Bringing back the spirit of the classic exploitation film, Kong: Skull Island offers hammy performances, abrupt tonal shifts and ridiculously exaggerated action sequences that give it an absolutely entertaining but ultimately unremarkable quality.
With no illusions of grandeur or anticipation, Kong is revealed in his full power early on in one of many visually compelling action sequences. In fact, the exaggerated colour and frequent slo-mo is one of the most defining features of the film, taking full advantage of a premise about a giant ape in an inspired move following the gritty but bland realism of 2014s Godzilla. Setting it in the close of the Vietnam War also gives Kong: Skull Island more identity and allows for a killer soundtrack yet the characters within the tale feel all too familiar, acting as stock cannon fodder for the various beasts of the island. The all-star cast of John Goodman, Samuel L. Jackson and John C. Reilly go all out with their roles, shouting and spluttering with a keen awareness that they are in a monster movie and allowing us to laugh along with them. However, director Jordon Vogt-Roberts puts them behind our two leads, Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson, who are amongst the blandest of heroes seen in recent memory, deserving no sympathy or attention as they sleepwalk through the film. Despite being the selling point, Kong himself takes a back seat after his thrilling debut with the other creatures of the island posing the primary threat. Though his appearances are brief, they are always the high points with Vogt-Roberts clearly enjoying the creative potential of the cinematic legend rather than the people on the ground we are made to focus on.
Setting up a supposed ‘Monsterverse’ as is fashionable these days, Kong still works as a standalone feature with the set up for sequels thankfully in the background for a majority of the film. The shortcomings of Skull Island are not a reflection of this more powerful, mobile Kong and I am genuinely excited to see him face the destructive mass of Godzilla in their 2020 showdown. The film works best when it accepts the craziness and become like a modern day exploitation picture, killing off characters left and right and using no narrative logic with the character choices, instead making every aspect a source of cheap, dirty entertainment.
Kong: Skull Island is the definition of style over substance, serving as a beautiful thrill ride but having little to keep you invested other than spectacular action and the 70s setting.