Film Review: The Week Of

I liked the look of this Netflix Original and despite his hit-and-miss output, I still find Adam Sandler quite a funny on screen presence (Happy Gilmore, The Wedding Singer and The Longest Yard being favourites of mine). Throw in Chris Rock and the premise of a large, chaotic family wedding, and I thought this might be a decent watch.

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The premise is simple, dealing with the week of the wedding of Kenny Lustig’s (Sandler) daughter to the son of Kirby Cordice (Rock). Kenny is financially strapped, but determined to deliver the best wedding he can for his daughter, what he sees as his last proper action as a parent and his responsibility. However, this causes problems such as the fact that the venue they have chosen is beset by problems due to the cost cutting decisions of the manager, who ignored all of Kenny’s recommendations when renovating.

This leads to Kenny having to put up a massive number of guests in his own house, which becomes full and cramped with a colourful, eccentric band of family members from both sides. Kenny is the patriarch of the family, and constantly having to put out fires and being asked to solve issues.

Kirby, meanwhile, is not the centre of his family, indeed he is slightly ostracised. A successful and ambitious surgeon, he sacrificed his family life for his career and was a poor husband and father in the past. He is clearly troubled by this and his relationship with his children is distant and awkward, despite his best efforts.

Where the film works is in ramping up the farcical elements, from a diabetes effected uncle who is mistaken for a war hero, to an unhinged nephew constantly at risk of snapping, to attempts to save money by ridiculous schemes, the overwhelming family is constructed well, with Kenny constantly under pressure. Sandler does very well here as the regular Joe and nice guy placed under massive stress, doing his shtick of barely suppressed rage rather well. Rock is likeable too, as the normal man thrust into this mad situation.

While there are plenty of decent lines and some big laughs, the whole movie feels lacking in some way. It took me a while to figure out why, but I finally put my finger on it. There’s a massive lack of conflict or resolution here.

Kenny’s rage, slowly bubbling away, never boils over. It deprives the film of a big emotional blow out, and some crowd pleasing ranting from Sandler. He doesn’t lose it with his irritating relatives, the hotel manager who jeopardises the wedding or anyone else along the way.

Similarly, while Kirby scores a minor victory over his judgemental former mother-in-law, the rest of the family are still dismissive of him and despite him loosening up we don’t see much sign of his relationship with his family softening. One dance with his estranged daughter doesn’t feel enough.

And there are other factors that never pay off- the maid of honour is painted as insecure and nervous, but doesn’t get a moment of triumph over the critical bridesmaids. The troubled teen doesn’t get any saving grace other than being shown dancing at the wedding.

One area that may have saved it is a bit more drama on the daughter front. While there are glimpses that Kenny’s daughter is angry at his refusal to allow Kirby to help or embarrassed by the wedding he is putting on it never comes to much. It means that when Kenny talks about his fear of losing her it feels less powerful than had it been delivered following a heated argument.

The central couple are massively forgettable. In fact, I can’t credit the actors here as I’ve forgotten their character names so don’t want to put the wrong people here. They get one scene alone together that I remember, which is rather sweet as they joke about barely seeing each other due to the manic preparations, and the groom is shown to be a decent chap in his interactions with other family members, but they barely feature. It’s a massive shame as this could have strengthened the film and provided a nice contrast to the unending farce and OTT-ness of the rest of the movie.

Chaos is fine, but better with small, sweeter moments to break it up. And also, had they been fleshed out more we may have cared more about how the wedding turned out. But of course, the story here is really about the fathers of the bride and groom.

It’ll make you laugh, but it won’t really stick with you and it feels like some zealous editing might have helped. In order to keep the laughs flowing, the filmmakers have sacrificed story and heart, which are the things which make the best comedies work. As it is, this is merely alright.

Verdict: It delivers on plenty of laughs, but lacks focus and chooses silliness over emotion far too often. This means the attempts to add feeling seem rushed and it doesn’t resonate as much as it should. It’ll pass the time, but it’s hit and miss. 5/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.

