2017 Certificate: 12

Synopsis

The legend of King Kong gets a rip-roaring reimagining in this monstrous mash-up of Apocalypse Now and Jurassic Park. It's 1973 and as the US withdraws troops from Vietnam, a helicopter unit led by Lt Colonel Packard (Samuel L Jackson) is assigned to escort a secret expedition to map an uncharted Pacific island "where myth and science meet". Like the soldiers and scientists, British tracker Conrad (Tom Hiddlestone) and war photographer Weaver (Brie Larson) think they've seen it all. But the island's resident ape-god knocks that idea out of them before their feet have even touched the ground... And that's just the beginning. Survival of the fittest? You'd better get fitter.

Director

  • Jordan Vogt-Roberts

Cast

  • Tom Hiddleston

  • Samuel L Jackson

  • Brie Larson

  • Toby Kebbell

  • John C Reilly

  • John Goodman

  • Thomas Mann

  • Corey Hawkins

Review

A monster movie for anyone who loves the smell of napalm in the morning, this noisily enjoyable update of the Kong story is not afraid to wear its heart (of darkness) on its sleeve.

So welcome to Apocalypse Now Park, where helicopters fly majestically towards the sun, Vietnam-weary troops find themselves on a wild goose chase involving a mythical colossus (formerly Marlon Brando, now a dirty great ape), and the jungles are alive with giant, ravening beasties.

With America looking to save face during the withdrawal from Vietnam, government science chief Randa (John Goodman) thinks it'd be a great idea for the US to call dibs on a recently discovered island steeped in myth and wonder. And hopefully lots of plunderable resources.

To get the scientists in, Randa secures the services of airborne commander Packard (Jackson) and his helicopter squadron (pretty much mirror images of James Cameron's Aliens crew, with Shea Whigham in the nihilistic Hicks role and Thomas Mann as a Hudson-esque whiner).

The team is completed by SAS-trained tracker Conrad (Hiddlestone; bit of a weak link) and Brie Larson's self-styled "anti-war photographer" Weaver.

If there wasn't much meat on the characters to begin with, there's even less when the island's monstrous inhabitants have finished with them.

Running into Kong on arrival, the objective turns from observe-and-report to run-for-your-life in the blink of an eye. Or, more accurately, the beat of a chest.

With the survivors split up and scattered across the realm, the action plunges Conrad and Weaver into a Treasure Island-ish escapade involving a lost tribe, a Ben Gunn-ish WWII survivor (John C Reilly, great fun), and a converted shipwreck full of neat trompe l'oeil art.

Meanwhile, Captain Ahab - sorry, Colonel Packard - leads the military stragglers on a mission to destroy Moby Kong.

In terms of monster movie evolution, this is little more than a sidestep. Everyone appreciates a clever homage, but Skull Island suffers from an overload of borrowed visuals and off-the-rack characters. Familiarity breeds contempt.

The decision to reveal Kong so early will also upset purists. Clearly keen to cut to the chase, the first encounter between Kong and the interlopers is an impressive show of digital strength.

But in terms of dread and suspense, it has nothing like the impact of a trembling water glass.

The film also treads an uncertain line between intentional silliness and horror. Life here is cheaper than most of the gags. Ultimately there's only one character we're supposed to care about... and he's not even human.

Yet as loud and derivative as it is, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts still springs some cool surprises, most notably through the emergence of various camouflaged giants and the aforementioned art installation.

Thanks to the formidable effects and thumping forward momentum, you'll be through your popcorn in no time.

Elliott Noble