Back in 2014, we were treated to a slow-burn version of Godzilla that divided opinion – little did people realise that that film was to be the first piece in yet another cinematic shared universe. The second piece is now here, and Kong: Skull Island is a very different beast (I’m sorry). It is in your face with the spectacle, delighting in action, and as a blockbuster picture goes, it is very fun.
In 1973, US government agent Bill Randa (John Goodman) gets the say-so on an expedition to map out a mysterious island known as ‘Skull Island.’ Randa assembles a team, including tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and pacifist photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), and leads them out to the Pacific. Things take a turn when they wind up, cut off from everything they know, in the domain of the mighty Kong, a giant ape who guards the island. Their mission of discovery soon becomes one of survival, and the group must fight to escape from a primal world in which man does not belong.
There are two types of monster movie – those that hold off on showing the monster until the end (if at all) in order to build up to a suspenseful climax, and those which show the monster from the off and relish in the sight of the monster being scary, smashing stuff, killing people and all sorts of general monster-y things. Kong: Skull Island falls very firmly into the latter camp, and the presence of Kong is the best thing about this film, without a shadow of a doubt.
Kong first appears in the first five minutes, as a teaser – it is when we reach the island, then, and meet the monster and the various assorted monsters that dwell there that stuff really starts to kick off. This is a monster movie that is really quite goofy, to be honest about it, yet it is also far gorier than you’d expect, and some of the cues could have come right from a horror film.
We hit a bit of a slump in actually getting to the island, and it’s in order to establish characters that are essentially cannon fodder and attractive faces (go on, guess which of the A-listers make it to the end. I almost guarantee you will just by looking at the cast list). The characters are thin sketches, and their presence is down to their actors far more than the writing. They are essentially standard fare for this sort of picture – they aren’t boring, but there’s nothing really to them that would detract from the spectacle.
I make an exception here for John C. Reilly. He shows up as Hank Marlow, a soldier who crashed on the island during the Second World War and who has been trapped there ever since. His performance is dry and sly, portraying a character who should by all rights be insane as a paragon of dignity and common sense – he generates the movie’s laughs, and most of its emotion (his is the only arc that carries any kind of weight and seems a genuine one).
If you stick around after the credits, you’ll get the obligatory scene – I shan’t spoil it, but it lays the foundation for a shared monster universe (because everything in cinema must be part of a shared universe nowadays). If the movies that Kong sets up are half as enjoyable as this one, though, I shan’t be complaining.
Kong: Skull Island is a fun watch, a movie that knows its biggest draw is the monster and acts accordingly. It suffers from some of the problems that a shared universe movie always seem to suffer from (the need to set up the future means that the characters are underdeveloped almost to an extreme) but, as a blockbuster, it does the job it was made to do.
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Cast: Tom Hiddleston (James Conrad), Samuel L. Jackson (Preston Packard), Brie Larson (Mason Weaver), John C. Reilly (Hank Marlow), John Goodman (Bill Randa), Corey Hawkins (Houston Brooks)
Running Time: 118 Mins