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Film Review: Solo: A Star Wars Story

Someone else has probably used this, but what the heck…. ahem. The problem with Solo is that it’s very so-so.

The problem with the prequel in general is that we all know where this is going. And while it can be fun to see how characters get there sometimes it just feels like ticking the boxes of familiar touches being added or lazy forshadowing. Both are on display here.

What do we know about Han Solo’s life before the original trilogy. Well, his loyal companion is Chewbacca, he’s a smuggler in trouble with Jabba the Hutt and he won the Millennium Falcon from Lando Calrissian. So, here we have him meet and rescue Chewie, hints of Jabba on the horizon and the card game where he wins the ship.

The winning of the ship is one of the film’s weak spots. In Empire we get the impression that Lando and Han are old buddies who have been through a lot, which is why Han trusts him and why his betrayal hurts him. While Donald Glover is wonderful as the swaggering, posturing Lando, their relationship is fleeting.

While Lando may reappear in the sequels this leaves itself wide open for, the fact he’s already lost the Falcon means that their relationship already has an edge to it. Why not have Han covet the ship here but only win it later?

Glover is one of many strong performers here, along with Woody Harrelson as Beckett, the outlaw who Han teams up with and serves as a sort of mentor. Paul Bettany chews the scenery as the villain and in the femme fatale role Emilia Clarke does well enough with a fairly standard part.

This is the problem. A lot of it is standard. There are double crosses you see from miles away, characters act predictably and the only real shock for me was the reappearance of a familiar, villainous face.

The film is entertaining enough but it’s decidedly average. While there are a couple of laughs and a few decent action sequences, there’s nothing that makes it really stand out. It passes the time but doesn’t really stay with you.

I feel as the lead Alden Ehrenreich may get some of the blame, and he doesn’t have Ford’s charisma, but few do. He does okay and does capture the character’s bluffing nature and reliance on luck, but the role he gets is painfully naive and lacks the sarcastic edge that made Solo eclipse Luke Skywalker. Perhaps the sequels will have him grow more cynical.

Sequels seem an inevitability given the way the movie ends, but frankly, I don’t really care. Personally? I’d rather just have a Lando movie come out, where we follow Glover’s character on various schemes as he styles and profiles across the universe.

Things this film gets right- the casting of Glover and Harrison, a chase through a cosmic storm, having fun with a hammy villain, one twist, the interplay between Han and Chewie. But mainly the inclusion of Lando’s droid L3, who rails against the injustices droids face, and wants rebellion, she also gets many of the laughs. I thought it was Gwendoline Christie on voiceover duties but it turns out to be Phoebe Waller-Bridge, who was in Broadchurch, apparently.

What does it get wrong? Han is written weakly, it’s predictable, they rush introducing the iconic Solo features, underwritten role for Clarke and the fact much of the film takes place in the gloom. We’ve seen the Falcon before, and it was lit decently, but here half the ship is in near darkness. Lighten up.

Verdict: Hit and miss, with the misses edging it. The film isn’t without it’s charms but it feels unnecessary, rushed and lazy. Definitely a lesser entry in the franchise. 6/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: The Hurricane Heist

Earlier this week I praised Rampage for being dumb fun that delivered on it’s ridiculous premise. This movie, however, doesn’t.

A heist during a hurricane? A trio of plucky heroes against a gang of thugs? This should be a fun action romp, but the whole thing falls apart. Firstly, the leads played by Maggie Grace and Toby Kebbell are painfully dull. The attempts at bonding fall flat and the third and potentially most interesting of the heroic trio, Ryan Kwanten’s drunk slacker ex-marine disappears for a long stretch.

It doesn’t help that the villains are lacklustre too. You kinda need a charismatic antagonist in a movie like this, but what we get here is a bit of a damp squib. The only interesting part is that one of the henchmen is played by Rhino from Gladiators. And his physicality goes underused.

