To many critics, Kong is always – and only – the A-list original and Peter Jackson’s handsome remake. They forget that RKO went for cheap thrills with SON OF KONG and get snooty when Dino De Laurentiis’s enjoyable KING KONG and KING KONG LIVES swing into view. However, there has been another parallel universe – one of island gods and rubber-suited monsters, a world of unashamed entertainment. Toho studios’ shaggy suited King Kong once prowled the shores of Japan in KING KONG vs GODZILLA and KING KONG ESCAPES: he is a different creature altogether.
Sitting squarely in the Toho-inspired MonsterVerse (make sure you stay in your seats for the post-credit sequence), KONG: SKULL ISLAND attempts to straddle these movie making traditions. As a consequence, it’s a bit LOST IN TRANSLATION as if they took GODZILLA, KING OF THE MONSTERS! as a blueprint. Like that Americanised re-edit of Ishirō Honda’s 1954 masterpiece, monster mayhem is guaranteed but the decision to cast recognised actors results in awkward narrative inserts. You also get a sense that the script was dubbed over much of the action in the final edit, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts and his team cobbling together a movie from the raw meat of a frenzied shoot.
Taking its setting from APOCALYPSE NOW, KONG’s initial attraction hinges on what’s thrown at the cast and how bravely they can hang on. It’s a mixed bag. Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson are way out of their depth, coming across as distant Methodist cousins at a boozy family reunion. KONG needs more distinctive B-movie stars capable of holding their own amongst the chaos (imagine Bruce Campbell replacing Hiddleston for what could have been). There’s no questioning Samuel L. Jackson‘s CGI chewing ability, we’re just a little too familiar – as he seems to be – with this shit-dealing persona. Only John C. Reilly fits in with his hirsute WWII islander, trampling over the rest of a diverse supporting cast.
The ultimate test is the monster. This is where KONG: SKULL ISLAND truly succeeds, assaulting the audience with set piece after set piece. Gareth Edwards hinted at it with GODZILLA’s John Martin inspired apocalyptic landscapes, but KONG really pushes the use of its digital paintbox to create a stunning array of impressionistic effects. As Kong attacks, sparks rain, flames engulf, water floods and lights strobe. Reinforced by an impressive soundscape, these are the sensational thrills of spectacular fantasy fiction.
If you care about such things, this is the biggest Kong ever to appear on film. That means we can gasp in shock and awe as the almighty ape protects the island and its inhabitants. The movie doesn’t flinch from horror either as the tearing of flesh strays unexpectedly into the territory of CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST and its kin. But there’s also real beauty. The giant water buffalo feels like we’ve taken a detour to Fantastica, as does the similarly proportioned stick insect. The creatures featured here are always striking and memorable, immersing us in a compelling universe of threat and thrill.
Don’t worry about the naysayers. Get in the mood with some full strength cola and a home screening of KING KONG ESCAPES. Then, go see KONG: SKULL ISLAND on a big screen with bladder-shuddering sound.
IN MOVING PICTURES
- Kong decimates a fleet of military helicopters, a chaotic melee of whirling blades, snarling ape and mangled machines.
HUNGRY FOR MORE?
- There’s a bevy of DVD/blu-rays for your home cinema pleasure at Amazon: KING KONG (1933), SON OF KONG (1933), KING KONG ESCAPES (1962), KING KONG vs GODZILLA (1967), KING KONG (1976), KING KONG LIVES (1986), KING KONG (2005).
- Read some other positive reviews: BGR; CONSEQUENCE OF SOUND; DEADLINE; FILM MAFIA; SIGHT AND SOUND.
- Peter Bradshaw at THE GUARDIAN hated it.
- Read more about Toho and their classic monsters.
Featured image: KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2017).