And so Hollywood churns out another remake/reboot, and spawns yet another ‘Universe’ (like we need more of those). Following in the footsteps of Marvel’s ‘Cinematic Universe’, DC’s ‘Extended Universe’, and Universal’s ‘Dark Universe’, we now have the ‘MonsterVerse’ from Legendary Pictures. So what does this mean? Remember 2014’s mediocre Godzilla directed by Rogue One’s Gareth Edwards? Well that was film number one. This version of Kong will reside within that Godzilla ‘film universe’ and marks the start of several interlocking films featuring the likes of Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah.
King Kong has a rich cinematic history and is perhaps one of Hollywood’s most iconic creatures, dating all the way back to 1933. He has been reworked and revamped several times, with Peter Jackson’s awful 2005 effort still lingering in recent memory. With Kong: Skull Island we at least have fully completed CGI when compared to Jackson’s King Kong. But unfortunately there’s little else to get excited about. And with four writing credits - an end-credits list that rolls for 10 whole minutes - alarm bells are ringing.
The set-up is standard Kong-fare: a mysterious island has been discovered and a team of explorers head in to discover what secrets it may be hiding. Kong: Skull Island shifts the setting to Vietnam War-era 1973, and director Jordan Vogt-Roberts evokes the mood with hues of green and orange aplenty. Heading to Skull Island is a ridiculously huge group of people with various motives – we have a group of scientists led by Bill Randa (John Goodman), an ex-SAS soldier (Tom Hiddleston), photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), and a helicopter squad of US Army soldiers led by Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson).
Unfortunately, it is hard to really care about any of the characters. There’s no real development, and no real acting required – the actors are basically just standing around and delivering their lines to each other. Hiddleston isn’t believable as a Special Forces soldier no matter how sweaty he gets, Samuel L. Jackson spends his time in Ezekiel 25:17 mode, John Ortiz looks like Lando Calrissian for some reason, and Brie Larson’s performance is instantly forgettable. The only saving grace is John C. Reilly’s marooned World War II pilot, injecting some much-needed humour into a very flat script. But all this shouldn’t really matter in a Kong film of course, for the real star of the show is the beast himself. And he’s definitely been amped up for this version. Kong stands at over 100 feet tall which is ridiculous, but then so is the film. He actually appears very rarely, but when he does the film becomes immediately enjoyable. When he’s not on screen, the film simply doesn’t know what it wants to be. Sometimes it’s a tongue-in-cheek comedy. Then it becomes a serious thriller. Suddenly it’s a Platoon-like Vietnam movie. Kong: Skull Island actually comes across like Tropic Thunder but this clearly is not the tone the filmmakers were aiming for.
The island itself has been captured beautifully, with several nods to classic creatures such as giant spiders, giant squid, giant ants, and a few other surprises (stay until the end credits have run). Kong: Skull Island is definitely an improvement over 2014’s Godzilla, so let’s just hope that the next instalment in this MonsterVerse - 2019’s Godzilla: King Of Monsters – has a bit more depth and a lot more FUN.
A mixed bag - brainless but mildly entertaining once Kong shows up.