As the Vietnam War comes to an end, a US secret service operative manages to organise an expedition to an uncharted island involving a British survival expert, a female photographer, and a platoon which has seen service in Vietnam: they intend to examine possibly profitable geology by dropping bombs. Unfortunately, the island is home to an enormous ape. And other nasties.
The original King Kong story has seen three movie versions: the wonderful stop-frame animation original, the mildly misconceived man-in-a-monkey-suit 1970s version, and Peter Jackson’s loving but bloated CGI version. There have been assorted Kong spin-offs and rip-offs, from the 1940s sequel Son Of Kong to the various Japanese movies in the Godzilla cycle which “borrowed” the character.
Kong: Skull Island is related to none of these other than in name. And, of course, in having a honking great ape taking centre stage.
There is a good cast here – Oscar winners and nominees and fan favourites abound – but the main appeal, let’s be honest, is the ginormous primate himself, who is roughly three times the size of previous incarnations of Kong. As usual, there is no explanation concerning this huge ape (we see Kong parental skeletons, but that’s about it) or the other huge critters which inhabit this island.
These include water buffalo which appear to live underwater, a spider which delivers a death which I thought was a little gruesome for a 12A certificate, and some strange snake/lizard thingies, the main villains of the piece. Don’t ask any questions about the physics of how these huge animals came to be, or how they survive: there are no answers here.
The visuals are terrific – all the creatures are wonderfully designed and animated, and slotted seamlessly into the backgrounds, whether location, set, or CGI. And the action seldom lets up.
The problem – and it’s a big one – is one which was carefully avoided in all three versions of King Kong: you don’t really care. Despite the high-powered talent – Brie Larson, Tom Hiddleston, John Goodman, Samuel L Jackson – the characters remain constructed of cardboard and are given little to do other than run, shoot, take photos, and speak lines. There is nothing about any of them to care about, the sole exception being John C Reilly’s stranded World War II veteran. Even Kong has little to make you feel sympathetic towards him.
This is a film which is enjoyable in terms of watching what’s on screen, but it has missed the opportunity to make you leave the cinema having seen a movie which had a bit more to it than eye candy.
The 3D isn’t bad, but don’t worry if you only see it in 2D