IT’S 1933. Black and white. A giant ape comes crashing down the side of the Empire State Building. Since that ground-breaking early-days epic, King Kong has been a subject of fascination for filmmakers, some more successful than others at bringing the mighty ape to life.
Now 12 years after Peter Jackson wowed audiences with his updated, motion-capture extravaganza that kept the time period of the original but advanced the technologically driven means to tell the tale, we have this mixture of men-on-a-mission war movie and old-fashioned blockbuster escapism that works a treat.
A prologue set in 1944 teases the sheer size of the titular movie monster and his destructive capabilities, before jumping things forward to 1975 and the tail end of the Vietnam War.
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A group of diverse individuals – including John Goodman’s determined and knowingly goofy scientist, Tom Hiddleston’s skilled but reluctant tracker, Samuel L Jackson’s tough-as-nails Lieutenant Colonel and Brie Larson’s wide-eyed photographer – head off on a mission to a remote Pacific island that’s constantly hidden within a cloud of bad weather.
Of course the ragtag group are unaware of just who holds dominion over this particular uncharted island but they soon find out when the mighty Kong attacks their fleet of helicopters just as they arrive. They’re in his house now and they’re most certainly not welcome.
Jackson’s version focused just as much, if not more, on the “it was beauty killed the beast” relationship than the monstrous nature of the ape itself. This is a far more streamlined romp that uses all the technological might of today to highlight Kong’s sheer awe-inspiring size and presence.
He is more gigantic than ever this time, a 100-feet stunner that is positively spellbinding to behold, utilised in creative action sequences that feel informed as much by Vietnam War movies like Apocalypse Now and Platoon as they do any number of other modern blockbusters. Search for the biggest screen possible, folks.
The power of a solid cast might seem almost incidental in the case of something like this but it’s part of the reason it works so well. Although it doesn’t exactly devote a wealth of time to exploring each and every one of their stories to the fullest, we’re given enough to care about them thanks to engaging, self-aware dialogue delivered by a very well chosen cast who are clearly having a lot of fun. John C Reilly is particularly fantastic as zany group member Hank Marlow who seems to know more about where they are than anyone else.
The island itself is given a lot of personality, too. It’s the kind of old-fashioned Indiana Jones-esque playground for death and destruction, with the group trying to survive as they travel across unfamiliar and unpredictable territory, caught between fearing the mighty ape and the plethora of creepy crawlies seemingly lurking around every corner.
Director Jordan-Vogt Roberts (The Kings of Summer) has a lot of plates to spin in this particularly telling of that most famous of big-screen primates. Quibbles about characterisation and a certain penchant for foregoing logic in aid of having a shot in there simply because it looks cool aside, he pulls it off with impressive panache, delivering a technically impressive and hugely entertaining piece of blockbuster spectacle.