The thought of a King Kong “reboot”, as well as being a term that needs to be banned, left me sceptical enough in itself, let alone that the film was to be the foundation of a new cinematic universe (another term for the ban list). Unashamedly though, the trailer suckered me in enough to look past this as well as Peter Jackson’s bloated 2005 King Kong, and any sense of elitism about leaving the 1933 original well alone. By the time I saw the beautiful Apocalypse Now/Kong mash up posters, I was sold.
And sure enough, Kong: Skull Island itself is a thing of beauty. At least visually. Being shot across Australia, Hawaii and Vietnam adds an air of authenticity that more than makes up for the CGI-heavy scenes of the prehistoric nasties that inhabit it. And nasty they are, adding a sense of the unknown to the island. Sadly, the Crawlers are underwhelming as the big bad(s), who come on like the Cloverfield monster, without the benefit of the slow reveal. It matters not though as Kong is King Monkey and this is his movie. Toby Kebbell clearly had unfinished monkey business after his vicious turn as Koba in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and he inflects Kong with the slightest amount of sensitivity in order to still raise sympathy without diminishing his bad-ass factor. And what a bad-ass he is. Every action has a sense of scale: from ripping animals insides out, to swatting ‘choppers from the sky to washing his wounds. Kong’s battles feel heavy, well-paced and deliberate and the antithesis of the “who’s hitting who?” fisticuffs seen in Transformers et al.
Hiddleston’s slow-mo Samurai skills and perma-flexed pecs confirmed his action credentials whilst Samuel L Jackson gives enough reasons for wanting to kill Kong that you can almost forgive him. Almost. The run time surprisingly allows for character development for those who you’d normally consider red shirts. Shea Whigham and Jason Mitchell in particular are given enough shading to elevate them above your average grunts and evoke the camaraderie of Predator’s Blain and Mac. John C. Reilly also elevates his role above the comic relief seen in trailers and earns his own mid-credits scene as a result.
So what’s the banana skin that it slips on? The soundtrack is straight from a shuffled “Back in ‘Nam” Spotify playlist and ticks boxes rather than sets pulses racing. Brie Larson, as one of perhaps three females in the film escapes playing the typical damsel in distress, but instead plays the typical plucky photographer who everyone assumed would be a male. Is that part of the B-movie homage? Or part of Hollywood’s treatment of women? The enormous ensemble also often leaves you unsure of whom is being referred to, which muddies the few plot points that actually exist.
Overall, perhaps it’s let down by the sense that it’s all a little throwaway. Perhaps the nods to Apocalypse Now built up expectations of Kong refusing to be shot from the waist down and ad-libbing lines of TS Eliot. Or perhaps I need to realise that sometimes, movies can just be fun and plenty of monkeying around.