Review: Kong: Skull Island

Originally published on CommonSpace.

Entry number two in Legendary’s MonsterVerse series (beginning with 2014’s Godzilla), Kong: Skull Island is a more entertaining romp, trading environmental worries for big monsters punching other big monsters in the face.

Into the belly of the beast go a ragtag bunch consisting of army specialists, explorers, a conspiracy theorist, and an anti-war photographer. Samuel L. Jackson and John C. Reilly know exactly what to do here – both are so colourfully over the top. Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson are the movie’s moral compass, yet neither have a chance to flex their remarkable acting chops. Hiddleston is endlessly cool wielding a samurai sword, and Larson traverses the jungle like she was raised there, and that’s cool too.

Kong himself appears remarkably early. Audiences have been conditioned to expect a surveying of widespread carnage, a monstrous howl from the distance, a glimpse of a limb, before finally earning a close-up an hour deep into the film.

Kong is devoted to his home, and shows up right on cue as Jackson’s squad blows Skull Island to bits in the hopes of intimidating anything that might consider hurting them.

Comparing Hiddleston and Larson with Reilly and Jackson is key to the film’s rewards and pitfalls. If Kong is an entertaining, fun, funny spectacle, hamming it up pays dividends. If it seeks to continue the serious tone of Godzilla, then Reilly and Jackson undermine any real threat, turning a terrifying situation into a comical boy scout camping trip interspersed with Skullcrawlers eating people.

It’s tonally incoherent, often from one scene to the next. But it never fails to be effortlessly cool. Kong’s silhouette against the setting sun, the climactic battle between two behemoths, and Brie Larson shooting a monster in the damn face – cool.

It might take a few more entries in the MonsterVerse to know if Kong got it right, but it deserves to be seen on the big screen, has a fair few laughs, and if nothing else, just how it combines political satire with Samuel L Jackson blowing things up while making you care about a massive ape is both confusing and a delight.

3/5

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