KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2017) – REVIEW

It’s a little hard to believe Peter Jackson’s King Kong is already 12 years old. Going to see it remains a vivid memory; before that, The Lord Of The Rings on my birthday had been the tradition, so when Jackson came along with another December-released epic after a two-year hiatus, I was more than a little excited. And sure enough, I enjoyed it at the time – so much, in fact, that I purchased the special edition 2-disc DVD the moment it hit shelves. It wasn’t until later that I realized my enjoyment perhaps derived more from the excitement of the situation rather than the quality of the film, as I curiously didn’t so much as open the box until getting rid of it during a mass DVD cull a few months back.

I literally haven’t felt like watching it in over a decade.

In any case, I’ve hardly been completely desperate for a new King Kong movie during that time, but I’ve hoped that when one did arrive it would at least beat its chest a little more and be something I could go back to. If nothing else, Kong: Skull Island is just that – there’s a genuine sense of fun and escapism running through the core of the movie which was so often lacking from Jackson’s film (at two-thirds the length, no less), and it’s generally just a far more entertaining piece of cinema. It’s also worth noting how significantly better it is than the first installment in Legendary’s new MonsterVerse, Gareth Edwards’ Godzillawhich was technically impressive but fell short on eliciting any kind of emotional response, joyful or otherwise.

Indeed, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts has done a fine job bringing King Kong back to the big screen with a bit of oomph. Here’s yet another case of a studio placing a big blockbuster into the hands of a director who’s only previous credit is a small indie film (in this case, the wonderful Kings Of Summer), and this can surely be seen as one of the most successful examples. There’s nothing particularly showy about the way in which the film is put together, but there’s a real competency behind every frame. It’s a solidly made film that’s knows exactly which beats to hit and when to hit them.

While it’s perhaps grasping at straws to compare a film about a giant ape battling giant lizards to last week’s incredibly personal Logan, Skull Island does at least feels like a similarly contained movie. It’s clearly not as human as James Mangold’s film, but it plays out in a way that suggests its only real interest lies in making a fun monster movie that doesn’t rely on anything but itself, even though it’s tied into a wider universe. It’s that lack of having to worry about past Kong iterations which provides the film with a launching pad to be so free-wheeling and entertaining and, frankly, a bit surprising; the 70s setting in particular means it’s not locked into the traditional early 1900s set-up with explorers trying to take Kong back to America, so we don’t necessarily know where it’s going to go (not to mention the killer soundtrack it provides).

There’s some decent character stuff in here, too, and the whole cast does a fine job with what they’re given (Tom Hiddleston plays the most against type as the gruff, gun-wielding tracker), but to be honest they’re never fleshed out beyond a few pleasantries and minor back stories. Occasionally you could argue it needs more depth, but the pacing is sprightly enough and the action suitably full-tilt to keep everything lively and interesting. The traditional Kong/leading lady (in this case, the terrific Brie Larson) relationship is only very lightly touched upon, but that’s only a good thing because it doesn’t really fit into the story being told. It plays out as a tasteful homage rather than an unavoidable intrusion.


Verdict:

While Skull Island doesn’t do anything particularly memorable or outrageous, it’s a real blast of fun while it lasts and is untethered enough from the traditional King Kong set-up to feel fresh and at least somewhat surprising. If nothing else, it’s a giant step in the direction for Legendary’s MonsterVerse.

★ ★ ★ ★ ☆