Kong. Picture: Supplied

Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ King Kong film is set in the 1970s and stars Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L Jackson and John C Reilly.

Mix King Kong with The Lost World, spike it with a bracing dash of Apocalypse Now and you’ve got Kong: Skull Island. 

This highly entertaining return of one of the cinema’s most enduring giant beasts moves like crazy – and achieves an ideal balance between wild action, throwaway humour, genre refreshment and a nonchalant awareness of its own modest importance in the bigger scheme of things.

Leagues better than Peter Jackson’s bloated, three-hour Kong of 2005, this one looks poised for strong returns and potential sequels co-starring hinted-at monsters from movie lore.

It may have seemed like a stretch to entrust this giant project to a director whose career hitherto consisted of one small, kid-centric Sundance film, the 2013 The Kings of Summer. But it was Jordan Vogt-Roberts who had the crucial inspiration to set this Kong redo in 1973, specifically at the moment the United States pulled out of Vietnam, a decision that nourishes nearly every aspect of the film. 

Certainly the spectre of Colonel Kurtz looms over the perilous journey undertaken by this tale’s small band of mostly military explorers into unknown tropical territory, but what awaits them is a whole lot bigger and scarier than Marlon Brando.

As the war ends, old-time secret op Bill Randa (Goodman) convinces the Nixon administration to back a small expedition to try to find and map the place “where God didn’t finish the creation, a place where myth and science meet”, as Randa alluringly puts it.

A crew is ferried by about a dozen choppers that penetrate the dense fog and rain to find what Skull Island has to offer. Among the key members are Samuel Jackson’s bitter Lt-Col Packard, who’s pissed that the US didn’t finish the job in Nam and brings with him his team of “Sky Devils” with quick trigger fingers: Hiddleston’s Captain Conrad, a sleek SAS black ops vet now at loose ends; Brie Larson as combat photographer Mason Weaver; and Corey Hawkins as a bookish biologist, all of whom have their own agendas to pursue in a land unknown to man.

Unknown, that is, except to one man, Hank Marlow (Reilly), a pilot who crashed there during World War II and has lived peaceably among a few silent natives ever since. Marlow has somehow survived through the years with his humour and good will intact, and Reilly’s warmly funny performance becomes the heart of the film.

In the end, though, it’s not the characters the audiences will have come to see, but the monsters, and the film doesn’t stint in supplying them. This Kong is far bigger than any before him, about 100 feet tall. Still, he faces fierce competition on the island from, among others, some toothsome lizards.

As before, Kong is portrayed as fearsome but also observant and sensitive. The film­makers have engineered scenes of bestial combat that are not only credible but shot with unexpected, and often gruesomely funny, moves. The digital zoo is colourful, from a towering spider to a giant water buffalo and an all-embracing octopus, making it clear that Kong has his hands full of worthy opponents. No wonder the old guy seems world-weary. – Hollywood Reporter

DIRECTOR: Jordan Vogt-Roberts

CAST: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L Jackson, John Goodman, Brie Larson, John C Reilly, Jing Tian, Toby Kebbell, John Ortiz, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Shea Whigham, Thomas Mann

RUNNING TIME: 118 minutes