Plagiarists! Tinseltown is full of them. Marvel took a chance by creating a shared cinematic universe, were their characters regularly crossover, and it paid off big time. Now everyone else is trying to replicate that profitable formula. DC has the Justice League in the pipeline, Netflix followed suit with the Defenders and even Universal is resurrecting their classic monsters for potential team up films. Not to be outdone Legendary Pictures has laid down the groundwork for a series of Kaiju blockbusters. First up was the 2014 Godzilla (directed by Gareth Edwards) and hot on its heels is everyone’s favourite climber of skyscrapers King Kong.
Kong: Skull Island is set in the year 1973. Thanks to advances in satellite technology the United States have discovered an unchartered isle that agent William Randa (a slender John Goodman) wishes to explore. Using funds procured from the senate, Randa assembles an expeditionary force comprising of scientists, an award winning photographer and a former SAS operative that specializes in tracking. Given the risk that the mission carries, a platoon of soldiers is also recruited to guard the team. Samuel L. Jackson (star of Snakes on a Plane) plays Preston Packard, the commanding officer of said military outfit.
Lieutenant colonel Packard hates serpents on planes so he chooses to transport the explorers via helicopter. After braving a storm, that surrounds their destination, the team arrive at Skull Island. Kong wastes no time in greeting the uninvited guests to his home. Like a chimp tossing faeces, the giant primate downs the choppers by hurling tree trunks at them. Randa, Packard and the remaining survivors now find themselves stranded in an inhospitable land. Their only means of escape is a rendezvous point situated on the northern coast. Unfortunately for them carnivorous creatures called Skull Crawlers patrol the passage. Skull Crawlers? Yeah, even the movie remarks that their name is corny.
My rating for Kong: Skull Island is a three out of five. An entertaining popcorn flick, but I’m not sure there is enough substance here to birth a franchise of creature feature sequels. The movie’s biggest problem is that the characters are so forgettable. Brie Larson, who plays the photographer, contributes little to the story other than looking fine in a tight vest. Tom Hiddleston’s portrayal of an ex-SAS soldier reminds me of the Predators protagonist. Both of them are accomplished survivalists who are totally devoid of personality. Most of the other actors are just fodder, waiting to be devoured by Skull Island’s assortment of bugs and flying reptiles.
I suppose Samuel L. Jackson was okay, as the crazed leader who is more concerned with killing Kong than getting off the island. Given that the ape slaughtered many of his men I can understand why he would be motivated by revenge. Retreat is also not on his agenda, as he recently toured Vietnam. After that fiasco he is not keen to abandon another war zone. My favourite character was a chap named Hank Marlow, who has been marooned on Skull Island since the forties. He’s a funny guy and I rooted for his safety, so he could reunite with the family he hasn’t seen in decades.
Even if the flesh and blood actors didn’t wow me their CG co-stars did at least leave a positive impression. The battles between Kong and Skull Island’s wildlife are spectacular. Based on this film and Planet of the Apes, it’s safe to say that Hollywood has mastered the art of animating virtual simians. Unlike Godzilla 2014, the makers of Kong are not shy about showing off the titular giant at every opportunity. Just as well. I see no point in teasing audiences with glimpses of the headline act. No one pays to watch the dull humans go about their business. We want to see the monkey bash stuff and in that regard Kong: Skull Island delivers.
This review is dedicated to the memory of Harambe. May 1999 to May 2016.