Urgh. This film was way too dull given the potential of it’s premise. I suggest missing it completely and instead checking out Hard Rain, a massively underrated ’90s action movie which does much better with the “robbery during a storm” idea.

Verdict: Commits the cardinal sin for an action movie by being painfully dull. The leads lack charisma, it’s devoid of tension and the action feels flat. Avoid. 1/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: A Wrinkle in Time

I really wanted to enjoy this movie. Unfortunately, despite some cracking visuals this is a painfully dull and poorly written affair.

It’s been four years since Dr Alexander Murry (Chris Pine) vanished, leaving his family reeling. His thirteen year old daughter Meg (Storm Reid) has become directionless at school, isolated and angry. Her gifted younger brother Charles Wallace (Deric McCabe) has befriended a strange trio women, Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who and Mrs Which (Reese Witherspoon, Mindy Kaling and Oprah Winfrey, respectively). They reveal themselves to be cosmic beings who have come to help the Murry kids find their dad, who turned out to have been right about the idea of interstellar travel and has been cast into space.

They try tracking him down but it turns out he has been captured by the It, the evil force in the universe which corrupts life wherever it finds it. Can the Murrys, along with Meg’s classmate Calvin (Levi Miller), find him and rescue him? And can they resist the dark side?

What a load of cosmic twaddle. Not helped by weak child performances- Reid is bland, and oddly expressionless for long stretches, while Charles Wallace is the kind of brainy, precocious kid who is immensely slappable and unlike any kid you’ve ever met.

The visuals are impressive but the “love is the most powerful force in the universe” idea is cheesy beyond belief and there’s far too much talk for a kid’s movie. This would be fine if the action sequences were up to scratch but they’re uniformly limp and there’s never any real sense of peril.

The adult characters are one note too. The Mrs characters are an interesting idea, and visually striking, like one of Jack Kirby’s cosmic creations filtered through RuPaul’s Drag Race, but other than exposition, weak philosophy and a few lame gags, they add little.

Weak. I can’t imagine this winning many fans- too talky and slow for kids, too twee, cheesy and poorly executed for adults.

Avoid.

Verdict: Some of the visuals are good. That’s all the positives I can manage. 2/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Coco

Ladies and gentlemen, we have an early challenger for my film of the year.

Disney and Pixar knock this one out of the park creating a beautiful, gorgeous world to tell a charming and affecting story of family, music and remembrance.

Set in Mexico and based around the Day of the Dead festivities this is probably Pixar’s best movie since Inside Out and one which takes a place with the very best the studio has produced.

The Rivera family have effectively banned music after an ancestor left to become a singer, never returning and meaning his wife had to work, creating a successful shoe making business. However, young boy Miguel (Anthony Gonzalez) is loves music and has adopted local musical legend Ernesto De La Cruz (Benjamin Bratt) as his hero.

He wants to take part in a talent show but is forbidden by his grandmother, who insists he spends Day of the Dead with his family. As they set out the pictures of dead ancestors and relatives, the photo of his great-great-grandmother is dropped. The broken frame reveals that the photo has been folded. Miguel’s great-great-grandfather, the runaway musician, who’s face has been torn from the picture is revealed to be holding Ernesto’s famous guitar.

Miguel takes this as a sign, and argues that he his honouring his family’s traditions, but his grandmother smashes his guitar. Angry, Miguel storms out, announcing he doesn’t want to be part of the family. Desperate to find a guitar to compete he breaks into De La Cruz’s crypt and steals the car.

It is at this point the movie really kicks in, with the already charming and likeable film embracing the supernatural and introducing the ghostly ancestors who have come across to the land of the living to visit their family. The art here is great with the ghostly figures styled after sugar skulls and their skeletal figures retaining unique characteristics for each person.

