Film review: Kong: Skull Island – A lot of monkeying around?

The fact that Legendary Pictures are busying themselves with an epic Godzilla vs King Kong showdown is one of the worst kept secrets in Hollywood. Naturally, this presented a problem for Peter Jackson’s Kong who simply doesn’t measure up against the giant lizard in 2013’s Godzilla.

And in Hollywood, size really does matter; therefore the monstrous ape has been given a monumental upgrade featuring an all-star cast and some serious talent behind the camera. But is Kong: Skull Island as bananas as its trailers would suggest? Or are we looking at something a little more mainstream?

At the climax of the Vietnam War, a team of explorers and mercenaries head to an unchartered island in the South Pacific in an effort to document its inhabitants. Little do they know they are crossing into the domain of vicious man-eating monsters and the legendary Kong.

With a cast that includes Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, John Goodman, Samuel L Jackson and John C Reilly, you’d be forgiven for thinking everything is hunky dory over on Skull Island, but this spectacular film isn’t without its flaws. A lack of character development and a severe tonal imbalance mean it’s a beautiful near miss that thankfully manages to pull itself up from a crash landing.

Jordan Vogt-Roberts in his first big budget feature directs a film that is absolutely staggering to watch, with stunning cinematography and exceptionally well-choreographed battles between the gigantic ape and his many adversaries. Giving indie directors the chance to work with big studios to produce blockbusters is something that seems incredibly popular at the moment.

After all, Gareth Edwards took up the challenge of rebooting Godzilla in 2013 with stunning results and Colin Trevorrow was entrusted by Steven Spielberg to rekindle the public’s love affair with Jurassic Park back in 2015 and that worked a treat too.

Here, Vogt-Roberts utilises both of those franchises to great effect, even managing to shoehorn a tasteful reference to Samuel L Jackson’s Jurassic Park character, Ray Arnold. Elsewhere, though, the film falls a little flat. The constant switch in tone from comedy to action leaves a sour taste in the mouth, though John C Reilly’s stranded pilot is a pleasure to watch and lightens up proceedings.

Tom Hiddleston does well in the leading role, though as an SAS operative, he feels a little miscast and Samuel L Jackson’s Preston Packard is immensely dislikeable and his gripe with Kong is forced. It creates a subplot that doesn’t really need to be there.

The special effects, however, are top notch, helped by the splendid cinematography. The gorgeous sunsets and sweeping tropical landscapes have a whiff of Apocalypse Now and the misty terrain brings back memories of Jurassic Park’s first sequel, The Lost World.

Overall, Kong: Skull Island is a stunning film filled to the brim with colour, charming effects and great performances. However, it is a little light on character development and that tone issue is frustrating at times, but as a precursor to a mighty monster battle, it does a fine job in continuing the franchise and setting its future.

Leaving the cinema, though, I was left with a concern for when the two behemoths, Godzilla and Kong, finally meet. Each film has given their respective creature a ‘personality’, and if one of them must inevitably die, who on earth do you choose to perish?

Kong: Skull Island rating: 7/10