King Kong is back in this non-awaited reboot of the original movie monster. But will it have the original’s classic charm? The brilliantly animated Kong of Peter Jackson’s 2005 effort? The hilarious absurdity of the 1976 version?
Since the original Kong narrative was rehashed little over a decade ago, the film makers sensibly opt to shift the action to the island itself. This is one of its few saving graces. Another is the removal of Kong’s creepy white woman sex fantasy. But unfortunately this is not replaced with another relationship to anchor the film emotionally. And when you find yourself yearning for Jessica Lange’s Dwan juggling on a shaky mechanical arm you know you’re in trouble.
The premise is far closer to 1976, with exploration of the island, shrouded in cloud and mystery, the motivating factor. In fact, there’s even an on-ship briefing lifted straight from that film. Like the 76 film, Kong walks vertically upright like a human , without even the feeble excuse of it actually being a man in a monkey suit. It’s a small point, but Kong is meant to be a gorilla. This one looks like he could carry a tea tray.
Fans of giant monsters will be pleased to hear that this is the biggest Kong ever. An audience used to Transformers movies won’t get out of bed for anything less that 50 feet, y’know. It’s bigger than ever before, and not just around the middle like 2014’s Godzilla. But the monkey would need to be at least 100 feet to make up for the lack of plot and characterisation.
The tone of the movie is all over the place, which has become the calling card of Warner Bros.’ bi-annual attempts to start a film franchise. This technically takes place in the same universe as Godzilla (because every film is in a cinematic universe now), and like that film it largely goes for the serious ‘forces beyond our control’ approach with some shorthand philosophy thrown in about nature or whatever. But quips from supporting characters have been tacked on in a misfired attempt to lighten it up. The only consistent thing about the film is the reliability with which these jokes fall flat.
The actors feel like they’re in different films, as earnest Tom Hiddleston apes Adrien Brody in Predators; John C Reilly, a World War Two pilot who’s been stranded on the island for 30 years but hasn’t bothered to learn the local language, does his best with the clumsy gags; and Samuel L Jackson yells at anything that moves.
And with all the big names attached, it’s way over-crowded. It could be improved by halving the number of characters and developing those remaining properly. Other wasted talent includes John Goodman, Brie Larson (who’s better escaping from a tiny room than a giant monkey), Toby Kebbell (the dad in A Monster Calls) and Thomas Mann of Me, Earl and the Dying Girl fame. They clearly had money to burn. And burn it they did.
The best scenes are all shamelessly lifted from other films. While it draws from a wide range of other sources, it borrows most heavily from Apocalypse Now, Predator and Avatar, but instead of having an ecological message the characters shoot rare and endangered species for sport.
If you haven’t had enough of giant CGI monsters fighting each other after Transformers (and sequels), Jurassic World (and sequels) and The Great Wall (ok, that’s not getting a sequel), fear not, there’s more. Now we’ve seen spare-tyre-Godzilla battle giant lizard creatures and upright-Kong battle giant lizard creatures, my guess is the next film has them battling each other, then teaming up to fight some super-giant lizard creatures. Excited yet?
This film is only worth watching if you support Samuel L Jackson’s ongoing campaign to reclaim his title of box office king, which based on his recent output he really doesn’t deserve. It aims for dumb fun and only gets it half right.