Miguel can see them because having been cursed for stealing from the dead. He must break the curse by sunrise, by obtaining the blessing of a family member, however, his great-great-grandmother Imelda (Alanna Ubach) only offers a blessing with the condition that he never plays music. The rest of the family refuse to go against the matriarch and so Miguel decides to find De La Cruz.

Miguel travels through the city of the dead, a vibrant, strange world with his only guide Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal) a scruffy, trickster who tries to trick his way across to the living. But nobody has put up a photo of him so he can not cross. He claims to know Ernesto and agrees to help Miguel on the condition that he takes his photo so he can cross once more and see his daughter one last time before she forgets him.

When the dead are forgotten they vanish forever, and Hector’s daughter is the only one who remembers him.

Can Miguel break the curse? Will his hero Ernesto help him? And will Hector get to see his daughter again?

This film is simply gloruous. The artwork is beautiful and the colourful, sprawling city of the dead and it’s residents are extremely well done.

The characters are fantastic too, with Miguel a charming, likeable hero. He has humour and courage, and it’s through his eyes we experience the wonderful world he enters.

Similarly, the swaggering De La Cruz and scruffy Hector are both engaging and interesting characters and their story unfolds nicely. One of the revelations is easy to see coming, but there are a few twists in the tale.

As Miguel tries to break the curse he comes to understand the importancr of family and how much they mean to him. It also serves as a powerful reminder of respecting our past and appreciating how it shapes us.

The film has raw emotional power, not just in the melancholic nature of the city of the dead but in the handling of Miguel’s great-grandmother, Mama Coco (Ana Ofelia Murguia), who is losing her memory and in confused moments still waiting for her father to return.

Sod it, I have to give a spoiler here, but to be fair, most grown up viewers will guess it during the movie.

Hector is Coco’s father, and he did know Ernesto, in fact he wrote many of his songs. Ernesto’s bombastic signature tune “Remember Me” is actually based on a quieter, more low key song Hector wrote and sang to his daughter.

The scene where Miguel returns home and sings this to her, reviving the long dormant memory is one of the most moving scenes I’ve seen in a long time, and reduced WoM and me to tears.

The moving scene, which captures all of the film’s themes is wonderful and caps the movie beautifully.

Loaded with charm, gorgeous to look at and profoundly moving, this one will be hard to beat in 2018.

Verdict: An utter delight. Some plot developments are easy to see coming, but it doesn’t rob the film of it’s ability to move you. A fun, emotional and beautiful film. 9.5.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle

The original Jumanji is a much loved film to kids who grew up in the ’90s. Starring the late, great Robin Williams it’s an anarchic adventure which sees the jungle come to suburbia through a cursed board game. Announcement of a reboot/sequel was met with much millenial anxiety, although for me as soon as Dwayne Johnson was announced my worries eased.

The update changes things up by having the board game get found by a teenager in the ’90s, who casts it aside with the dismissive comment “who plays board games?”. The game transforms to a video game and starts it’s mischief once more.

Twenty years later it is discovered by four high school students on detention. Neurotic nerd Spencer (Alex Wolff) is punished for having written essays for football player and former friend Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain), who joins him in the punishment. Alongside them are Bethany (Madison Iseman), a shallow, image obsessed popular girl caught using her phone in class and Martha (Morgan Turner), who Spencer saw arguing against pointless physical education lessons and accidentally insulting her teacher.

The kids

Tasked with sorting old magazines they are distracted by the game and begin to play, choosing their characters. They are then sucked into the game where they become their avatars. 

Hulking jock Fridge finds himself as the diminutive side kick Franklin Finbar (Kevin Hart), having misread his nickname “Mouse” as “Moose”. Bethany is middle aged scientist Sheldon “Shelly” Oberon (Jack Black) and Martha is the scantily clad, kung fu dighting Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan). Spencer is transformed into the group’s leader, muscular adventure Smolder Bravestone (The Rock).

