Ape-ocalypse wow: Tom Hiddleston and Samuel L Jackson in Kong: Skull Island
Twelve years on from his last big-budget outing, movie mega-ape King Kong gets another reboot with Kong: Skull Island starring Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L Jackson, John Goodman, John C Reilly and Brie Larson. David Roy investigates this latest round of don't-call-him-a-monkey business
HE'S back, and this time he's staying on home turf: King Kong, the most famous ape in movie history – sorry, Clyde – returns in Kong: Skull Island, an all-star action flick set in the giant gorilla's Pacific Ocean-based native land.
It's 1973 and the Vietnam war is winding down. Sensing that the funding for his experimental monster-hunting programme Monarch is about to be cut to the bone, Bill Randa (John Goodman) and geologist chum Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) blag their way out to a previously unexplored island notorious for attracting plane crashes and shipwrecks in one last attempt to discover a giant creature Randa believes the US government already knows to be lurking where "God did not finish creation".
"The 1954 nuclear tests weren't tests – they were trying to kill something!" he raves to Richard Jenkins's skeptical Washington senator, who greenlights the excursion mainly to get the pair out of his office.
Their perilous passage through the violent weather system enveloping Skull Island – just in case its name alone wasn't enough to put you off a visit – is provided by maverick army chopper pilot Preston Packard (Samuel L Jackson) and his squad of salty, Vietnam-blooded troops, which include motormouth grunt Slivko (Thomas Mann) and the pragmatic Cpt Cole (Shea Whigham).
Also onboard for the rough ride are ex-SAS tracker Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), sassy 'anti-war' photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) and biologist San Lin (Tian Jing).
Naturally, the first thing Randa and co do is pepper the surface of this uncharted island paradise with 'seismic charges' from the air in order to take scientific readings from beneath its surface.
This affords director Jordan Vogt-Roberts the opportunity to wow us with a bravura sequence in which he gleefully conducts an explosive mini-homage to iconic newsreel footage of the US army's aerial bombardments in Vietnam set to a thumping Black Sabbath number – just one of a slew of classic rockers on the film's era-appropriate soundtrack.
Unfortunately, King Kong is not so partial to the smell of napalm in the morning: the angry ape reacts in a predictably p-o'd manner by swatting at the army helicopters like so many flies, igniting a fiery man-made machine vs impressively rendered CGI monster melee which leaves both sides battered, bloody and spoiling for a re-match.
Only a scene/film-stealing John C Reilly's long-marooned and gone slightly screwy ("Am I talking out-loud? I can't tell anymore!") airforce man Hank Marlow advises the human newcomers against further skirmishes – despite his grandiose title, it seems King Kong is not the biggest monster lurking in the lush tropical greenery of Skull Island, which the explorers have only a 48-hour window to escape from.
In an era blighted by brainlessly composed, clumsily executed CGI explosion-fests peppered with tin-ear dialogue, Kong: Skull Island unexpectedly delivers a massive payload of concussive yet engaging action/adventure thrills and spills laden with superb visuals – Kong has never looked better in colour – which pay regular homage to iconic King Kong imagery, plus entertainingly snappy dialogue which helps the two-hour running time to breeze by.
All the players treat their performances with just the right pinch of self-awareness to jive with the film's general tone of knowing absurdity: a hilarious smash-cut between an unfortunate army man being munched by a giant computer-rendered creature and a fellow soldier chowing down on a juicy sandwich sums up Vogt-Roberts' pointedly playful approach to his film, which proves itself to be that rarest of beasts – a fun blockbuster that doesn't out-stay its welcome.
Roll on imminent sequels Godzilla: King Of The Monsters and Godzilla Vs Kong.
KONG: SKULL ISLAND (12A, 118 mins) Action/Adventure/Fantasy/Romance. Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L Jackson, Corey Hawkins, Tian Jing, John Goodman, John C Reilly. Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts