I spent a ridiculous amount of the running time of Kong: Skull Island wondering firstly what Brie Larson’s camera was, and then what kind of film she had loaded in it. Firstly, it’s some kind of Leica M4 with an attached meter in the hot shoe and an adapter on the viewfinder to correct the frame lines for - I think - a 35 mm lens. Which is all real stuff which people had to use in 1973 when we used celluloid film like barbarians and focused and exposed using our hands and brains like some kind of caveman. As to what film she was using; God only knows. Something which let her take pictures of the Aurora Skulliensis in the middle of the night without a tripod. That right there is almost more fantastical than a 150 foot high gorilla, because I’m like anyone else that way; I’ll believe any kind of nonsense when we’re talking about stuff I’ve never held in my hands, but once you get onto something I’ve tried and failed, I’ll be damned if I’ll believe that anyone else could ever have succeeded.
Kong is another one of those movies which wrote cheques with the trailer that it struggles to cash at full length. Kong fights helicopters! Looks great in the trailer, but it’s over in the movie in what feels like a heartbeat as Kong swats a dozen choppers out of the sky in the space of a few minutes. After that, it’s monsters slapping monsters, and humans getting in the way, and somehow it misses the sheer gut punch of Peter Jackon’s bloated but satisfying King Kong. I’m not quite sure why it doesn’t work as well. I suspect it’s partly that the original King Kong has a single straightforward plot which is all about the girl, where Kong:Skull Island is one of those things where a whole bunch of plots are put on the table, and then abandoned in favour of a literal “get to the choppah” story for a dwindling number of survivors.
Which is not to say it couldn’t have made all this sing. The cast is solid, with nothing as stupidly risky as putting Jack Black into a major role in a drama. John Goodman? Samuel L Jackson? Tom Hiddleston? These are guys who could probably get away with reading out the phone book. You don’t need MUCH script. You just needed a bit more than we get.
It’s not a bad movie. It’s a pretty good one. It’s just that the trailer made it look like it would somehow be even more. Just the notion of King Kong crossed with Apocalypse Now got me expecting some kind of magic that probably nothing could ever have delivered. When I merely got a solid adventure drama, I couldn’t help feeling a bit of disappointment. And the more I think about it, the more I think that the real disappointment is that Kong is interesting when he’s fighting against men and machines, and somehow less interesting when he’s wrestling with octopuses and creepy looking dinosaurs. Dozens of helicopters facing into catastrophe is an arresting image; CGI’d monsters fighting each other no longer has much novelty. So once Kong has Blackhawk Downed the whole air cav contingent, what seemed most fascinating about the movie was over and done with.
Tune in in two years time when Kong fights Godzilla. Or not, since both Godzilla and Kong have turned out to be things which were much more fun in my anticipation than they were on delivery.