The first giant disappointment of this year’s blockbuster season has arrived in the form of Kong: Skull Island, the latest reimagining of the monster that first appeared on our screens in 1933, which is also set to make up just one part of a planned ‘monster-verse’ that’ll eventually pit the giant ape against Godzilla and other famous creatures. If this is anything to go by, Kong doesn’t stand a chance. This fails to reach the same levels of success as Gareth Edwards’ 2014 remake of Godzilla, and, whilst this is far from the worst iteration of the story ever brought to screen – see the Jeff Bridges-starring King Kong of 1976 – it has been done better before.
Part of the problem may be that this is the Kong story unlike you’ve ever seen it before, with the Empire State Building nowhere to be seen. The action here moves from the 1930’s to the 1970’s, and plays out like a Vietnam war movie full of guns, bullets and napalm. It’s a bold shift in narrative that’s to be admired, but one that is ultimately squandered with its poorly-executed script.
The whole tone of the movie is off, which suggests that the three writers (Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein and Derek Connolly) could never quite agree on the direction in which to take the story. At one moment, it looks like the ideas about the Vietnam war and the politics surrounding it will make for a compelling subtext. Not only do you have Samuel L. Jackson’s Colonel Packard, a military man who is keen to keep up the fight, but you also have Brie Larson’s Mason Weaver, an anti-war photography who is accused of turning the American people against their soldiers. It’s an interesting dynamic which shows some initial promise.
Unfortunately, as soon as the group of soldiers and explorers crash land on the titular island, these ideas are tossed to one side as easy as Kong can toss a helicopter into a cliff. In its place, bizzarely, is some of the most misjudged humour I can ever remember seeing in a while, which is more cringe than it is comic.
The exception to this is John C. Reilly who, in all fairness, does get some pretty great lines and is quite clearly having a lot of fun with the role. But even then, the film’s final few moments suddenly attempt to draw some kind of sentiment out of the fact that he has been stranded on Skull Island for a few decades – something we were only laughing about just a few moments before.
The one thing that the film manages to get right are the visuals, and Jordon Vogt-Roberts has managed to craft some truly stunning imagery with the help of his cinematographer, Larry Fong. The overall look of ‘Skull Island’ is one that’ll stick with you for a long time, but every other element of the production pales in comparison.
In spite of boasting an extraordinary cast that includes Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John Goodman, John C. Reilly and Toby Kebbell (who isn’t playing an ape this time around), the performances across the board are largely embarrassing. Hiddleston lacks such little charisma that it’s difficult to think he’d ever be considered as a potential James Bond, Larson looks confused as to what is going on the majority of the time, and the rest of cast hardly get a chance to do much of anything due to the flimsy script they’re working with.
What is perhaps most baffling of all, however, is the fact that the film appears to try and replicate Jurassic Park at certain stages. Much like Edwards’ Godzilla, the nods to Spielberg are evident from the film’s very first lens flare. The only difference here is that it lacks any kind of subtlety in its homage, with shots of helicopters flying over Island jungles and narrative beats that feel directly stolen from Spielberg’s monster movie – it even goes as far as at one point having Jackson quote one of his most famous lines from that film. “Hold onto your butts”.
The constant reminders of Spielberg’s classic do Kong: Skull Island no favours at all. There’s no denying that it is entertaining in places, albeit in a big-dumb-and-fun kind of way, but despite the director’s best efforts to make something original and memorable, this doesn’t feel like King Kong in the slightest. So much so, it could have quite easily been called ‘Giant Ape VS Mega Lizards’ and probably still have found an audience for all of its bottom-shelf, B-movie trappings. What a shame.
Image credit to http://www.impawards.com