Everyone is familiar with King Kong. There have been numerous incarnations of the movie about a freakishly big gorilla, from as early as 1933. The latest, Kong: Skull Island, is packed with explosions and spectacular carnage, on a scale unprecedented in the history of the franchise.
The film sees scientists, soldiers and other interested parties visit an island in the Pacific. But they aren’t there for a holiday. It’s an unforgiving, hostile place. Like the Bermuda Triangle, people who venture there have a habit of disappearing without a trace. They plan to drop bombs and measure their explosions as a means of mapping the region. This enrages Kong, who is “God on the island”, which they soon discover plays host to a variety of oversized creatures…
The CGI in the picture is exceptional. A common problem in features which use the technology is that the camera pans across the images too quickly. It’s as if the film makers are worried we’ll get a close look at a monster or a collapsing building and be able to tell it’s fake. Kong does the opposite, offering us sustained views of helicopters being smashed together and brutal creatures warring amongst themselves. Kong himself is a sharp, realistic rendering of a gorilla, increased in size by about a hundred times.
Samuel L. Jackson plays the stubborn soldier, determined to lead his men into battle with the gargantuan primate. His conflict with the scientists of the group is something we’ve seen played out in a lot of films. John C. Reilly’s character brings humour to the proceedings. He plays a soldier who has gone native, having been stranded on the island since World War II. He engages in intentionally awkward, possibly ad libbed dialogue with other cast members, which undercuts the relentless cycle of tension and action.
There are nods to Vietnam war films like Platoon. The explorers venturing down river through jungle seems familiar, as if part of the collective consciousness. The 1960s music alone is evocative of Apocalypse Now and Good Morning, Vietnam. The cinematography is something special to behold. An emphasis on certain colours creates a vivid experience, by which you can almost feel the oppressive humidity of Skull Island.
In some ways this is a film for film fans, of the same ilk as Snakes on a Plane. There’s no doubt it’s clichéd, and it isn’t pretending to be otherwise. Wide eyed stares as the beast looms into view and epic, slowly delivered lines tailor made for sound bites are the order of the day. Kong builds on established cinematic conventions, to create something greater than the sum of its parts. It plays on the audience’s expectations, subverting familiar King Kong plot elements to comic effect.