Kong: Skull Island opens in the early 70s, still in the throes of the Vietnam war, Bill Randa (John Goodman) along with his assistant Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) manage to get an expedition off the ground. By convincing the US government that an uncharted island in the Pacific holds some Palaeolithic revelation and enlisting the services of hunter-tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), and military escort Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson). This will be no holiday for the island is permanently surrounded by a dangerous typhoon cloud, which has helpfully cordoned off the island from the rest of the world for evolutionary eons.
Randa’s motley crew manages to penetrate the weather barrier and are instantaneously confronted by Kong, our leviathan gorilla, who proceeds to predictably squash the helicopters like flies and evade bullets. The cast is immediately halved and so begins the film’s narrative arc; our survivors must pick through this uncharted and hostile landscape to find refuge on the island’s other shore.
Kong, however, is not the only megafauna to inhabit the prehistoric isle. The hapless explorers encounter many gargantuan creatures which all seem hell-bent on vengeance (or natural selection plays out) as their habitat is disturbed and ultimately destroyed by the unwelcome guests. As more slaughter ensues, perhaps only the bizarre Hank Marlow (John. C. Reilly) - a lost WW2 soldier - can offer some salvation and a chance of escape.
All things considered, perhaps not everyone deserves rescuing from director Vogt-Robert’s megafauna-trauma fest. Hiddleston’s James Conrad is lacklustre, he can’t compete with the comedic brilliance of John Goodman, the equally impressive John. C. Reilly, who excels as goofy soldier Marlow, or the delusional, hardened commander Packard. Hiddleston’s scenes could have been heavily edited, they are so utterly unrewarding, his character motivations left largely unexplained. Most impressive however, is Brie Larson’s unscrupulous photojournalist, Mason. She brings an impressive naturalness and buoyancy to the role and that indie quality that Larson possesses shines through, even in a blockbuster.
Elements of the film do feel contrived including the soldier’s boring and hackneyed banter, the inevitable soundtrack of Black Sabbath and Rolling Stones signalling it's timeframe. Most grating is the depiction of the US military, patriotic saviours in green fatigues destroying whatever to get the job done. Vogt-Roberts does, however, touch upon timely green issues, perhaps saving his ‘gun-ho’ blockbuster from complete inevitability. Even though these rare and giant animals are the natural predators, especially the nasty looking lorry-sized lizard, the film’s real monsters are the humans; invading, maiming, colonising and killing everything in their sights. On Skull Island and in Vietnam alike.
This is Vogt-Roberts first foray into big-budget blockbusters following his first feature, 2015’s Kings of Summer. He clearly loves monsters, allowing the special effects talents of VFX company Industrial Light & Magic to shine through in producing believable, sometime horrific creations often to the detriment of the rest of the film.
Kong: Skull Island is an effects laden monster movie which overall fails to impress.