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Kong Skull Island reimagines the origin of the mythic Kong in a compelling, original adventure from director Jordan Vogt-Roberts. In the film, a diverse team of explorers is brought together to venture deep into an uncharted island in the Pacific – as beautiful as it is treacherous – unaware that they are crossing into the domain of the mythic Kong.
More than eight decades have passed since former Mail war correspondent Edgar Wallace created King Kong, but still the giant ape exerts a fierce grip on the collective imagination.
What a shame, then, that Kong: Skull Island is so feebly plotted and scripted, monkeying around with the story and, in the biggest misjudgment of all, revealing Kong in all his hairy majesty even before the opening credits.
The picture begins on a remote Pacific island with a wartime confrontation between two airmen — one American, the other Japanese — who have parachuted out of their stricken planes.
But, soon, they are distracted from the business of killing each other by the great beast itself, an idiotic move by director Jordan Vogt-Roberts and his band of screenwriters
They include Dan Gilroy, who wrote and directed the captivatingly tense 2014 thriller Nightcrawler and really ought to know better.
Anyway, with the suspense of Kong’s entrance shattered before some folk in the audience have even started tucking in to their popcorn, we then skip forward to 1973.
It is shortly before the Fall of Saigon and, in some ways more significantly, just after the rise of Black Sabbath.
A Seventies soundtrack that also includes David Bowie and Jefferson Airplane is probably the best thing about this film, notwithstanding the presence of Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Brie Larson, Toby Kebbell and a hopelessly miscast Tom Hiddleston.
But the point of the setting is not only to facilitate good music. America, reeling from the Vietnam War and with Watergate brewing, is in turmoil.
To make matters worse, ships and planes are unaccountably going missing in the Pacific, so a fellow played by Goodman who specialises in finding ‘massive unidentified terrestrial organisms’ — every government should have one — gets the go-ahead to see whether, lurking at the heart of the mystery, there might be a creature the size of a skyscraper. And guess what . . ?
The muscle for his expedition is provided by maverick U.S. Army man Preston Packard (Jackson) and his unit, who have axes to grind since being given the runaround by the Viet Cong.
But they still need someone who knows his way through an impenetrable rainforest. Enter former SAS hero James Conrad (Hiddleston), whom we know to be rock-hard because, in time-honoured bad-movie fashion, we’ve seen him beating someone up in a bar.
Now, Hiddleston has already proved himself as this kind of character, not least in acclaimed BBC drama The Night Manager. Yet here, in this Pacific archipelago, he is all at sea.
Alongside Jackson in particular, who gives us his standard, mildly deranged alpha-male act, Hiddleston just seems fey, like a posh, faintly camp sommelier who has blundered into the wrong movie.
Maybe that’s why he musters barely a test tube’s worth of chemistry with the obligatory love interest, Mason Weaver (Larson). She is a photographer, although not a very good one, judging by her insistence on taking pictures of this wildly colourful, just-discovered island in black and white.
She might look cute clutched in a large, leathery palm once we discover Kong is actually a sweetie at heart, but she’ll never get a picture spread in National Geographic. So much for the human protagonists — what of the furred, feathered and scaled cast members?
This is an island that could sustain an entire David Attenborough series all on its own.
Kong’s neighbours include monumental chickens, enormous spiders, vast stick insects and, most dangerous of all, colossal lizards, Kong’s sworn enemies, led by an especially big one known, conveniently, as the Big One.
In fairness, Vogt-Roberts does not waste all the special effects and motion capture bells and whistles at his disposal: the creatures are brought to life convincingly.
But what a disappointing film this is, all the same. There are deliberate echoes of Apocalypse Now and Jurassic Park, but they ring terribly hollow.
There’s scarcely any tension, no exciting narrative thrust and rather painfully strained attempts at humour, even by the always excellent John C. Reilly — whose character I won’t divulge, just in case you really don’t have anything better to do on Sunday afternoon.
But I hope you do. In fact, you could fare a lot worse than staying at home and watching the DVD of The Hobbit director Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake of King Kong. It is superior in every way.
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