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At The Movies

Kong Skull Island

★★★★

Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts

Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, John C. Reilly

 

The producers of 2014’s ‘Godzilla’ begin the expansion of their Marvel-style Monster Universe with the big, loud and action packed ‘Kong Skull Island’.

The film’s setting takes place in 1973 at the tail end of the Vietnam War. Richard Nixon has just declared the start of the withdrawal of American forces from the Southeast Asian region and amid all the uncertainty the White House is visited by Bill Randa (John Goodman). Randa is a scientist who has recently discovered the existence of a hidden island in the South pacific ocean and wants to mount an expedition to explore it and the mysteries it may contain. After he is given the finances and green light to proceed Randa begins assembling his team.

First he recruits the services of Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson). Packard is a hard nosed career military man in charge of a helicopter squadron that’s still stationed at a base in Vietnam. He’s a true believer in the war and doesn’t know what to do with himself now that it’s over.

To his relief he and his men are given one final mission. They are to transport and escort Randa and his contingent of scientists to and from the island.

Next Randa acquires the help of a former S.A.S captain and now skilled tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston). Conrad carries the air of a man who has been demoralized by events in his past and as a result has become a hardened and cynical ‘gun for hire’. But it quickly becomes evident that on the inside he still cares and ultimately will do the right thing.

Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) is the last to join the team. She’s a war photojournalist who has spent some time covering the Vietnam war. She’s fearless, upfront and idealistic – the kind of journalist that Packard holds responsibile for turning public opinion against the war. She’s there to document the expedition but suspects that there’s more to it than what Randa lets on.

With the team assembled the expedition heads towards the island. Mounting their military helicopters they manage to break through the thick storm layer surrounding Skull Island and promptly begin bombing it with seismic charges. This does not sit well with the islands most notorious resident, King Kong. He shows up to the scene to teach the newcomers some manners.

Kong goes on to wreak havoc, destroying all the helicopters, killing much of their crews and scattering the remaining members of the team around the island.

From this point on the expeditions only mission is to regroup, survive everything the island can throw at them and get to the extraction point.

Skull Island has a fairly large cast. The leads are Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson but John Goodman and the rest of the supporting cast get lot’s of screen time as well. As a result, this left the lead characters feeling underdeveloped as there was not enough screen time to give them complex character traits and they are for the most part defined by their professions. On the other hand it was nice to spend time with the side characters as this helped alleviate them above the usual cannon fodder for the monsters’ status.

Special mention goes to John C. Riley. He plays Hank Marlow, a WWII era fighter pilot who crash landed on the island and managed to survive there for over two decades. He is the films comic relief. Alas, as funny as he is, Riley’s brand of humour at times does not mesh well with the overall serious tone that the film is going for.

But this, after all, is a giant monster film so the filmmakers can be forgiven for not offering us nuanced and complex human characters. At the end of the day what truly matters are the monsters. And in this department the film delivers. King Kong is bigger and meaner then ever. The fight scenes involving Kong are glorious orgies of destruction and are creative enough to keep the action exciting and engaging for the audience. Throughout the film the other residence of Skull Island are revealed. For the most part the monster designs are inventive, and in one case downright terrifying.

Although I must admit that the main baddies left me feeling a little underwhelmed as they looked fairly generic and similar in design to a number of other film monsters I’ve seen over the years.

Other aspects of the film deserving of special mention are the look and the soundtrack. The film is very colourful, taking full advantage of the exotic jungle location it’s set in. This is a nice respite from the grim and ‘gritty’ desaturated grey/blue look that a lot of films of this type have been going for lately. There are some interesting shots, but overall past films about the Vietnam war appear to be the inspiration here. Much the same can be said about the soundtrack. If you’ve seen films like ‘Apocalypse Now’, ‘Platoon’, ‘Forrest Gump’ etc. then you’ll have a pretty good idea what the soundtrack is like. For those who haven’t, lot’s and lot’s of 1960’s – early 70’s rock.

If you want to have a good time watching an epic and colourful monster action adventure film where a giant ape fights man and beast alike then this is a film for you. Try to catch it on IMAX in 3D to get the full experience if you can.

 

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