Kong: Skull Island

Skull Island isn't impressively intelligent but it is overwhelmingly gorgeous and a kickass spectacle worthy of the big screen.

Right from its opening scene – a cheesy montage that would come into play during the second half of the film – Kong: Skull Island is a reiteration that size matters at the movies. If BIG is what you want, then that’s exactly what you get – big budget, big effects and an ape, much, much bigger than his cinematic forefathers from the 1933 classic to the 2005 epic from Peter Jackson. But unlike Jackson’s bitter-sweet romanticization of beauty and the beast (which has always been at the heart of a King Kong film) Skull Island is neither a prequel nor a sequel in Kong’s storyline. It isn’t entirely a reboot either because none of the characters from the previous films are brought back in this film. Instead, this version feels like a pilot episode in its own cinematic universe.

Set in 1973 and just after US forces have all but accepted defeat in Vietnam, we follow a group of explorers and American GIs who set out to geo-map the titular but unchartered island. Their grand entrance into the storm shrouded island is the first of a series of kickass spectacles and essentially why you would want to watch this film on the biggest screen possible. It’s also the new Kong’s awesome introduction in all his colossal glory…and fury. After their Hueys are extended the same welcome as annoying mosquitoes, the group is divided into two teams in an increasingly hostile environment. One team is led by John Goodman’s government agent posing as a scientist along with Samuel L. Jackson in a cakewalk role as a vengeful Vietnam veteran. Led by Tom Hiddleston as a tracker and Brie Larson as a war photographer (who serves no real purpose except the tradition that Kong has a thing for blondes), the second team makes an interesting discovery – a stranded WWII pilot (John C. Reilly) is just as eager to leave the island as they are.

What sets this film apart from previous Kong lore is the instantly noticeable visual splendour, an aesthetic that seems like a very obvious love letter to Apocalypse Now (1979) but mixed with the cheese and chowder of a Jurassic Park adventure. This in turn wreaks havoc on the tone of the film, resulting in constant shifts between bombastic action, dead-eye terror, pop culture, political and ecological allegories, and whimsy humour including show stealing levity from Reilly. Add to that a stellar cast stuck with stereotypical roles in a telegraphed screenplay and you get an old school monster movie mash with teeth bigger than its bite. But then, who are we kidding? Anyone paying to watch this film will expect their money’s worth of copious eye candy and that’s precisely what Skull Island promises in return.

Despite being a novice behind the lens, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts can be credited with the creation of a tentpole film that is overwhelmingly gorgeous even if it isn’t impressively intelligent. Spectacular action, photorealistic CGI, surreal cinematography, and era specific soundtrack will keep you entertained but it’s the deliberate tease at the end that will leave you wanting more. If not New York, maybe Japan? Come 2020, we’ll know for sure.

Rating: ★★★½☆

About Lloyd Bayer

Besides his passion for travelling, photography and scuba diving, Lloyd is a prolific film critic having contributed hundreds of film reviews to web and print journals, including IMDb and local daily Khaleej Times.