Spencer adjusts to his new body

They work out that to get home they must use their characters’ strengths and their own wits to return a gemstone to it’s statue to complete the game and free themselves from the curse. However they must deal with their issues with each other and overcome their flaws.

Can they do it? And can they do it without using up all three of their lives?

I really enjoyed this movie which manages to pack in a heap of action while mining plenty of humour from the body swap aspect. While all four leads are good, I have to single out Jack Black for special praise as he manages to percectly capture the disgusted teen girl within. A scene where he coaches Ruby Roundhouse in seduction is hilarious, and throughout he maintains the character perfectly. After a period of duds, this is Black back on form.

Kevin Hart also delivers plenty of laughs and his chemistry with Johnson is a driving force as the duo bicker and their characters deal with their role reversal. It’s a testament to Johnson’s skill that he manages to deliver the big action moments while also allowing the nerdy teen to show through. 

It’s a strong comedic performace which most action stars couldn’t handle, but he holds his own alongside Hart and Black.

The plot is daft but rattles along well and their are some nice touches like the inclusion of Nick Jonas’ character “Seaplane” McDonough, the fifth character. They realise he is the missing kid from the ’90s and this scene, where his slang alerts them is handled well, as is how they adopt him to the group.

The plot, of the teens realising their inner strengths and unknown depths, is standard fare but carried off with no shortage of charm and a sense of fun. The gentle flirtation between Spencer and Martha is pitched at the right level and the whole film left me with a big dumb grin on my face.

Verdict: Great performances across the board and a clever premise and spin on the original pays off with a massively entertaining adventure. Great fun. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Baby Driver

Since Spaced I’ve been a fan of Edgar Wright as a director and his big screen work has been of a pretty high standard, with Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and Scott Pilgrim Vs The World all being firm favourites of mine. Two of his hallmarks are skilled, clever editing and his use of music, and his latest effort is largely based around this.

The film follows Baby (Ansel Elgort) an extremely talented and skilled getaway driver who works for underworld figure Doc (Kevin Spacey), in order to pay back a debt incurred when he stole a car full of drugs by mistake.

Doc puts together different teams for different jobs, the only constant being Baby at the wheel, his “lucky charm”. But Baby has almost paid off his debt and having fallen for waitress Deborah (Lily James) is thinking of a life away from crime. Will it be that easy?

The music aspect comes to the fore as Baby’s ears are damaged as a child and he uses music to rid him of distractions and also to perfectly time his runs. This means that the car chases are all set to music and turns this into a kind of action musical. The perfectly choreographed chaos is glorious and great fun.

The movie has its roots in genre movies and this is shown in the dialogue which for me called to mind the unnatural cool back and forth of old action movies. The film is extremely stylised in all aspects, but it works in its favour and makes it stand out. 

There’s no great depth here, and it’s a case of style over substance, but what style. And it never presents itself as anything other than a fun thrill ride. And there’s something charming about the light tone and joyous execution.

Also Elgort is likeable as the lead, winning you over with his cheery energy and almost naive, dreamy way of moving through life.

The supporting players are fine across the board, with Spacey downplaying Doc throughout. There’s something decidely everyday and unflashy about his performance, and it’s testimony to his skill that Spacey still manages to convey a quiet menace and command the screen alongside flashier performances.

These include Jon Hamm and Jamie Foxx. Foxx plays Bats, a loud, dangerous figure with a leaning toward violence and fraying mental stability. Hamm is the suave Buddy, who bonds with Baby over Queen and who has a cool swagger about him.

The plot is fairly simple and familiar, but unfolds well and presented with flair. Hugely entertaining, bursting with action and powered by some cracking tunes this is a step away from Wright’s comedy roots but is an accomplished action movie.

One of the most fun, flashy films of the year.

8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales

You don’t watch a Pirates of the Caribbean movie expecting fine art, but you usually expect a fun diversion. Unfortunately, despite having rather enjoyed the fourth film the wheels come off here.

