YouTube: KONG: ekull Island Trailer 2 (2017)

With a somewhat mediocre and underwhelming start to Legendary’s ‘MonsterVerse’ franchise in Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla (2014), the big guns were brought out to explore King Kong’s story.

Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson and John C. Reilly lead the line in Kong: Skull Island, Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ attempt to retell the familiar tale of the giant ape brought to New York City. Except that isn’t the tale that is told – we get a fresh, interesting, set-at-at-the-end-of-the-Vietnam War-take on King Kong, as well as some new monsters along the way.

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I enjoyed the opening of the film a lot – effectively a prologue, a young Hank Marlow (later played by John C. Reilly, in this scene played by Will Brittain) lands somewhere in the South Pacific, along with an enemy soldier. Their ensuing fight is short lived, as King Kong interrupts, not five minutes into the film. The early appearance of Kong has split the opinions of many, but I thought it was an intelligent move. The ‘reveal’ had the same impact as if we’d been waiting the whole film to see the infamous ape, but without all the unnecessary suspense.

We all know who Kong is, what he looks like, and that he’s scary – I don’t need to wait until the third act to see him in full. Jordan Vogt-Roberts saves the big reveal for something new. (I wasn’t, in fact, much of a fan of the Big Baddie. After all the other creepy crawlies and monsters we meet along the way, the reveal felt slightly anticlimactic).

It’s certainly a difficult film to review. I went in expecting a fun, action-adventure film, packed with big monsters and Brie Larson being an action hero, and that’s exactly what I got. There was also a film-stealing performance from John C. Reilly, who isn’t just ‘The Funny One’, but adds emotion to film that is otherwise lacking; and a sinister (if over the top) performance from Samuel L. Jackson as war-hungry Preston Packard.

The interesting use of a very funny supporting cast works wonders – the comradery and in-joking between Mills (Jason Mitchell), Cole (Shea Whigham), Slivko (Thomas Mann) and Reles (Eugene Cordero), in addition to John C Reilly, keeps the tone light when necessary. This would have been a far more dull and drab film without them.

But despite all these positives, it is a hugely flawed film at times. While Preston Packard is the interesting, not-such-a-surprise human antagonist, the film hugely suffers from the absurdity of his obsession with war and destruction. I understand the message that Vogt-Roberts and the writers are trying to promote, especially with anti-war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) providing the antithesis throughout, but over the top doesn’t cover it, it borders on cartoonish.

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And while I was, and am, very much on board with Brie Larson: Action Hero (bring on Captain Marvel), Tom Hiddleston: Action Hero needs a lot of work. In fact, James Conrad (Hiddleston) seems to have about four different characters in this film. He begins as a sulky, cynical British SAS Captain, who only joins the mission for the money. This isn’t a role he suits. Then he reverts to type: slightly-tougher-than-you’d-expect Brit (as seen in The Night Manager), a role he suits slightly more. Then he becomes Actionman: certainly not a good fit. And then, out of nothing, he takes charge. He is suddenly the captain of the group, barking instructions and repeatedly telling Brie Larson to “stay here” while he goes and does something heroic. It does feel like the producers wanted Tom Hiddleston, without thinking much about the character. And as one of the poster boys, Hiddleston’s strange performance/character does drag the film down slightly.

Frazer Harrison/Getty Images Entertainment

One element I loved was the direction. Legendary have been rewarded in plucking Jordan Vogt-Roberts from relative anonymity (his only other film, Kings of Summer (2013), was an excellent, if small and underseen indie) to direct such a huge blockbuster. But the beautiful shots of Kong show his full scale, as well as the cinematography the on-location shooting makes a huge difference to the film. Even when the film struggles to reach its potential, it’s difficult to ignore the beauty of it. It’s interesting and engaging to watch, and Vogt-Roberts can be very pleased with himself.

It’s tricky. I really enjoyed this film, but the flaws do their best to outweigh the fun. If you can ignore the flaws, as I tried my best to do, you’ll have a whale of a time. The action is excellent fun, the monsters are scary, the suspense of knowing a monster could appear at any moment will have you genuinely interested in each scene, and the majority of the performances are what you’d expect from such big names. It’s a shame that elements let the film down, but it’s an improvement on Godzilla, and sets up the franchise nicely.

Read Film says

3/5 stars

Readers say (2)

3/5 stars