Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Starring: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Brie Larson, John C. Reilly, Corey Hawkins, John Ortiz, Tian Jing, Toby Kebbell
Written by: Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly and (story) John Gatins
Running Time: 118 mins
Release date: 9th March 2017
The giant monkey boy is back! Since Hollywood first introduced the enormous ape that is King Kong way back in 1933, filmmakers have tried and failed to match the brilliance of that original movie. The Japanese film industry tried with its battles with their own giant creature, Godzilla. There was the campy 1976 remake with Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange and the equally terrible so-called sequel King Kong Lives. Even Peter Jackson failed with his three-hour bore fest. Now we have this, a new entry that is leading to a brand new franchise called the MonsterVerse. The question is, have they got it right this time?
1973, just as the Vietnam war is coming to an end, a team of scientists want to explore an uncharted island in the Pacific. With an escort of soldiers fresh from fighting in Nam, led by gung-ho Preston Packard, a former SAS soldier, James Conrad, as a survival guide and war photographer, Mason Weaver, they head to this mysterious place only to discover that it is infested with giant creatures and the King of them all, Kong, a huge ape. Now they have arrived, they have to find a way to stay alive from these monsters.
This new franchise, which started with the 2014 version of Godzilla, doesn’t try to remake the 1933 classic. If you are expecting any of the familiar trappings of that great film or any of its inferior remakes, then you will be sorely disappointed. This is a new invention of the Kong story and, for the most part, it works. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, who was a strange choice considering his last film was the independent gem, The Kings of Summer, is obviously a very cine-literate filmmaker and knows his movies. What he has delivered is a mash-up of Apocalypse Now meets The Land That Time Forgot, with a splash of Hell In The Pacific thrown in for good measure, while still remembering who the star is.
Using slow motion, amazing cinematography (the image of Kong standing in silhouette with the sun behind him and helicopters heading his way is breath-taking) and a perfectly selected 1973 soundtrack, Vogt-Roberts isn’t trying to philosophise or dissect the legend of the monster. Instead, he has given us a blockbuster movie with a B-movie heart. This is all to do with the spectacle. This is a big, loud, sometimes dumb popcorn munching adventure, where the human characters are secondary to the enormously exciting fight sequences between the furry giant and the other oversized creatures that live on the island, whether it be a giant squid or the Skull Crawlers, a lizard-type thing with a giant skull as a head.
You have to remember that you never watched a Japanese Godzilla film for the witty, smart dialogue. You watched them for the action and this does exactly that. Gone are the ponderings about how Kong got to be this way. Gone is the awkward love story between beast and woman. We just have lots of explosions, people getting crushed and running away from whatever is hiding in the mist. It is a two-hour no-brainer adventure. The script is terrible with some truly awful lines and the humans come across as one-dimensional, with very little to do but run away or look in awe but why worry about those things when you get to see Kong being surrounded by tentacles from a watery creature?
The cast is impressive and they do bring their own personal charisma to the show but they are all given very little to do but be there as humans in peril. Tom Hiddleston is badly miscast as the SAS soldier who looks like he just wandered onto the set from The Night Manager. As good an actor as he is, he doesn’t look like a survival expert and often doesn’t show it. Brie Larson, again, is easy on the eye but isn’t given anything to do but stand looking amazed while taking photos, not really having to prove that she is a former Oscar winner. Only Samuel L. Jackson gets to add a small level of depth as the avenging leader of his troop and that is by being as Samuel L. Jackson as he possibly could be, including quoting from the bible, while John C. Reilly, as a World War II pilot stranded on the island for years, brings some humour to the proceedings.
Anyone looking for something of a more intellectual level should walk away immediately. Those looking for a fun, sometimes exciting, adventure that is reminiscent of the Doug McClure films of the 1970’s are in for a treat. It’s nonsense, it’s sometimes silly, always impressive with its overall look (the opening attack on the helicopters is stunning) and just two hours of pure entertainment.
Please note: Stick around till the end of the credits for an extra scene that may excite monster fans.