KONG: SKULL IS­LAND

Empire (Australasia) - - Contents - JONATHAN PILE

THE INNOCENTS

A MAN CALLED OVE

OUT NOW RATED M / 118 MINS

DI­REC­TOR Jor­dan Vogt-roberts

CAST Tom Hid­dle­ston, Brie Lar­son, Sa­muel L. Jack­son, John C. Reilly, John Good­man

PLOT In the fi­nal days of the Viet­nam War, se­cre­tive or­gan­i­sa­tion Monarch se­cures govern­ment fund­ing to lead an ex­pe­di­tion to a re­cently dis­cov­ered is­land in search of new species. And they find them. Boy, do they find them.

THERE’S A TALE from the set of Kong: Skull Is­land: faced with imag­in­ing the gi­ant ape the au­di­ence would see stand­ing in front of him, Sa­muel L. Jack­son asked three ques­tions. “How big is it? How fast is it? What it do?”

What it does and how fast it is will be fa­mil­iar to any­one who’s seen the beast on screen be­fore. It wres­tles sim­i­larly huge crea­tures, has a strained re­la­tion­ship with man (mostly man’s fault) and is far quicker than any hu­man (so it’s best not to get caught at the back of a flee­ing group). But that ques­tion of size? That’s where things have changed.

This is the sec­ond film in Leg­endary En­ter­tain­ment’s Mon­ster­verse, fol­low­ing Gareth Ed­wards’ Godzilla, and the plan even­tu­ally is to have the two crea­tures face off. And 25 feet of ape (size taken from the Peter Jack­son ver­sion, other heights are avail­able) isn’t go­ing to last long against 350 feet of nu­clear-pow­ered Ja­panese lizard, no mat­ter how an­gry he is. As a re­sult, while still no­tice­ably smaller than Godzilla, this is the big­gest Kong has ever been on screen. He’s also the best thing in this hit-and-miss ad­ven­ture. Fur and sinew mov­ing nat­u­rally, he feels tan­gi­ble

— as though he re­ally is swat­ting he­li­copters out of the sky or tak­ing a mo­ment to ad­mire the South­ern Lights. He’s also got greater depth to his per­son­al­ity than most of the hu­mans.

Close be­hind Kong are the rest of the crea­tures. Spi­ders, stick in­sects and squid (all gi­ant va­ri­eties) call the is­land home, and are on hand to ter­rorise the new ar­rivals. But most fright­en­ing of all are the skull­crawlers — gi­ant, bipedal lizards who killed Kong’s fam­ily and, given the chance, would wipe out all hu­man life on the is­land. Their skele­tal heads may look like the Mait­lands’ first pointy-faced at­tempts at be­ing scary in Beetle­juice, but they’re no less ef­fec­tive once you’ve put that to the back of your mind. And when all these beast­ies are do­ing bat­tle, that’s when the film flies.

But we do have to ad­dress the hu­mans.

A fair num­ber head out to Skull Is­land, with many of the face­less ones dy­ing in the ini­tial bat­tle with Kong — he tak­ing none too kindly to their drop­ping seis­mic charges (bombs, ba­si­cally) on his home. Of the sur­vivors, few make much im­pact. The leads are lum­bered with dull char­ac­ters in­tro­duced with leaden di­a­logue — Lar­son’s pho­tog­ra­pher Ma­son Weaver is asked within mo­ments of her first ap­pear­ing, “Why do you want a gig doc­u­ment­ing a map­ping mis­sion when you’re up for the cover of Time?” It’s about as sub­tle as a gi­ant ape stamp­ing on you.

Per­haps it’s a co­in­ci­dence, but it’s the two ac­tors with a prom­i­nent mid­dle ini­tial who leave the big­gest im­pres­sion. (OK, it def­i­nitely is a co­in­ci­dence.) John C. Reilly’s ma­rooned World War II sol­dier adds much-needed lev­ity, al­though it does feel like he’s in a dif­fer­ent film to ev­ery­one else. So it’s left to Sa­muel L. Jack­son — all bulging eyes and Ezekiel 25:17 in­ten­sity as venge­ful Lieu­tenant Colonel Pre­ston Packard — to keep the en­ergy high when the mon­sters are else­where.

Two films in to the Mon­ster­verse and it’s been a mixed start — both Godzilla and Kong: Skull Is­land fum­bling the hu­man char­ac­ters, but nail­ing the kaiju. There’s po­ten­tial, it’s just yet to be fully re­alised. Of the two, Kong is the more en­ter­tain­ing film, so we’re mov­ing in the right di­rec­tion. Next up: Godzilla: King Of Mon­sters in 2019. Per­haps that can be the film that fi­nally gets it right.

VERDICT King Kong lives! But only just. This is an un­even ad­ven­ture that’s saved by the spec­ta­cle of its towering ti­tle char­ac­ter.

“All my life I’ve just wanted to si­i­i­i­i­i­i­ing!”

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