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Viet Kong: Skull Island is a big safari romp

A good-looking Boys' Own adventure, this Kong tale is a jumble of cliches

09 March, 2017 — By Dan Carrier

Tom Hiddleston and co go in search of Kong

KONG: SKULL ISLAND
Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Certificate 12a
☆☆☆

A head-spinning mixture of Conan Doyle’s The Lost World, a Vietnam war film, King Kong and Jurassic Park, Vogt-Roberts’ Kong: Skull Island is a big safari romp with stunning visuals and the feel of a classic Boys’ Own adventure.

It has an all-star cast with Samuel L Jackson, Tom Hiddleston, John Goodman, Brie Larson and John C Reilly crashing through jungles as giant creepy-crawlies eye them up for lunch.

What brings this mob together is quack scientist Bill Randa (Goodman), who has collated evidence that there is a mysterious, uncharted island in the middle of the Pacific and he persuades the US government to fund a trip there, before the pesky USSR get involved.

He borrows a squadron of Vietnam soldiers led by Packard (Jackson) to offer an air lift, and is joined by war photographer Mason (Larson) and ex-SAS jungle survival specialist Conrad (Hiddleston).

A side plot involves a Second World War air force pilot Hank (Reilly) who has crash-landed on the island during a dog fight with his Japanese foe and has been living there for 25 years, wondering if he’ll ever see the Chicago Cubs play baseball again.

As soon as our new explorers fly in, disaster strikes in the shape of a giant hairy hand that swipes the choppers from the air, and now it’s a case of surviving various beasties as they make their way to the part of the island where rescue may be possible…

We also learn that King Kong is actually a goodie, who is the only barrier between some enormous lizards skulking beneath the island’s surface and the rest of human kind.

Kong: Skull Island has plenty to admire, which it makes its failings even more disappointing. Instead of holding the attention and providing big-set surprises, it sways like a drunk metronome along well-grooved story tracks, with clichés galore that undermine its high production values.

Then there are the mashed-up allegories. You can play spot the garish metaphors. Are the giant lizards living below ground that threaten life on Earth meant to be the fossil fuel industry? Is Jackson’s shoot-first-ask-questions-later character and his gang of grunts a comment on the new “war on terror”? One is despatched in a way that mimics a classic scene from the Reaganite 80s classic, Predator: are we meant to think this is a nod to the neo-liberal ideal?

But it’s too clumsy to really be making a point about the Trump-ish dystopia the American Dream has lurched into and feels like Kong hasn’t decided which contemporary topic it wants to bite off and masticate.

Instead, we get a jumble of platitudes.

The results are not altogether displeasing – in fact, some of this is very good indeed. It looks fantastic, but it is all dressed up with nowhere to go.

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