|Kong: Skull Island
** (see below notation)
|Plot SummaryThis compelling, original adventure tells the story of a diverse team of scientists, soldiers and adventurers uniting to explore a mythical, uncharted island in the Pacific, as dangerous as it is beautiful. Cut off from everything they know, the team ventures into the domain of the mighty Kong, igniting the ultimate battle between man and nature. As their mission of discovery becomes one of survival, they must fight to escape a primal Eden in which humanity does not belong. (from Warner Bros.)|
|Film Review With remakes and cinematic universes being all the rage in Hollywood these days, the King Kong franchise seems like fertile ground to attempt to rekindle something that could spurn a series of films. With the moderate success of 2014’s Godzilla film, this year’s Kong: Skull Island is set within the same universe, however it takes place a couple decades earlier in 1973. Warner Bros has every intention to unite the two monster franchises in a mono a mono battle called Godzilla Versus Kong in 2020. But while Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla film took itself quite seriously, Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ Kong: Skull Island is an action romp that sets out to recapture that good ol’ monster movie feel — and succeeds.
When Samuel L. Jackson’s character, Packard, goes so far as to quote his famous “Hold on to your butts” line from Jurassic Park (a modern classic “monster movie” featuring Jackson), you know you’re in for a wild ride. And Vogt-Roberts gives viewers just that. The film’s tone takes itself relatively seriously, but there’s a sense of fun thrown into the mix here as well — from the frequent use of 1970’s rock favorites to drive the action, to the soldiers joking around with each other and the action sequences bringing frequent deaths and mass destruction. It’s the kind of fun action, “creature feature” that used to be popular in the 80’s and 90’s (and before), with a twist of today’s humor and heart.
The film is a bit frenetic at times, though. When you feel like it’s going to develop a few deeper relationships — whether between Brie Larson’s photographer character Mason Weaver with Kong himself, or with her and Tom Hiddleston’s heroic James Conrad — we only get shallow connections. It’s just barely enough to give the film a little substance, but ultimately, Vogt-Roberts and his team kind of waste a chance to give a fully satisfying action adventure with some extra meat. But even though there’s a sense that it falls a hair short of being something greater, it actually still delivers. I caught the film on the big screen when it was in theaters and really enjoyed it, but I found myself enjoying the second viewing a lot more. It almost does the balancing act that Brendan Fraser’s The Mummy did in 1999 between action, adventure and comedy. There’s plenty of violence in this film too, with some gruesome people and creature deaths. John C. Reilly’s marooned soldier, Hank Marlow, provides some truly over-the-top comic relief, but it helps break up the tension caused by just how awful this environment is for Skull Island’s new hapless visitors. It can be a little jarring at times — even feeling a bit out of place — but it still works surprisingly well.
The second viewing was my first seeing the film in 3D on Blu-Ray, and it’s definitely worth it. While this kind of 3D isn’t quite as immersive as something you might see at a theme park attraction, it still gives an added depth and usually is some fun additional eye candy. If you like 3D and have 3D capabilities at home, Kong: Skull Island is a great option.
The content is firmly within the PG-13 rating. As I touched on briefly, there’s quite a bit of action violence. It’s in spurts, but usually the film goes all-out when it does let loose. The opening scene shows Hank and a Japanese soldier crash-landing on Skull Island during WWII, and the two fight it out, with Hank stopping the enemy’s sword by grasping it with his bare hands (Yeah, ouch!). When the helicopters arrive on Skull Island and grab Kong’s attention, there’s a thrilling but intense sequence where Kong proceeds to smash one vehicle after another and even crush the survivors on the ground (or eat one in mid-air). The other survivors have varying amounts of blood on their faces and heads from that point on throughout the rest of the film. One character gets a mouthful of a huge bamboo pole that turns out to be a gigantic insect’s leg (it’s pretty gross). Another character is yanked off a boat by monstrous birds who tug at him in the air, silhouetted against the sun — and we then see a bird slice off his arm as he screams. Kong also fights other creatures, including a huge octopus, which he rips tentacles off of, and “Skull Crawlers,” one of which he rips the tongue and guts out of. Other content includes frequent profanity, including a use of the “F” word by Reilly and an incomplete “motherfu…” from Jackson.
While by no means a masterpiece, Kong: Skull Island is a visually impressive, fun action/adventure monster movie. I would have preferred Vogt-Roberts refrain from the frequent profanity use or tone down some of the violence, but as-is, Skull Island is a very entertaining flick that fans of the beast and the genre should thoroughly enjoy.
– John DiBiase (reviewed: 7/18/17)
Blu-Ray Special Features ReviewKong: Skull Island is available in a 3D Blu-Ray/2-Disc 2D Blu-Ray/Digtial combo pack, a Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital combo pack, 2-disc DVD, and a 4K Ultra HD release with a Blu-Ray disc and digital copy, as well as separately through the usual digital movie providers. We’re reviewing the 3D combo pack, which includes the 3D movie on one disc and a 2D Blu-Ray disc with the following features:
Creating a King:
Summoning a god (12:47) The second part of “Creating a King” focuses on recreating Kong for a new generation. The filmmakers talk about how this Kong is meant to be a mix of man and monster and less like a gorilla. They consciously tried to make him resemble more of the 1933 Kong. They also wanted to show this Kong beating the helicopters in the film to contrast how the planes beat him in the original film. The featurette then covers more on the monster fights and shooting on location. (1 “S.O.B”)
On Location: Vietnam (5:38) reveals that this film is the largest production to have ever filmed in Vietnam, and how most people don’t realize how beautiful the country really is.
Tom Hiddleston: The Intrepid Traveler (6:53) – This is a little featurette that’s mostly a collection of candid footage of Tom Hiddleston on various locations during the film’s production — from Hawaii, where he goes up in a real helicopter with Brie, to a sound stage in Australia where they filmed the natives’ temple, to on location in Vietnam for the boat scenes.
Through the Lens: Brie Larson’s Photography (2:19) – The director insisted–with Brie’s approval–to make sure she always had real film in her camera at all times during production. Here we see a series of photos she took on set with Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ talking about it in narration over the photos.
Monarch 2.0 (Companion Archive) (7:58) – This is a series of Houston Brooks’ scientific tape recordings of animals, monsters, Kong, the island natives, etc, to serve as mock secret case files Brooks made during his expeditions.
Commentary – You have the option to listen to a feature-length commentary from the film’s director, Jordan Vogt-Roberts.
Deleted Scenes (3:45) – There are just a couple deleted scenes that are all lumped together in one montage. The first shows Packard reuniting with the soldiers in the hangar, where we realize they’ve all served with him for quite some time. While you kind of get that from watching the movie, I like this little interaction they have (1 “a–h*les,” 1 “h*ll”). The next scene is more footage from the night before they leave, where one quips that “computers are so small now, they can fit on a helicopter” (Ha!). We then see Packard meeting Conrad for the first time and Conrad asking Randa why the helicopters are outfitted with guns. Finally, after the helicopter wrecks, Packard finds a bloody soldier passed out on the ground and wakes him up, and then there’s a short additional moment of the soldiers walking through jungle (1 “S” word).
– John DiBiase, (reviewed: 7/17/17)
Parental Guide: Brief Summary of Content Sex/Nudity: None.