Hello again, beastie, bye-bye love. The latest King Kong reboot buries the romantic triangle between man, woman and giant ape that underpinned the 1933 original movie and subsequent adaptations. In Kong Skull Island, it isn’t “Beauty killed the Beast” even though a blonde woman is part of the crew that arrives on a remote island in the Pacific, only to run into a gigantic primate that doesn’t like visitors. The woman even has a masculine name, Mason Weaver, and she accompanies the expedition led by a shady explorer (John Goodman) in her professional capacity as a trouser-wearing photojournalist. Mason (Brie Larson) briefly looks deep into the eyes of fellow explorer Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), but the ape does not feel the pang of murderous envy that caused his downfall. Perhaps Kong sees, like we do, the absence of passion between Larson and Hiddleston and their dispensability to the plot.

The 1976 version stretched its erotic possibilities to the limit. Jessica Lange’s distressed blonde briefly exposed a breast, causing a commensurate reaction in the primate. When the ape scooped her away from her human minder (played by Jeff Bridges), she went willingly, torn between her inexplicable feelings for the hairy beast and her ardor for the hirsute human. In Peter Jackson’s 2005 production, the ape and his love ice-skated on Central Park before being interrupted.

Kong: Skull Island comes up with a new origin story that replaces romance with politics, in keeping with our fraught times. Jordan Vogt-Roberts’s movie is set in 1973, and has several shades of Francis Ford Coppola’s classic Apocalypse Now (1979). As the Vietnam War winds down, Preston Packard (Samuel L Jackson) and his posse of loyal soldiers accompany a bunch of explorers to Skull Island on the promise of discovering untold riches.

Kong: Skull Island.

There are numerous echoes of the bitterly fought and unsuccessful war that the soldiers left behind in their encounters with the ape as soon as they enter his territory. Vogt-Roberts lathers the soundtrack with iconic songs from the 1960s and ’970s, and there are shades of the ultra-macho lieutenant colonel Kilgore from Apocalypse Now in Packard, who vows to hunt down the ape after several of his men die.

The anti-war and pro-environment messages result in dull human characters but a suitably thrilling ape. No Kong has been bigger or better than the computer-generated creature in the new movie. Kong: Skull Island benefits tremendously from the advances in special effects since the first film. The visual tricks of size and scale between the humungous ape and the tiny humans who run hither-thither underfoot are marvelously realised, especially in the climactic encounter between Kong and his similarly sized adversary, a chalk-white lizard with a scary tongue.

Kong casts a shadow over the characters that they struggle to come out from. In this telling, the ape is the clear hero, his mythic status magnified by his sheer size, his thoughtful actions, and his symbolism as the last thing standing between conquest and freedom. Of the ensemble cast, only John C Reilly, as a WWII soldier who has been stranded on the island since World War II and has befriended the indigenous people, stands out. Reilly’s Marlow, a comic version of Dennis Hopper’s photographer from Apocalypse Now, infuses welcome humour into the sombre proceedings. Only Marlow seems to realise the magnitude of what is unfolding before him. The business-like reactions of the rest of the cast, who easily overcome their initial shock at being pummeled by a creature the size of a mountain, underlines their irrelevance to the plot.

Did the reboot even need a female character – and did Kong need to return at all? One of the central images of every single Kong film is of the woman nestling in the ape’s giant palm. Vogt-Roberts beautifully reinvents this moment, but the encounter suggests compassion for wildlife rather than sexual frisson. The invented mythology that has made Kong endure over the years gets the requisite treatment in the reboot. Vogt-Roberts films the predictable adventure with tremendous flair, and cinematographer Larry Fong’s washed-out colour palette elevates the humdrum “make war not love” tone of the proceedings. The ape towers over the film, as it has in every version.

Kong: Skull Island. Courtesy Warner Bros.