It all feels so lazy and half arsed. They’ve thrown in a bunch of familiar features- OTT stunts, some kind of magic, shifty British officers and various double crosses but it feels flat.

Javier Bardem hams it up as the villain, but the sound and fury can’t cover up that his character is woefully underwritten. He hates pirates, and wants to break the curse, but unlike Geoffrey Rush’s Barbossa in the first movie he’s utterly unsympathetic. He’s shown in flashback to be a d**k and while he’s a villain you still need to care.

The design hampers the crew too, while Bardem’s hair, which bobs about as though underwater, is a nice touch the idea to have the cursed sailors miss parts but act as though they still have them is daft. A hand floating in mid air just looks silly.

The rest of the cast aren’t much better. Returning players seem to be going through the motions and the new ones are woeful. Brenton Thwaites is utterly bland as the young hero and Kaya Scodelario is given a character who clearly is meant to be a strong female but who just walks around telling everyone how smart she is.

And finally there’s Johnny Depp, who still raises a few smiles as Jack Sparrow. But is that good enough? It feels like Depp is happy to stay in his comfort zone and Jack has become a one note character, a living cartoon who like Wiley Coyote manages to walk away from whatever catastrophe befalls him.

Lazy, loud and uninvolving this seems like the right time to call it a day on the series.

Verdict: 3/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Baywatch

I wasn’t happy to be going to see this yesterday because I really wanted to see Wonder Woman but MWF was in the mood for a comedy, and as she was paying she got the final say. Now, I love The Rock and have been impressed by Zac Efron over the years, but I didn’t like the look of this movie. It looked, well, dumb.

And it was. But in the best way.

Carrying a lot of the weight is Dwayne Johnson, taking over from the Hoff as Mitch Buchanan, head of the lifeguards. His easy, charming on screen presence anchors the film and he shows off some decent comedy chops, although this won’t surprise anyone who remembers his skill on the mic at the WWE.

In Efron he has a good partner, with Efron’s selfish, stupid jock clashing with no nonsense Mitch from the jump. Efron’s character, a disgraced Olympic swimmer is at times the audience’s perspective, wondering what a drug smuggling ring has to do with their role as lifeguards. This plot and it’s ridiculousness is played for laughs and this is a solid action comedy.

The action is overblown and well staged, with a particularly entertaining fight between Johnson and a goon taking place in a child’s bedroom, various toys being used as weapons.

There are a few pops at the old show, but it seems affectionate ribbing, highlighting the far fetched stories and stylistic choices. Pamela Anderson’s replacement as CJ Parker, Kelly Rohrbach is shot in slow mo repeatedly, which other characters comment on and it’s nice that when Pam shows up for her (disappointingly brief) cameo she appears in super slow mo.

The jokes come at a quick and steady pace, mixing slapstick, gross out and some decent one liners. It’s not a classic but entertaining enough and similar in tone to the Jump Street flicks.

Kudos should be paid to the supporting cast who all handle their roles well and get the tone right. A special stand out is Jon Bass who plays nerdy Ronnie, hopefully smitten with CJ. He steals a couple of scenes and is extremely funny.

It also means that David Hasselhoff has two entertaining movies under his belt this year, which is pretty surprising. And awesome. Although it does mean this has a confused relationship with the show. Two Mitch Buchanans? Two CJs? Huh?

Verdict: Johnson and Efron are charismatic leads and work well as a duo. Incredibly daft but amusing enough. Keeps the laughs coming. 7/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.


Film Review: Kong: Skull Island

I love the original King Kong, ever since I picked up a cheap VHS copy. While dated, it told a simple story  very effectively and movingly. I’ve always been a sucker for stop-motion effects. I’ve never seen the ’70s remake but I remember being psyched when Peter Jackson released his, although this was ollowed by crushing disappointment as a wealth of CGI and Jack Black couldn’t cover the fact that it was bloated and boring.

