Verdict: 4 / 5
Bursting with colour and accompanied by a tremendous 1970’s rock soundtrack, Kong: Skull Island is certainly impressive when it ups the tempo.
The Vietnam War is drawing to a close and troops are preparing to ship back to the States, but for one unit, the merriment is short-lived. Commander Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and his men are given orders to accompany a group of scientists and adventurers to an uncharted island shrouded in mystery. The scientific team, led by Bill Randa (John Goodman), hopes to make some important discoveries before they lose access to the region. However, their mission of exploration very quickly shifts from one of discovery to one of sheer survival, as their intrusive expedition provokes the mighty Kong.
Man must conquer. As a race, humans will forever feel the need to meddle. When something undiscovered comes to light, it’s not long before man attempts to stake a claim. Kong: Skull Island, however, belongs to Kong. A fact that soon dawns on the now fragmented group. It is clear they need to withdraw, but with a pre-determined exit window, time is not on their side. Having gathered into two main groups, the teams must navigate to their pick-up point on the far side of the island, every delay threatening their chances of escape. It becomes evident though that Kong may not be the worst thing on the island, but while one group begins to learn about Kong and understand his value, Commander Packard, seething with vengeful rage, becomes hell-bent on his destruction.
Kong: Skull Island boasts an abundance of considerable talent playing an array of interesting characters. That said, many of the supporting roles are so fleshed out, little room is left for the development of the main characters. So while some lead roles such as Commander Packard and WWII pilot, Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), have very strong character arcs, the potential of other leads is neglected. This sadly takes a toll on the two most intriguing characters, tracker and wilderness expert James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), and anti-war photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson). Conrad is given an awkward introduction and a few cringe-worthy moments that may make him look super cool, but don’t really make much sense. He’s also unnaturally good at everything, devoid of flaws, which challenges your engagement with the character. Weaver is afforded a tad more depth but, for the most part, she tags along snapping pictures, her lens a mere cinematic tool to provoke wonderment in the audience.
This new take on the origins of Kong, away from the skyscrapers of New York City, offers a thrilling setting in a more natural jungle habitat. The island is idyllic but deadly, and the colossal Kong is a foreboding shadow hanging over the film; although you don’t see him much you are always aware of his presence. The environment allows for stunning set pieces, amplified by a bold editing style that makes excellent use of pacing. Switching seamlessly from uncompromising intensity to sweeping slow motion shots, this stylistic approach allows you to fully appreciate the nerve-wracking action.
The plot is well crafted, the visuals are astounding and the action is tremendously tense, but some of the emotional moments fail to connect and most of the humour falls dreadfully flat. And, as seems to be standard now, we are left with yet another blatant tease to a sequel with King Kong now part of the Godzilla universe. When Kong is on screen the action is jaw dropping and truly captures the immense size and power of the mythical beast. Kong: Skull Island does the job it set out to do; it is thoroughly entertaining, right from the striking opening scene, to the final exhilarating throw down.