It’s 1973 and the Vietnam War is coming to an end. Facing redundancy, army scientist Bill Randa (John Goodman) convinces his superiors to let him lead a geology expedition to an uncharted island in the South Pacific. He gets his crew together: soldiers led by Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), a tracker (Tom Hiddleston), a photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larsen) and a few others clearly cast as monster-fodder. Their crew flies in through a fierce electrical storm in a dozen helicopters and as soon as they arrive at this breathtaking tropical paradise, they start bombing the hell out of it.
An enraged Kong appears and rips the war machines out of the sky one by one, indifferent to the fire-power they rain on him. The survivors realise they have to make it to their pickup point as planned in three days or they will be stranded. Along the way they run into the comical Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), a WWII vet stranded since 1944. He introduces them to the natives, a beautiful and mute tribe surviving in the jungle who consider Kong their god and protector. Marlow attempts to lead the survivors to their destination and hopefully get home himself. But first they must battle gargantuan spiders, enormous stick insects and worst of all, the skull crawlers – most of whom deliver a grisly (but entertaining) end to their victims. All to an infectious Creedence Clearwater Revival, Jefferson Airplane, David Bowie soundtrack.
As far as big-budget blockbusters go, Kong: Skull Island is by-the-numbers. Cool monster – check. A stupid scientist – check. A deranged authority figure – check. A hot woman who connects with the monster and must be rescued – check. A reluctant hero/vague love interest – check. An out of touch wise lunatic – check. Lots of fiery explosions – check. A large disposable cast that gets picked off one by one – check. Inane speechifying – check. Underdog mini-heroes – check. A flimsy and pointless, full-of-holes plot – check.
That said, no one going to see this flick is looking for character development, meaningful dialog, historical accuracy or a carefully unfolding complex plot. They’re looking for escapism. They want to see cool monsters fighting with technology and more importantly, other cool monsters. They want the handsome hero to win and the beautiful woman to be rescued. They want to jump out of their seats, laugh at the good jokes, groan at the bad and cringe at a bit of gruesome flesh dangling from a monster’s gut. And Kong: Skull Island rises to the challenge.
Watching in 3D at Auckland’s IMAX Theatre Kong: Skull Island was just plain fun. Kong was created by Industrial Light and Magic and unlike his recent predecessors, hearkens back to the original, 1933 King Kong, an emotional, compassionate creature with an appreciation for his world who will rage against any who try to destroy it. He’s more than just a giant gorilla. Over 30 metres tall, he dwarfs the humans, fits nicely into the splendour of his landscape and is the ultimate foe of the dreaded skull crawlers. The CGI and special effects are state of the art and almost every scene and action sequence is visually perfect, so you are immersed in the world of Skull Island.
Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts has an excellent sense of timing. The almost nonstop action is peppered with occasional quiet moments – Weaver’s connecting moment with Kong; Kong reclining on a mountainside gazing at the sunset; and the beauty of the night sky from the natives’ enclave. These pauses give us a moment to catch our collective breath before the next round of mayhem. He also pulls some great performances from his A-list cast. John C. Reilly steals the show from John Goodman and Samuel L. Jackson who all rise above their bog-standard roles to create memorable characters.
For pure popcorn pleasure – Kong: Skull Island gets 4 stars.
Watch the trailer