There’s really no need for another King Kong remake, seeing as Peter Jackson’s patchy effort is only twelve years old, but this one exists as a means of introducing the giant gorilla into Legendary Pictures’ MonsterVerse, of which Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla is the only other movie at present (more are on the way, including various monster vs monster crossovers). Where Edwards teased miserly glimpses of his creature for the first hour, here director Jordan Vogt-Roberts shows his hand very early on, revealing Kong’s face and bulk during a rather silly prologue; I guess this is what happens when studios listen to people who have no patience and no tolerance for mystery. Vogt-Roberts is not shy about plonking the big ape front-and-centre during the subsequent two hours, either, in which much of the action takes place on the titular Skull Island at the end of the Vietnam War. The time and place is unimportant, as we just get to see variations on things we’ve seen before: Kong falling for a Fay Wray-type (a combat photographer played by Brie Larson, who has to plough through some truly awful lines), Kong fighting other big creatures (the nastiest being the giant lizard ‘Skullcrawlers’), a tribe of indigenous people who worship the beast and a rag-tag bunch of soldiers and expedition types who are trying to escape the island (Tom Hiddleston, John Goodman, Samuel L. Jackson, John C. Reilly, Shea Wigham and Toby Kebbell, etc). Sadly there’s no final act in which Kong runs amok in New York City, a story staple that’s presumably being held back for a future entry into the series.
The film’s entertaining in the same way that monster movies usually entertain, with lots of scenes of big, brutal smashy-smashy and plenty of gruesome deaths befalling the evil humans (there’s a half-arsed pro-peace, pro-environment message here that appears to have been written by a five-year-old, so the characters who oppose it die while the ones who subscribe to it survive). Oh and there is a fairly large collection of money shots, with Vogt-Roberts being particularly fond of silhouettes against the sun, silhouettes against raging fires and silhouettes against the various pastel colours that are occasionally used as a kind of garish, impressionistic backdrop; the preponderance of these cine-spaffs means that Kong: Skull Island is basically a form of multiplex bukkake, or perhaps more accurately an attempt at a two-hour-long cinematic orgasm – a lovely idea in principle, but in practice a bit wearying. At least the director’s eager to please.
If you’ve got low expectations and just want to watch monsters beating the shit out of one another, the film’s not particularly taxing and quite fun at times; there are also sparks whenever John C. Reilly is on screen. Otherwise, though, it’s hampered by poor plotting, dull dialogue, character-juggling to the point that no human really stands out and the use of far too many cliches. With regard to the latter, is it really enough in 2017 to be introducing your lone female character (plucky, independent) with a man uttering one of those startled ‘wow… you’re a woman, and not a man, and you’re doing a man’s job’ lines? (And I ask that knowing full well that it’s set in the 1970s, when sexism and moustaches ruled the world… but it’s just so familiar and boring.) And here’s another cliche: as the team is being put together, the woefully miscast Hiddleston is approached by two characters who refer to him as a total special forces badass right before he confirms what they’ve just said by doing something totally special-forces-badass in a bar (in this case beating up two Asian guys who attack him). I mean… what are the fucking odds of that happening?
So… I’m sorry to say that this is a piece of poorly-written, throwaway pap, but on the other hand… I’m pleased to report that this is a piece of occasionally enjoyable throwaway pap, too. (**½)