KONG: SKULL ISLAND (USA | Vietnam/12A/118mins)
Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts. Starring Brie Larson, John C. Reilly, Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman
THE PLOT: In 1975 an expedition led by Bill Randa (John Goodman) journeys to a mysterious island surrounded by perpetual storms, under the guise of exploring one of the last uncharted places on Earth. Accompanied by mercenary James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) and a squadron from the US military, Randa reaches the island, but the explosions the team sets to complete a geological study incurs the wrath of one of the island’s inhabitants, a giant ape, named Kong.
THE VERDICT: It is hard to believe it has been 12 years since Peter Jackson’s remake of ‘King Kong’, and although ‘Kong: Skull Island’ still tells the story of the giant ape named Kong, this is a very different story to the ones we have seen before, and includes elements of ‘Apocalypse Now’ and ‘Jurassic Park’.
The cast of ‘Kong: Skull Island’ is impressive, with Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Hiddleston, Toby Kebbell, John C. Reilly, John Goodman and Jason Mitchell all running toward, and away from danger throughout the film. The performances of the cast are solid enough, but since the real star of the story here is Kong – played in motion capture by Terry Notary – the god of the island, living in isolation until the outside world comes calling.
Dan Gilroy and Max Borenstein’s screenplay for ‘Kong: Skull Island’ combines the traditional monster movie with a war film, as the outsiders barrel into Kong’s home and set about upsetting the balance. There are plenty of references to the Vietnam War throughout the film – which provides a backdrop to the story – and the idea that creating an enemy is almost as easy as finding one. There are also references to ‘Apocalypse Now’ throughout the film, both in the feel and the cinematography, and more than one nod to Jurassic Park as the tiny humans find themselves taking on creatures they have never encountered before. There are times, however, when the Vietnam War allegory becomes incredibly heavy handed, and the audience begin to feel as though they are being bashed over the head with it, over and over again. The dialogue in the film is fairly minimal, and what there is of it is not terribly clever, and there are also references to the Kong Vs Godzilla movie that is coming down the line.
As director, Jordan Vogt-Roberts makes ‘Kong: Skull Island’ feel old fashioned in the best of ways; like the tentpole summer movies of old, complete with complicated monster, killer soundtrack, beautiful cinematography and tons of fun to be had. As mentioned, the cast don’t have a whole lot to do but run away and look scared – and it is often difficult to buy Tom Hiddleston as a mercenary for hire – but they run away well, John C. Reilly brings some much needed comedy to proceedings and although the allegory comes off rather strong at times, there is a lot of fun to be had with the film. 3D is not needed though. As usual.
In all, there is a lot of fun to be had with ‘Kong: Skull Island’. The film is not anchored by human performances but each does well, the monsters are complicated and often scary, and the cinematography and soundtrack are especially well handled. A little less allegory and obvious references to films of the past could have made the film stronger, but as it stands, ‘Kong: Skull Island’ is fun, well paced and exciting.
RATING: 4/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

  • filmbuff2011

    King Kong has been absent from our screens since Peter Jackson’s 2005 film. The giant ape returns in grand style with Kong: Skull Island, the second in what’s being billed as MonsterVerse – the first being Gareth Edwards’ 2014 take on Godzilla.

    1973. With the Vietnam War in its dying days, Monarch agent Bill (John Goodman) discovers photos of a previously uncharted island that is hidden by an enveloping storm of clouds. It’s ripe for discovery, particularly if what he suspects is really there. He puts together a team, comprising tracker James (Tom Hiddleston), photo-journalist Mason (Brie Larson) and a military escort including soldiers Preston (Samuel L. Jackson) and Houston (Corey Hawkins). They manage to get through the storm using their helicopters, but soon come face-to-face with King Kong, a giant ape who isn’t too happy about their presence and use of ‘geological bombs’. Mildly eccentric Hank (John C. Reilly) was stranded on the island in 1944 and fills them in on why Kong is the King here…

    Kong: Skull Island is a slick, efficient adventure film which gets everything wrapped up in just under 2 hours. If only Peter Jackson had been more focused, as good as his film was. This Kong is a counterpoint to Godzilla – the film stresses a similar point to its 2014 predecessor that Kong is necessary to balance out his ecosystem and ensure that invading forces don’t get a foothold. That includes humans too, as we see early on in a thrilling battle between Kong and many Huey helicopters as they’re tossed about like toys. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts films one helicopter spiralling down from the inside, followed by a rather cheeky but amusing cut to another scene. This is a Kong to be scared of and also to admire. With the design of Kong a throwback to the original 1933 film, he’s very much King of his world here.

