1970s fetishism hits critical mass in this monster mash-up of Apocalypse Now and the King Kong of 1933 and ‘76 B-movies, where nothing rules more than the humble Ray-Ban. The film was shot in Vietnam and on the Gold Coast and Hawaii, with the leafy Oahu and Moreton Bay subbing in for the mysterious Skull Island. Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (Kings of Summer, an entertaining and underseen cross-over of Moonrise Kingdom and frat boy comedies from 2013) piles on the references to the fact it’s the dying days of the Vietnam War, the first act barely intelligible amongst wall-to-wall Led Zeppelin and The Rolling Stones needle drops, unloading the reel-to-reels as soon as they arrive. After all, haven’t you always wondered what if after the guns were put down and soldiers left Saigon they went to find some monsters? What if the military then invaded another country. dropping some bombs under the guise of doing seismic experiments as both a last ride and letting off some steam?
Vogt-Roberts flirts with including the trauma of the soldiers, who are now unable to separate themselves from war, an insertion that feels lazy and crass when the rest of the film is so deliberately plasticky playtime. It tries to be something about the futility of man, outsized by something they can’t conquer with brawn, money, and gunpowder (ironically, those things created it), but gets lost somewhere in the middle. Undoubtedly this was fun to make, the film often feels like a promotional video for an upcoming theme park than anything else, complete with cardboard cut outs in lieu of characters. Samuel L. Jackson is a ruthless, hardened lieutenant, hamming it up in a way that’s expected now. Brie Larson also appears, woefully underused as an idealistic photojournalist and damsel in distress; alongside Tom Hiddleston, putting another James Bond audition notch in his belt as an emotionally detatched ‘tracker’ who haunts corners of bars. William Randa (John Goodman), the scientist behind the expedition, tells him that “men go to war in search of something. If you’d found it, you’d be home by now”. But the result has no substance, quickly fading from memory in a yellow, steamy haze of 70s rock. Unsurprisingly, it’s the first entry in Legendary Pictures’s MonsterVerse, which is undoubtedly building to some sort of Godzilla vs. Kong crossover for the ages. If it’s anything like this, he’ll love the smell of napalm in the morning, too.