Mankind tumbles several links down the food chain in Kong: Skull Island, a rollicking 1970s-set action adventure directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, which revives one of cinema’s iconic monsters.
Unfolding predominately on a Pacific island where “God did not finish creation”, the picture unleashes a menagerie of hulking beasts as well as the titular ape and contrives a series of digitally rendered showdowns between these leviathans of a lost world.
Kong’s briskly edited ding-dongs ping-pong between the spectacular and the dizzying, choreographed to the relentless beat of Henry Jackman’s bombastic orchestral score.
There are fleeting moments of humour to punctuate the carnage, like when a shadowy US official arrives by car in his nation’s political capital, which is swarming with Vietnam protesters, and deadpans: “Mark my words, there will never be a more screwed-up time in Washington.”
Director Vogt-Roberts and his three screenwriters are apparently fans of Jurassic Park and its sequels.
Key sequences pay homage to Steven Spielberg’s dino-blockbuster, and Samuel L Jackson, who played the park’s chief engineer, recycles one of his iconic lines of dialogue – “Hold onto your butts!” – in the guise of a squadron leader here shortly before the gargantuan primate starts swatting helicopters.
Bill Randa (John Goodman) spearheads a secretive government organisation called Monarch, which specialises “in the hunt for massive unidentified terrestrial organisms”.
He leads an exploratory geological survey to a Pacific island, which is encircled by an electrical storm, and sequesters Preston Packard (Jackson) from Da Nang airbase to fly the mission.
Packard corrals his best pilots and loads aircraft with sonic bombs to map the island’s topography.
Passengers include tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), anti-war photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), geologist Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) and biologist San Lin (Tian Jing).
The sonic weapons rouse a giant ape and the best-laid plans of men of science are smashed to smithereens.
Crash-landed on the island, the survivors encounter a crazed US airman called Hank Marlow (John C Reilly), who has been living wild for 28 years and 11 months since his aircraft was downed during the Second World War.
“Kong is king around here,” confirms Marlow and he joins the race against time to reach the extraction point.
Kong: Skull Island angrily flexes its muscles, but punches below its weight.
In moments of calm, character development is given disappointingly short shrift and cast including Oscar winner Larson are squandered in bland roles.
Hiddleston is unconvincing as a former British soldier, hired to lead the otherworldly expedition, and his swaggering hunk’s centrepiece action sequence involving a samurai sword and gas mask is superfluous and almost laughable in its execution.
A brief coda, nestled in the end credits, teases the head-on collision of monster franchises in next year’s Godzilla: King Of The Monsters and the full-blown rumble Godzilla Vs Kong in summer 2020.