Brace yourselves for monkey madness, folks – the big guy is back, and not for the last time. Now boasting more bulk than ever before, Kong undergoes a Dredd-style transformation in the brashest, ballsiest blockbuster of the summer.
Biologist Bill Randa (John Goodman) is convinced of the scientific value of a near inaccessible and wholly uncharted island in the Pacific Ocean. Securing funding and an escort unit of Vietnam veterans fresh from their tour of duty, he leads an expedition to the island, only to find a lost world brimming with unimaginable monsters.
But this is not Randa’s film: this tale belongs in the hands of the ape king, as seen through the inscrutable eyes of ex-British Special Air Service agent James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston). While the reboot juggles an enormous ensemble cast – not least of whom are Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), Weaver (Brie Larson) and Marlow (John C. Reilly) – these two males are its moral centre, both misunderstood beasts whose violence stems from the urge to protect.
It is certainly an overwhelmingly masculine film – take Kong’s chest-beating, captured by Toby Kebbell (whose dual role is akin to that of Andy Serkis in 2005’s King Kong) and the pervasive military vibe – but Jurassic World writer Derek Connolly’s sense for elaborate set pieces is nicely matched to the character nuance brought by Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler, The Fall). Our lead characters’ motivations are more complex than first thought – Packard’s need for vengeance stems as much from the need for just one victory (after the shame of Vietnam) as the deaths of his men. As for the rest, well… someone’s clearly doing some franchise building.
Kong’s most refreshing aspect is its desire to call back to its history without simply (sorry) aping it. We never make it to New York, because any attempt to transport this universe’s Kong would be laughable. Instead, classic moments are recontextualised, and old action movie tropes (like the noble sacrifice) are played out with surprising conclusions. No attempt to recreate the ‘wonder’ of Kong’s first reveal could suffice for a franchise so well-established, and so all comparisons to the original are moot. This is not a tale of Kong’s enslavement, nor a tale of man versus beast; it is a story of what happens when we unknowingly shake the hornets’ nest.
Skull Island, then, shares less in common with Godzilla and its predecessors than it does with 2010’s Predators, an underwhelming flick with an intriguing premise. It relocates capable, intimidating figures to an environment in which they are at the bottom of the food chain, then lets loose on them. Where Predators failed, Kong: Skull Island is alive with promise unsquandered. Its reeling, slow-motion battle sequences and constant focus on making the cast look as epic as humanly possible are joyous.
Put aside your nostalgia and experience Kong: Skull Island with fresh eyes – the reward is two hours of relentless, colour-drenched fun. The king is back and better than ever.
Kong: Skull Island opens in cinemas on Thursday March 8.