One of the things that I always loved was the mysterious Skull Island that Kong calls home until he’s stolen away to New York. The island is home to other monsters, and you always wonder where Kong came from. Was he part of a giant ape race? Or a singular freak of nature?

This movie focuses on the island and gives Kong a fresh backstory. It’s not a retread of the original, and a new approach to the character, which I think is the way to go.

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The movie kicks off in 1944 when two pilots crash on the same beach, one Japanese and one American. They try to kill each other and chase each other through the jungle, until their fight is interrupted by the arrival of a massive ape.

We then jump almost thirty years forward to 1973, and two representatives of an organisation called Monarch are trying to get support for a mission to an uncharted island. The senior official, Randa (John Goodman) is fearful for the organisation’s future and wants to get the mission set up before the Vietnam War ends. However, the senator dismisses his theories of “monsters” and only agrees when Randa’s assistant Brooks (Corey Hawkins) points out that as they know little of the island there is no telling what is there and that if they hesitate the Russians might beat them to it.

Randa requests a military escort and is provided with the Sky Devils, a helicopter squadron about to ship back from the war. Headed by Colonel Packard (Samuel L Jackson) they will fly the scientists to the island which is surrounded by a perpetual storm. Also recruited is James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) a former SAS Captain noted for his skill in jungle survival and expertise in uncharted territory.

Rounding off the group is photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) a photojournalist who clashes with Packard who blames the media for negatively effecting support for the war back home.

They arrive at the island where the scientists plan to use explosions to map the geologic nature of the island, which turns out to be hollow beneath the bedrock. Unfortunately the explosions anger Kong, a giant ape who attacks the choppers and brings all of them down, scattering the survivors across the island.

Conrad leads Weaver, Brooks and a handful of others through the jungle seeking the rendezvous point. Meanwhile, Packard leads the majority of his men and Randa towards one of the isolated pilots, Chapman (Toby Kebbell). Packard gets the full story from Randa, who holds to the “hollow earth” theory that there are pockets beneath the earth’s surface where monsters dwell.

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Packard wants some answers

Intent on revenge Packard aims to reach Chapman’s chopper and use the weapons and explosives to kill Kong.

Conrad’s group run into the local tribespeople and are introduced to Hank Marlow (John C Reilly), the American pilot who crashed there at the beginning. He has been taken in by the locals and explains that he befriended the Japanese pilot who was killed by another monster years earlier. Marlow explains that the native population worship Kong as a king or god, as he protects them from what he dubs Skull Crawlers, vicious beasts that try to eat them. Kong’s race have long held this role, but as the last of his kind the locals are fearful that when Kong dies the Skull Crawlers (henceforth known as SCs) will run wild, having nothing to fear. The explosives dropped by the group will have roused some of the beasts, although they suspect that “the big one” will remain underground.

Marlow shows the group his boat, made from debris of the fighter planes and other vehicles that have crashed at the island. They head for the rendezvous but find Packard, who insists they head on for Chapman. The group are attacked by a SC, and after suffering heavy losses manage to kill it. When Packard’s plan is revealed Marlow objects, supported by Weaver, who Packard draws his gun on. Conrad cools the situation and leads the civilians to the boat, however, he decides he needs to stop Packard and with Weaver and Marlow returns.

Packard’s men attack Kong and while many of the men are killed, Kong is injured. Then the Big SC arrives. Kong battles it, but is weakened and the nasty chases the humans. Conrad, Weaver, Marlow and the surviving members of the Sky Devils make for the boat but following Conrad’s instructions Brooks has left at dawn. Attempting to escape on foot they use their meagre weapons on the BSC but their weapons don’t seem up to the task.

Does the battered Kong have the strength to bring it down? If he can’t what happens to the survivors and the monsters?

