*** (out of five)
Kong: Skull Island comes from a coalition of companies with a focus on large-scale, easy-to-digest big-screen entertainment designed to sell loads of cinema tickets in both China and The Rest Of The World. Legendary Entertainment, the primary company involved (who recently gave us The Great Wall), is based in Burbank, a subsidiary of Chinese mega-corp Wanda Group, and also controls the Godzilla (2014) franchise, with real plans to bring us a Kong Vs Godzilla very soon. Kong: Skull Island and 2014’s Godzilla reside in the same cinematic universe, which Legendary may or may not (officially) be calling its “Monsterverse”.
In line with all this – and unlike Peter Jackson’s very much A-List, romantic, highbrow, even Oscar-aiming King Kong (2005), a remake of the classic from 1933, this ripper yarn embraces its status as a big stupid B-movie and has no other pretensions. It eschews suspense for “cutting to the monkey” (we meet Kong, by my reckoning, almost immediately, and certainly by the twenty-minute mark); it replaces character development with character attributes (Tom Hiddleston’s Conrad can fight off dudes in a bar; Brie Larson’s Weaver can snap a mean photo; Samuel L. Jackson’s Packard is a mean motherfu**er); and it constantly gives us gags where we’re expecting grim violence. Yep – this film is funny, and its primary mode of (very deliberate) comedy is killing off the intrepid Skull Island explorers suddenly and risibly.
There’s also John C. Reilly, who gets plenty of laughs as a slightly whacked-out air-force pilot left over on the island from World War Two. Once he enters the show (about halfway through) the film gives up any pretence at being anything approaching scary and doubles down on the jokes. From then on it’s a lethal tight-forty at the Skull Island Club, two-drink minimum, try the veal. Or one of the cast.
It’s set in 1973 – which helps everything, from logic to design – and constantly references Apocalypse Now and its source, Heart of Darkness (look at those character names!) The second half is extremely choppy and feels very much like it was given a nastily rushed last-minute hack to bring it in under two hours. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. You wouldn’t want it any longer, and it’s constantly fun while it’s there, as silly as it is.