite technology has captured an image of the eponymous, storm-wreathed location, which scientist John Goodman believes shelters an ancient ecosystem. Having convinced the US government to mount an expedition to explore the island, Goodman sets sail with British mercenary/tracker Tom Hiddleston, photojournalist Brie Larson, and strong military support following the withdrawal from Vietnam.
The team don’t even have a chance to touch down before Kong makes a spectacular entrance, swatting helicopters from the sky and swallowing soldiers whole. Stranded and separated in a jungle hell teeming with freakish fauna – including giant yaks, spiders and sinister reptilian predators called Skullcrawlers – their chances of survival rest with a barmy John C. Reilly, who’s been stuck on the island since World War II. And of course Kong, whom we know has a benevolent streak and an eye for beauty – in this case Larson, who inevitably winds up gently cradled in his enormous palm.
Kong: Skull Island captures the spirit and excitement of Saturday matinee monster movies like Valley of Gwangi and Mysterious Island, while adding a liberal dose of Vietnam War gung-ho and Jurassic World. It’s inventively shot – an out of focus chopper is revealed to be a dragonfly, a soldier is dismembered by pterodactyls in silhouette against the sun – and raises the bar for visual effects. But it could have used a better script, less John C. Reilly wisecracks and more Kong – the main attraction does get ample screen time but also tends to disappear for lengthy periods between monster wrestling.
As with most reboots these days, it also has an eye on a possible franchise – stick around for a Marvel-like post-credits teaser.
Overall, more enjoyable than Jackson’s Kong, but not quite a return fit for a King.
In cinemas: March 9, 2017
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, John C. Reilly
Directed by: Jordan Vogt-Roberts