Film review by Jason Day of Kong: Skull Island, the fantasy adventure about monsters on a remote island starring Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson and Brie Larson.
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A team of soldiers and scientists land on the remote Skull Island, the first explorers there, looking for legendary monsters that inhabit it. Their plans are quickly thrown out of the window when a huge gorilla named Kong appears, destroying their aircraft. But they must work with Kong when all are threatened by huge lizards that live deep within the earth.
Review, by Jason Day
A further ‘reimagining’ of the biggest simian movie star to stride across the silver screen, following Peter Jackson’s 2005 blockbuster.
Bringing us ‘bang up to date’, it is 1973 and America is poised for Watergate, but of course is not yet aware of it. President Richard Nixon’s shady dealings are as covert as John Goodman’s reasons for visiting Skull Island (to solve the mystery of the wrecked warship of which he was the sole survivor many years before).
He knows big bad beasties of the non-political kind were to blame, but there are plenty of on-screen reminders to link us to Tricky Dicky’s real-life antics at the time (he’s seen on TV and a ‘wobbling head’ toy of him on board a helicopter shakes as if in constant denial, grinning aimlessly in grim irony as the craft hurtles to the ground).
A further pointer to the seventies comes with the visual style employed, easily identifiable for film fans as aping Apocalypse Now (1979), and its not just the slow-motion overdose. From the helicopter ride to drop the seismic bombs, exploding to give us a smell of semtex in the morning, through the riverboat journey into hell, the sun at dusk surrounded in clouds to Tom Hiddleston’s character ‘Conrad’ (Apocalypse was, of course, based on Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness), the references are so frequent and clear enough that director Francis Ford Coppola might have grounds to sue the producers for shameless copying.
Given the lavishness and quality of Jackson’s loving homage to the 1933 Fay Wray classic, its a shame the filmmakers here have opted for an abrupt stylistic change to a dumb, jocular but still thrillingly staged sequel.
I wasn’t expecting Citizen Kane (1941), but there could have been a bit more care with the writing, with a tightening up of the dialogue and narrative contrivances.
Brie Larson, when asked how she is after a helicopter crash, replies mechanically: “I can’t answer that question at this moment”. So, “I don’t know”, then? Would someone really say this after a major accident?
A tough, hard-ass GI later states that this accident has been “an inconvenient occurrence”. Again, would such a character use such carefully selected words? Perhaps I’m being snobbish, but more likely this is careless writing.
I feel like I’m being awkward now, going too deep into a daft but fun movie and nit-picking over smaller details, but come on writers! If you try to suspend our disbelief, then make the details you give work.
For instance, we are told that Skull Island has been virtually inaccessible for millennia due to a unique storm system surrounding it. Yet, Goodman’s ship got through, as did two WWII pilots. Goodman explains that here is a low pressure area announced during the voyage there that our intrepid crew are able to pass through safely – how fortuitous!
Samuel L. Jackson (looking all the time like he knows he’s worth more than this film) goes all Colonel Kurtz-mad and will stop at nothing to kill Kong after a quick stare-off, his sole motivation. But at the point of avenging his dead comrades, he is stopped in his tracks by a few corny words from Larson.
John C. McGinley’s stranded WWII pilot returns home after nearly 30 years to a wife and (presumably his own) son, who looks like a freshman still living with Mom.
McGinley’s shaggy, genial support turn is as much fun as the splendidly gory, scary and exciting action set pieces and the monsters are very well realised.
He’s also the only member of the cast who seems in on the bad-joke that this film is as a whole and doesn’t look uncomfortable or embarrassed.
Leave your brains at home folks, take your 3D specs to your multiplex and enjoy the mindless, thrilling action on display.
Cast & credits
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts. 118mins. Legendary Entertainment/Tencent/Warner Bros. (12a)
Producers: Alex Garcia, Jon Jashni, Mary Parent, Thomas Tull.
Writers: Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly.
Camera: Larry Fong.
Music: Henry Jackman.
Sets: Stefan Dechant.
Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John C. Reilly, John Goodman, Corey Hawkins, John Ortiz, Tian Jing, Toby Kebbel, Jason Mitchell, Shea Whigham.