Let's get one thing clear from the get-go: Kong: Skull Island is a monster movie. It fervently believes in the spectacle almost as much as we await, wide-eyed, with anticipation of the giant ape smashing things. It's odd then, that a film committed to delivering the B-Movie romp and the lack of quality that should come with it, can leave us disappointed. We had what we expected, didn't we? The poor dialogue to quote and plot holes to argue over on twitter. Even though Kong: Skull Island isn't the great ape it sets out to be, it does reach some of the upper branches.
Kong is approached with nothing but gusto. From the opening moments right until the end, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts, commits to the unabashed fervor of that a photo-real monster movie can bring. Legendary Studio's second installment to the MonsterVerse, which started with Gareth Edward's Godzilla, feels a little more comfortable in it's B-Movie roots. Soon to be defunct government agencies explain the premise and set up the journey to Skull Island. Our hero is introduced via a sweaty pool hall fight in South-East Asia and the soldier always looking for a war, at the close of the one in Vietnam, will surely cause problems for us later. The first act may lack the winking-to-camera charm that could raise it from knowingly retreading familiar ground, but Vogt-Roberts keen eye adds a quality you don't expect from a film that has a towering gorilla.
It's when we reach Skull Island that the updating/rebooting makes so much sense. Peter Jackson lovingly recreated Kong for his tribute in 2005, but never before have we seen a Kong so intimidating in it's fury, let alone it's size. So too have the keen primate observations been abbreviated - they're still there, but the focus is tipped toward showing us a monster of pure fury. While the shimmering silhouette of Kong, in front of the blood-red sky is powerful enough, the devastation Kong can leave in his wake is jaw-dropping. Even later when our allegiance switches, the titular character is a convincing force of nature.
With this in mind, the characters have their work cut out for them. Even confined within the expedition archetypes, there should be something or someone to invest in. While Samuel L Jackson's Packard is the only character to have a full arc, there's should be enough for the others to play with. While Hiddleston and Larson don't look uncomfortable while they trip over their clunky dialogue, they seem shackled by a commitment to play it straight at every turn. Hiddleston's Conrad should be either gum-chewing or ass-kicking. Instead he becomes nothing more than a human compass to get whomever may be left back to the rally point. Similarly Larson's War-objecting Weaver may be saved from damsel-in-distress, but instead get's relegated to sidekick. It's really only John C Reilly that seems to find the room to do something else with what's on the page, but he's so good at it that he sometimes feels like he's wandered through the jungle from another movie.
Fittingly, it's whenever Kong crowds the screen that the movie soars. The cavernous plot holes that could fit the skuttling Skull Crawlers are soon forgotten when Kong goes bananas. Whether he's taking down choppers, making saves or sitting to enjoy some sea food (just wait) he's an incredible creation; brimming with detail and character.
3* - Two Kongs Don't Make A Right