It is evident upon viewing the “from the makers of Godzilla” tagline on the poster that Legendary Pictures are eager to kick-start their own franchise in the same vein as Marvel. It also appears that they have adapted the exact same formula as Godzilla by plucking an unknown independent filmmaker out of limited field and into grand blockbuster territory, which was the case with Gareth Edward’s Monsters back in 2010 (with his reboot of Godzilla in 2014 and last year’s highly anticipated Rogue One). Here it is Jordan Vogt-Roberts who has chosen to helm this project, having only directed one independent film, The Kings of Summer back in 2013. The eighth wonder of the world, Kong, has existed in a variety of pop culture forms since 1933 with a 1976 remake and a better recognised 2005 remake helmed by Mr. Peter Jackson (Yes, he doesn’t just make Lord of The Rings films) so another remake was inevitable. The question is has this new addition to Kong’s legacy been both worth the wait and if so, is it any good?
The film takes place in 1973 and focuses on a group of individuals ranging from soldiers to government agents given the task of travelling to uncharted territory referred to as “Skull: Island”. These individuals then come up with the “brilliant idea” to start dropping explosives on the island to see if the ground is hollow. The result, of course, involves an enlarged and angry ape responding in quite an aggressive manner. The team then needs to find a manner of escaping from this treacherous island before the other violent creatures that inhabit the uncharted territory finish them off. What I admired the most about the film was that it took no time to get off the ground and get all of these characters to their destination. The focus of the film isn’t so much on these characters but on entertaining the audience with the physical confrontations between the gigantic behemoths. This is where the film shines immensely.
Unlike Edward’s Godzilla, Vogt-Roberts does not shy away from the spectacle of the showdown between Kong and those who dare challenge him. I had the pleasure of viewing this film in IMAX 3D which completely enhanced the experience. Kong’s size effectively undermines the viewer and when he roars, I’m not going to deny it….I did wince a couple of times. Kong is a fantastic creation himself (perfectly performed by a combination of Terry Notary and Toby “we’ll forgive you for FANT4STIC” Kebbell using mo-cap), and his size is emphasised particularly well in a sequence where we witness Kong walking through water and see the water fall from his arms as well as the size of the wave that is created as he strides through it. As for the other creatures, they’re pretty forgettable to be honest. The Skullcrawlers, a term coined by John C. Reilly’s character, only appear to provide the occasional jump scare.
Speaking of forgettable, there is some truly weak characterisation here. Tom Hiddleston’s James Conrad is extremely bland and Brie Larson’s Mason Weaver seems only to be there in order to recapture the brilliant chemistry of Naomi Watts and Kong in Jackson’s film, which is rushed into the feature in the last few minutes. Other characters like San Lin (Jing Tian), Reg Silviko (Thomas Mann) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) are given absolutely nothing to do. Then there is John C. Reilly’s Hank Marlow, who has been stranded on the island since the Second World War and is nowhere near as irritating as the trailer would have you believe. He is given a lot to work with and there is a surprising amount of emotional backdrop to his story. However, his comedic behaviour doesn’t work for the tone of the film and almost delves into the realm of parody.
However, I don’t feel that the film is all that interested in focusing its attention on the characters and their dilemmas. It is more interested in giving the audience a creature feature showdown. As great as these creature showdowns are, there is also some very ropey CGI. Not with the creatures designs, they are all fantastic, it is the backgrounds that feel very incomplete and circa 2000. This can be seen in one sequence which Hiddleston and Larson are chatting about something looking out over the island at night and visual effects for the background are not convincing in the slightest. But it must be said this is not a bad film, it is actually very enjoyable and with some weak characterisation and a formulaic narrative aside, I had a good time with this film. Be warned, there is also a post-credit scene to be viewed and after watching it, I must admit I am excited for what is in store for this cinematic universe. Full disclosure though, Samuel L. Jackson’s character does not wear an eye-patch or order Tom Hiddleston to return back to Asgard for what he did in New York. (If you didn’t get that genius reference shame on you). The film has its flaws but it has just the right amount of entertainment to overcome them. Also on a final note, the 1970s setting works completely in this film’s favour and the soundtrack is worth a purchase. Sean Moriarty