REVIEW – ‘Kong: Skull Island’

King Kong, the eighth wonder of the world, has enjoyed a fairly spotty cinematic history. Despite his reverence in the folklore of Hollywood, he’s only appeared on-screen a handful of times. Anyone with half a film brain knows his classic 1933 original stop-motion debut. We all rushed to see Peter Jackson, fresh off his Lord of the Rings success, deliver his take on the beast, with the beautiful but exhaustively-long 2005 remake. And a few may even remember the campy disaster that was the 1976 version, which only stands a success for introducing the world to the magnificence that is Jessica Lange. But with director Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ Kong: Skull Island, we have a version that may just be the most ridiculous thing I’ve seen in a cinema so far this year…and I loved every damn minute of it.

To call Kong: Skull Island ridiculous is by no means an insult. It revels in the silliness of its premise, and all the chaos and carnage that come along for the ride. And what a ride it ends up being. Make no mistake about it – this is popcorn cinema, at its absolute finest. The failings of similar monster epics like Jurassic World and Godzilla, who both fell under the hefty weight of their own self-importance, are tossed aside, as the absurdity of this kind of cinema is fully embraced. This film knows exactly what it is – a big, loud, silly romp, filled with expected archetypes, but, most importantly, a whole swag of glorious creatures.

We all know the plot of these kinds of films is fairly irrelevant, but thankfully Kong: Skull Island has a intriguing and entertaining storyline to back up the spectacle. The time is 1973, at the end of America’s failed military campaign in Vietnam. Back in Washington DC, the Monarch organisation (hint, hint – the one from Godzilla) is making plans to explore a mysterious uncharted island in the South Pacific, affectionately known as Skull Island. Sounds like a great idea, right?

Bill Randa (John Goodman) wrangles together a rag-tag bunch of victims helpers including animal tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston, clad in a t-shirt more appropriately sized for my three year-old nephew), photojournalist Mason Weaver (a sadly underused Brie Larson), and an US Army escort team, headed by Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson, in all his shouting glory). Oh, and we can’t forget scientist Shan (Tian Jing), who serves no purpose to the team (or the film), other than a pathetically obvious ploy to the ever-important Chinese box-office returns.

Upon their arrival at Skull Island, the team immediately commences dropping bombs to map the island’s seismic patterns (or something), but of course, this awakens the island’s protector, Kong. In one of the film’s many sublime set-pieces, the big ape sets about decimating the entire helicopter squadron, and our team (well, those that remain alive) end up scattered about the island. Forced to trek their way across the unknown landscapes, in desperate hope of regroup and rescue, they soon discover Kong is the least of their worries.

It’s here they meet Hank Marlow (a typically-hilarious John C. Reilly, who steals the whole damn film), an American pilot who’s somehow managed to survive on the island since his plane was shot down in WWII. Marlow has assimilated himself with the locals, who face the constant threat of all sorts of nasties, particularly the Skullcrawlers – a lizard/skeleton hybrid demon beast of a thing, living in the island’s hidden underground caverns. Joining forces with the surviving members of the original crew (you can pretty much guess who’s left), it’s up to Marlow to help navigate our team to safety, and avoid the worst the island has to offer.

The fact they fail to successfully evade the all-manner of creatures the creative wizards behind this film have dreamt up should come as no surprise. Here begins the ridiculous enjoyment for cinemagoers, particularly when Kong is called upon to battle his fellow island natives (Kong vs. a giant squid is as glorious as it sounds) and the sequence involving our team being attacked by a swarm of pterodactyl-esque birds. Just picture this – Tom Hiddleston donning a military gas-mask, grabbing a samurai sword, and hacking away at a bunch of prehistoric fowls. Brilliant. But it’s the film’s finale, featuring Kong taking on the mother of all Skullcrawlers, that ups the scales to a new level, letting the CGI team truly soar with one truly spectacular fight sequence.

Kong: Skull Island knows what its audience came to see, and therein lies its magic. It’s this self-awareness that ensures the film is always genuine fun, which is more than you can say for most other films in this genre. The visuals are stunning, particularly the sunset-obsessed cinematography, and the action is relentlessly thrilling. Throw in the best use of a retro-style soundtrack since Guardians of the Galaxy, and you have one hell of a thrill-ride. Grab your popcorn and just enjoy yourself. Oh, and be sure to stay for the credits for a tease at what’s to come next…

★★★☆

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