Kong: Skull Island

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Release date: 9th March 2017/Watch the trailer here

Jordan Vogt-Roberts, director of Kong: Skull Island, had a difficult task ahead of him: how do you make a King Kong movie that’s different enough to set it apart from its many predecessors, but still familiar enough to satisfy the monster movie fans?

Fortunately, Vogt-Roberts seems to have struck the perfect balance. Set in 1973, Kong: Skull Island sees former British Special Air Service Captain James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) hired by secretive government official Bill Randa (John Goodman) to guide an expedition to an uncharted island. They are joined by photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), geologist Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins), biologist San Lin (Jing Tian), and a helicopter squadron led by Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson). The film rapidly makes its way through the introductions without skimping too much on character development – with a cast that feels decidedly ensemble in nature and none of the A-list names competing for more screen time, the audience is given a chance to get to know the major players well enough to care if they end up getting eaten.

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Skull Island doesn’t make you wait long before its characters start being killed off in an increasingly gruesome manner, either – the moment the team reach the island, the titular gigantic ape appears, swatting away helicopters like they’re flies, in one of the first exhilarating action set pieces of many more to follow. The survivors are left separated and split into two groups: while Packard and his men track Kong, hell-bent on revenge, Conrad’s team stumbles upon Hank Marlow (a scene-stealing John C. Reilly), an eccentric World War 2 lieutenant who’s been stranded on Skull Island for nearly thirty years. He informs them that the native tribespeople worship Kong as a godlike figure – and it’s the underground-dwelling, reptilian monsters named Skull Crawlers that they should really be afraid of.

With the introduction of the Skull Crawlers, it’s evident that Kong isn’t the real monster of this movie. The island is populated with strange creatures ranging from the benign to the horrifying (arachnophobes, beware: here there be giant spiders). The effects used to bring them to life are as suitably impressive as we’ve come to expect from our modern-day blockbusters, but there’s no denying the old-fashioned, B-movie charm that is part of what makes Kong: Skull Island such ridiculously good fun.

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This doesn’t mean that there’s anything overtly wrong with Skull Island: on the contrary, there are very few faults to be found, aside from some occasional moments of attempted humour that fall flat and Hiddleston’s slight lack of the charisma that’s required for an action movie leading man. It’s evidently a film that’s somewhat conflicted about whether to take the more dark and serious route or to play up to the silliness that comes with the territory of a movie about a fifty-foot-tall ape. Thankfully, the silly option seems to have won for the most part, and as a result the film moves along at a breakneck pace, never pausing for long enough to come close to being boring or repetitive.

Admittedly, Kong: Skull Island may be a mindless popcorn movie – but it’s a grand-scale and exciting adventure too, with all of the action and the chest-pounding that anyone could possibly want from a King Kong film and then some, while acting as a much-needed refresher for a genre that looks set to be making a big comeback. If only all mindless popcorn movies were as much fun as this.

★★

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