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Thursday, 27 July 2017

Monster Movie Of The Week: Kong - Skull Island (2017)


Well, that was unexpectedly rather superb.

Kong: Skull Island
takes place in the post-Vietnam War early 1970s, with a team of government 'monster-hunters' fronted by John Goodman - guided by Tom Hiddleston, and protected by Samuel L. Jackson's Colonel Preston Packard and his squad of helicopters - arriving on the newly discovered Skull Island to see what they can find.

We already know from the pre-credit sequence (and the name of the film) that Kong exists on the island so the tension comes not from what will they find on the island but how long will it be till they meet the giant ape... and what will happen next?

And it all goes pear-shaped for the group very quickly.

At this point, the film becomes a survival horror ordeal, writ on a large canvas. Rather than being trapped in a cabin in the woods, our protagonists are spread over a huge, isolated, island where everything appears to be trying to eat them.

We follow disparate groups of survivors eager to find their colleagues, avoid the humongous wildlife (there's more than Kong on Skull Island - but he's "king"), and escape back to civilisation.

When I first heard about this movie I was slightly perplexed by the period setting, and wondered if it was simply a gimmick to use uber-cool Vietnam-era helicopters.

But, once the backstory of the film is set out, it becomes clear that the timing is all part of the story. It's the dawn of satellite imagining, and Skull Island had remained shrouded in a constant wall of storms until that point.

For the most part the film rockets along at great speed. The pacing slacks off around the mid-point, and there are some moments of silliness and clunky dialogue, but overall this is cracking monster movie.

The set pieces are beautifully staged, the majority of the monsters are convincing (even the lizard-like "skull crawlers" - that I'd been quite wary of from the trailers - grew on me), and the story embraces its pulp qualities and goes with it.

Brie Larson tags along as a photo-journalist (in a proto-Ann Darrow role as the "beauty that tames the savage beast") and John C Reilly does a fine turn as a crashed World War II pilot, who is there to explain to the new arrivals the ecosystem of the island and Kong's key role in it.

Mix in real world politics with kaiju and weird science, throw in some Hollow Earth theory for good measure, and this all makes for a winning formula.

Cynics may latch on to the odd plot hole, but if you're willing to suspend disbelief and go with the flow, this is a seriously fun ride (accompanied by a fine '70s soundtrack).

As part of the same universe as the lacklustre 2014 Godzilla, I rather wish Kong: Skull Island had come first, to set the standard and propel the franchise forward with greater momentum. Perhaps seeing the brilliance of Kong might have inspired the team behind Godzilla to make some much-needed changes to their efforts.

It's also worth remembering, as is the style these days, Kong being part of a 'shared universe' means there's a crucial post-credits scene that's well-worth sticking around for, as it plants the seeds of future films in the franchise.

With only minor reservations - mainly from the odd duff line of dialogue - Kong: Skull Island has emerged, unexpectedly, as one of my favourite modern monster movies in recent years.

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