Film Review: Kong : Skull Island

‘1944. Somewhere over the South Pacific’ says the film’s opening title card as the viewer is shown a couple of pilots marooned on one of the islands. The original 1933 black-and-white classic ‘King Kong’ had set the template for a number of films on the great ape – the 1976 and Peter Jackson’s 2005 versions coming readily to mind. Perhaps to sideline stereotypes, Vogt-Roberts’ latest rendering has all the CGI and visual effects one can expect of a ‘Duty and the Beast’ sort of flick.

Cut to 1973, when Nixon is announcing the culmination of the Vietnam war.  Lt. Col. Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson in one of his least significant roles) is one of those disillusioned by his country’s submission to the Vietnam government. He’s overjoyed when asked to accompany an expedition to a remote island uncover mysterious beings initiated by Bill Randa (John Goodman), who heads a shady quasi-government agency, Monarch. Joining them in their mission is photo-journalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larsen). Enlisted by Randa is ex-commando turned tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston).

‘Skull Island’ is designed to showcase the legendary King Kong in all his g(l)ory and splendour, and not the infamy of the Vietnam War. In fact the dependence on the mythical monsters – grotesque spiders, hideous squids, giant bisons – is so pronounced that the human characters, and characterizations are reduced to a bare minimum. Jackson looks a shadow of his former self, Oscar winner, Larsen’s role is superficial while Hiddeston and Goodman are relegated to playing supporting roles.

Coming late into the film, it is John Reilly as WW II veteran Lt. Hank Marlow, marooned on the island for 28 long years, who makes an impact. So too is the 104 foot tall Kong, who punches and plucks helicopters out of mid-air. The fight sequences between the enigmatic Kong (with a soft corner towards humans) and the other beasts out to devour humans are watchable – not all monkey business though!

The cinematography and background score – with a more than generous earful of soundtracks from Creedance Clearwater Revival – too are worth a trip to the island. Fans of this particular fantasy genre would do well to stay back till the final and credits roll over – they have a surprise awaiting them.

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