Sunday 9 September 2018

Movie Review: Kong: Skull Island (2017)

A monster adventure movie, Kong: Skull Island provides rollicking action without ever rising to any new heights.

In a prologue set in 1944, an aerial dogfight over the Pacific results in American pilot Hank Marlow and a Japanese pilot crash-landing onto a mysterious island. As they try to kill each other, they are interrupted by a massive ape.

In 1973, monster researcher Randa (John Goodman) and geologist Brooks (Corey Hawkins) secure funding from Senator Willis (Richard Jenkins) to explore a recently discovered island. They recruit adventurer Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) to lead the team, while anti-war photojournalist Weaver (Brie Larson) talks her way onto the expedition. Lieutenant Colonel Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), fresh from the disappointment of the Vietnam War, is tasked with providing protection.

Packard's helicopters penetrate the storm clouds surrounding the island, and Brooks drops seismic charges to explore the subsurface geology. The explosions irritate Kong, a massive ape and de facto ruler of the island, and he proceeds to decimate the invading helicopters. The survivors have to navigate their way to an extraction point, but Packard insists on re-engaging with Kong to avenge his losses. Conrad, Weaver and others stumble upon more monstrous creatures, as well as the elderly Marlow (John C. Reilly), who has survived since World War 2 and is living with local tribespeople.

Yet another Hollywood retelling of the Kong story, this version is not half-bad. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts conjures up more-than-decent monster special effects, and the many battles with and amongst assorted oversized creatures provide frequent highlights. As per the title the film remains confined on the island once the expedition lands on Kong's turf, and with no final chapter featuring capture, relocation and urban chaos, Kong: Skull Island settles down as a solid if routine metaphor for the Vietnam War, fully immersed in the jungle environment.

Kong is the local dealing with internal threats, Packard is the helicopter-powered invader arriving uninvited and all guns blazing, Weaver represents the anti-war disengagement movement as well as the press recording proceedings, and the rest of the film is sweaty jungle warfare with multiple-fronts, internal divisions and some unexpected alliances.

Vogt-Roberts shrewdly steers well clear of interspecies lust, romance and infatuation, the bond here between Kong and Weaver limited to gestures of mutual respect, empathy and understanding of interdependence. Packard slips into the villain role, the warmonger intent on violence as the solution before understanding what the problem is. Kong also has his hands full with suitably ugly Skullcrawlers, ugly beings who emerge out of their subterranean habitats to take on all comers.

With stock character definitions and no narrative surprises, Kong: Skull Island stays faithful to its mission: oversized high energy entertainment, unprovocative but polished.

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