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Kong: Skull Island review only de-evolution can explain this zestless mashup

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Tom Hiddlestons talents are lost in this jumbled jungle caper that repeatedly indulges in anti-climax and silliness

Deep in the distant jungle the undergrowth stirs, the lagoons froth, the branches shake and a huge monster rears terrifyingly up on its haunches, blotting out the sun. Run for your lives! Its a 700 ft turkey, making squawking and gobbling noises and preparing to lay a gigantic egg.

This fantastically muddled and exasperatingly dull quasi-update of the King Kong story looks like a zestless mashup of Jurassic Park, Apocalypse Now and a few exotic visual borrowings from Miss Saigon. It gets nowhere near the elemental power of the original King Kong or indeed Peter Jacksons game remake; its something Ed Wood Jr might have made with a trillion dollars to do what he liked with but minus the fun. The film gives away the apes physical appearance far too early, thus blowing the suspense, the narrative focus is all over the place and the talented Tom Hiddleston is frankly off his game. Given no support in terms of script and direction, he looks stiff and unrelaxed and delivers lines with an edge of panic, like Michael Caine in The Swarm.

This is a Kong deprived of his kingship and his mystery, and even the title is a jumble, unsure of whether its the ape thats the star or maybe the island itself, seething with loads of huge animals, scaring the borrower-sized humans who have rashly dared enter this domain. It comes to us from director Jordan Vogt-Roberts known for his comedy before this and screenwriters Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, Derek Connolly and John Gatins. The script here feels like the umpteenth rewrite with almost all the humour and nuance chucked out to make sure it plays in non-English-language territories.

The time is the early 70s, just after the fall of Saigon, perhaps the latest plausible period in which technology would not have instantly alerted humanity to a primate of this size. Brainy scientists Bill Panda (John Goodman) and Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) get government funding for a top-secret mission to go to the remote Skull Island somewhere in south east Asia to investigate the rumoured big creature. They ask for military help and get it from bored soldier Lt Col Preston Packard (Samuel L Jackson) and his guys, eager for a redemptive challenge after the fiasco of Vietnam. This is one war were not gonna lose! Packard hollers, but hoists the white flag almost at once in the war against silliness and boredom.

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