Kong: Skull Island (PG13: some violence and coarse language)
Starring Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L Jackson, Brie Larson, John Goodman Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Eight decades after his defiant end from atop New York’s Empire State Building in the 1933 Hollywood classic King Kong followed by countless sequels, remakes and spin-offs, pop culture’s mightiest simian gets an origin myth.
The jungle adventure Kong: Skull Island from the producers of Legendary Pictures’ 2014 Godzilla is set in 1973. The government organisation Monarch introduced in the earlier film finds an uncharted Skull Island in the Pacific believed to have its own prehistoric eco-system of species unlike any encountered.
Tom Hiddleston is a British SAS officer, James Conrad, recruited as a tracker by John Goodman’s senior bureaucrat Bill Randa to lead an expedition team. Brie Larson, Oscar-winner last year for Room, is photojournalist Mason Weaver. Corey Hawkins and Tian Jing (Police Story: Lockdown) are a pair of token ethnic-minority scientists.
Samuel L Jackson is US Lieutenant Colonel Packard, leader of the helicopter squadron ferrying them in. This is Packard’s last mission, his and his boys’ final chance to be heroes before rotating home from the quagmire of the Vietnam War, when Kong rises from the misty mountains in his grand entrance to send the choppers crashing with one swoop of his paw.
Packard, military arsenal at the ready, is henceforth helbent on destroying him even as the enlightened Conrad and Weaver realise the sentient Kong is worth saving.
Not only is there a Man-versus-Nature conflict but also Kong’s ongoing battle for dominion over the island inhabitants, with Kong the good guy and the voracious lizardy Skullcrawlers the baddies.
Narrative nuance? You’d be looking in vain. This second blockbuster entry in the studio’s Monsterverse is an affectionate throwback to B-movie action creature features, all about laying the foundation for a shared cinematic universe of legendary monsters.
Indie director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (The Kings of Summer), although a visual effects novice, creates an immersive lost world, mixing ’70s war imageries of napalm and period rock ‘n’ roll with photo-real spectacles of CG beasties. Massive, powerful Kong with his tactile fur and soulful eyes undisputedly remains the star, primed for a 2020 Godzilla vs. Kong. That ape-girl romance so much the heart of the original story is a thing of the past. 3/5