    As with Edwards, Vogt-Roberts has been promoted from a small but distinctive debut (The Kings Of Summer) to a big Hollywood blockbuster. It’s quite a big step up, but he’s more than up to the challenge. He captures the gung-ho 70s atmosphere well and even drops in some Apocalypse Now references – as well as references to the book that film drew from, Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness. It’s quite an aggressive film too in its action sequences, with some spectacular deaths which keep just within the boundaries of a family-friendly rating. It’s a film that’s constantly moving and manages to keep its large cast in the loop with their separate story strands as they explore Skull Island and its many dangers. The ensemble cast work well, with Reilly bringing in some light humour. Kong: Skull Island is monstrously entertaining fun. There’s an extra scene after the end credits, which is worth waiting for. ****

  • emerb

    Jordan Vogt-Roberts brings us “Kong: Skull Island”, the first film to be set almost entirely on the mythical homeland of the giant ape, Kong. In turns out that this reboot is in a different league than Peter Jackson’s bloated, three-hour Kong of 2005 and I really enjoyed it. Vogt-Roberts’ previous movie was 2013’s “Kings Of Summer”, a small Indie Sundance coming of age drama so this is quite the change but it has worked and he gives us an accomplished, big, bold, lavish and eye-popping spectacle.

    After a brief prologue set during the Second World War, we move to the year 1973, the end of the Vietnam era where we meet a loud and bellowing American explorer-businessman who is the leader of a mysterious agency called Monarch, Bill Randa (John Goodman). He is attempting to convince his government superiors to finance a small surveillance and land-mapping expedition to a skull-shaped island that’s been isolated for centuries by a ring of violent storms and has only recently been discovered by a US spy satellite, He believes that there may be undiscovered life there to find. Eventually he gets the go ahead and assembles a team for the adventure. The crew includes a military detail led by bitter sergeant Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), and also a skilled British mercenary tracker named James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston). Also joining them to chronicle the findings is photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) and a number of geologists, biologists and scientists. Kong is brought on almost immediately as he isn’t very happy to see the crew arrive to set off bombs on his
    homeland. It’s not long before their choppers are being annihilated by the not-so-friendly ape in a bracingly violent and frantic sequence that is masterfully recreated by Vogt-Roberts. After the carnage, the group is dispersed on various parts of the island where they must attempt to what survive, reconnect, and escape. Conrad and Weaver run into a stranded, humorous, hippie-like, unkempt WW11 pilot who has been living peacefully with the natives for years – Hank Marlow (John C Reilly) who tells them that Kong is in fact their protector and that there are far more dangerous and treacherous creatures out there to contend with. Marlow has a boat which they help make river-worthy and attempt to make their way to the far side of the island where they’re due to be picked up in three days. It’s not long before they discover that Marlow was in fact correct and there are many beasts on Skull Island which are not for the faint hearted.
    In the end, our friend Kong emerges as the hero. He may destroy and maim, but only when threatened.

    Whist no member of the cast can be described as particularly remarkable, it really cannot be overstated what a superb addition John C. Reilly makes to the film. From the moment his crashed WW11 pilot shows up, there is a new energy and life to the adventure and his warm performance became the real heart of the film for me. His goofy, oddball charm is endearing, entertaining and at times even hilarious. With his long hair and curly grey beard, he’s a real character and really just a big kid stuck on the island who yearns to go home to his family and watch
    tv. Yet, surprisingly it’s he who helps guide the crew to the North side of the island to safety. For me, he completely steals the film. Few of the characters are given much depth or backstory which I had expected. Having said that, the cast is fine and each gives a fully committed performance, they just don’t offer us anything new or memorable. Warner Bros. have really won me over with this effects-driven fantasy adventure – I loved it from start to finish and I can see it having very strong returns. It’s highly entertaining and gets the perfect balance between fast-paced action, humour and gorey violence. On a visual level too, it’s outstanding and the setting on the island itself is nothing short of magnificent and utterly captivating. However, at the end of the day, it’s the monsters and not the humans we’ve come to watch and on that level, we are not disappointed. Kong himself appears early on and he’s an impressive beast – over 100 feet tall – far bigger than any which has gone before him. While portrayed as fearsome,
    brutal and destructive, it’s nice to get a glimpse of his sensitive and nurturing side too. But it’s not just the ape himself, we are constantly bombarded with something new and the island is brimming with surprises – towering spiders, giant water buffalos, toothsome lizards and even an all-embracing octopus. The dazzling array of creatures keeps the movie exciting and prevents things from ever getting dull, we never know what to expect next. Kong has his hands full of worthy opponents on a regular basis. Vogt-Roberts shows an impressive confidence with his smartly crafted movie spectacular and he conjures up enough wonder and menace to keep us engaged and on edge at all times. In particular, his skill is evident in the elaborate opening sequence where team members die in creatively graphic ways as Kong attacks and destroys all the helicopters in sight, as if they were mere pieces of lego. The ending left it pretty clear too that we haven’t seen the last of Kong and there is potential for many sequels, I look forward to his grissly return!