Kong: Skull Island review - Golden age of the B-movie is resurrected with a roar and a chest-thump
Kong: Skull Island is a "creature feature" with a heart of purest pulp.
Top billing of course goes to the eponymous killer ape – a misanthropic mega-fauna who spends most of his screen-time stoically waggling his vast eye-brows and juggling flaming helicopters.
But Skull Island also has horrific “skull crawlers”, pathological pterosaurs and Oscar-winner Brie Larson trying to pass herself off as a popcorn starlet (the skull crawlers and pterosaurs are more believable).
Yet amid amid the stomping, slithering and people-eating, Skull Island makes you care about the humans too.
John C Reilly warms the cockles as a Rip Van Winkle-esque veteran trapped for decades with Kong on his crazy chunk of Pacific real estate while Samuel L Jackson is winningly over the top as a soldier still fighting old wars.
Though nominally a follow-up to 2014's Godzilla remake (the plan is for Kong and the Big Lizard to eventually hook up in a buddy pic), director Jordan Vogt-Roberts displays a considerably lighter touch than that demonstrated by Gareth Edwards in his lugubrious reptile romp.
There is some portentousness (a debt to psychedelic war classic Apocalypse Now is worn proudly) and the action scenes deafen – yet Vogt-Roberts,whose previous feature was independent coming-of-age drama Kings of Summer, finds space for humour and humanity as well.
The majority of the story takes place in 1973, as America staggers out of the the ash clouds of Vietnam. Satellites have confirmed the existence of a previously un-mapped South Pacific Island, shaped like a skull and surrounded by endless storms.
A mystery such as that inevitably attracts the reckless and the ruthless and so it proves, with Jackson’s Colonel Packard and a representative of shadowy government agency Monarch (John Goodman) leading a joint military-scientific expedition.
Along for the ride are Larson’s war photographer Mason Weaver and a grumpy Tom Hiddleston as an ex British special forces operative Conrad (his name an obvious nod to Heart of Darkness).
In short order, the newcomers have come off the worst in a tangle with Kong and are marooned in an environment where every tree hosts a flotilla of ravaging flying reptiles and even a log can turn out to be a grumbling behemoth.
Enter Reilly as Old Man Crazy Hank Marlay – a Second World War vet who has spent the previous 28 years scrabbling an existence and has come to understand that, far from a foe, Kong is a protector of the island from forces far more nefarious.
It's tremendous fun with only the jittery Larson detracting from the derring-do. Vogt-Robert’s crucial insight is that the sort of person who goes to a movie about a giant ape is mostly interested in seeing said ape tangling with a rotating cast of nasties.
Action-packed and irony-free, Skull Island is the very best sort of monkey business.