Okay, here’s the thing I really loved this movie which delivers pretty much from the jump. The 1944 prologue was a nice touch and the character of Marlow provides a neat way to provide exposition and Reilly’s performance as the slightly unhinged survivor is charming and entertaining, stealing most scenes he’s in. Reilly should be praised for balancing humour with genuine emotion, with the frazzled, lonely man talking about what might await for him at home being quite touching and tying into the film’s theme of whether soldiers can ever truly come back from war.

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Reilly in scene stealing form

This is touched on in Conrad, Hiddleston’s calm and collected action hero, who is recruited by Randa who observes that men go to war in search of something, and Conrad’s continuing presence in Vietnam suggests he is yet to find whatever that is.

It’s most evident in Jackson’s powerful performance as the vengeance seeking Packard. During his first meeting with Weaver where he blames the media for effecting support and moral for the war in Vietnam, she asks him incredulously if he is blaming them for losing the war. His response that the war wasn’t lost, instead “abandoned” shows an insight into his psyche and his dogged pursuit of a fight with Kong shows that he is not ready to come home yet.

Jackson is always watchable and here he is on fine form as the tightly wound soldier who slowly unravels and becomes obsessed. He’s mesmerising on screen.

Tom Hiddleston is pretty good as an action hero, even if he does look a little clean cut and smooth for an SAS officer who spends time alone in the jungle saving POWs. That being said, his quiet performance is well done and he has moments where he charms. He also handles the action sequences like a boss.

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Hiddleston and Larson in action

But it’s hard not to feel bad for Brie Larson who while capable enough has an underwritten role as the photojournalist accompanying the mission.

The period setting works wonders for me as it handily explains how Skull Island has remained undiscovered until the movie and means the humans have older, less sophisticated weapons for their fights. It also means that the movie has a belting soundtrack of ‘Nam era songs (Bowie, Black Sabbath and Creedence Clearwater Revival), and borrows heavily from the imagery of that war- fires engulfing jungle, helicopters flying low and the look of the soldiers. The film looks fantastic and the mash up of Nam movie iconography and giant monsters works for me, unsurprisingly.

The monsters here are fantastic, as is all of the island. The native tribe and their walled village is well done as is their temple to Kong, replacing the African style tribe of the original with a more Asian vibe fitting the Pacific setting. The island location is beautiful, with mountains, dense jungle and panoramic views of the landscape being worth the extra IMAX charge alone.

This is only the second movie I’ve seen in IMAX (the other being Doctor Strange) and it is proving to be worth the money, and vastly superior to normal 3D. This is the kind of epic movie that warrants the big screen and enhanced visuals, and it delivers throughout, both in the titanic smackdowns and in the scenes on the groud amongst the trees.

The movie succeeds where the Jackson movie stumbled by putting Skull Island front and centre and we get to see plenty of the island’s nature. Alongside Kong and the SCs we also get supersized versions of spiders and water buffalo, a reference to giant ants and some seriously vicious pterodactyl style critters. The island is set up as a dangerous place to be and the action sequence are uniformly well executed throughout.

It’s a relentless thrill ride and has some solid performances, and a sense of fun to proceedings, making it considerably more enjoyable than the most recent Godzilla movie, which this will apparently cross over with. Hopefully the monster mash will lean more towards this, which is more fun and has better human characters. The romance between Hiddleston and Larson’s characters might be underdeveloped, but aside from this the major players hold the attention and the director knows that this is secondary to letting Kong do his thing.

I’ve always preferred Kong to Godzilla because his ape features are more expressive and that in every incarnation he has moments of gentleness. The backstory here of him as the island’s top dog and protector is a nice touch and I felt it delivered.

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Hail to the king

A big, action packed blockbuster, this is gorgeous to look at, filled with nice moments and just plain fun. It might lack the emotional punch of the original, but it’s still kept me involved throughout.

Verdict: The ’70s setting is a nice touch, the cast do well with what they get and the movie knows that it’s main strength is Kong and lets him cut loose. Hugely entertaining. 8/10.

Any thoughts? You know what to do. BETEO.