Sunday, July 23, 2017

KONG: SKULL ISLAND (2017) (Blu-ray Review)

Label: Warner Bros.
Region Code: A
Rating: PG-13 
Duration: 118 Minutes
Audio: English DTS-HD MA with Optional English Subtitles 
Video: 1080p HD Widescreen (2.39:1) 
Director: Jordan Vogt-Roberts
Cast: Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John Goodman, John C. Reilly

Synopsis: This 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.

I was a fan of Peter Jackson's King Kong (2005), it was epic, adventurous and I loved the era it was set in - it was a love letter to the original King Kong, but it was a bit pacey at times, it was a slow-burn and it took a long damn time to even get to Skull Island and the titular Kong, and some of the special effects work was wonky, for example, those brontosaurus type creatures were a little rubbery looking, but I still love the movie a bunch. Now here comes Kong: Skull Island - a new take on the myth of Kong and set in a new era, the Vietnam era, and with it they bring in more than a tinge of cool Apocalypse Now influence on aesthetic and tone, the gritty 70s is a great era for this one. 

The film opens in '44 with an American fighter pilot going down in combat along with his Japanese counterpart - both are downed and stranded on the island, and both seem to want to continue the fight on land that began in the air - chasing after each other on the beach and deep into the jungle, intent on killing one another until they are interrupted by the titular Kong! 

Forward to '73 we have a Monarch government agent named Bill Randa (John Goodman, The Big Lebowski) who hires a former British Special Air Service Captain James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston, Avengers: Age of Ultron) to guide him and his expedition team of scientist to a place called Skull Island, a mysterious island located somewhere in the South Pacific. Transporting the expedition to the island is a Vietnam War helicopter squadron led by Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel Jackson, Pulp Fiction), they're also joined by war photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World) who has served time "in the shit".

They arrive on the island with no small amount of bad weather, the island is hidden away by a seemingly impenetrable storm front, and begin to immediately place explosive charges around the island to assist in mapping the subterranean composition, going on a "hollow earth" theory favored by Randa and his team. No sooner have they started dropping explosives and fucking the pristine island up than they are besieged by a 100 foot tall ape who destroys/kills most of the team, smashing the helicopters like toys, scattering the survivors into two separate groups, everyone is in shock - no one's seen this sort of thing before. 

The groups begin traversing the island and the team encounters the island's indigenous people who are known as the Iwi, they also encounter the WWII soldier from the start of the film, Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly, Boogie Night)who has become an indoctrinated member of the tribe, and we learn slowly what became of his Japanese counterpart. While most of the group hope to get off the island by travelling to a predetermined drop-off point Colonel Packard becomes obsessed with destroying this new enemy, having failed in Vietnam he seems sort of cracked, and won't leave the island until Kong is destroyed, and he doesn't seem to care if it ends up killing everyone.

The island is a gorgeous place, green, lush and terrifying, and wouldn't you know it, the damn place is lousy with killer creatures, the monstrous ape seems to be the least of their worries. The group find themselves assaulted by a bamboo-stalking giant spider, encounter a gargantuan water buffalo, a nightmarishly huge octopus, and a race of subterranean creatures called "Skull Crawlers", as they are named by Marlow. These are the main threat found on the island, Kong is a sort of gatekeeper that maintains the balance on the island, but Col. Packard's vengeful quest against the massive ape threatens that equilibrium of the island, and the skull crawlers which have been mostly kept below ground begin emerging at an alarming pace. 

The creature action here is awesomely entertaining, fearsome and outrageously large creatures face off against the humans and with Kong, the visual spectacle is absolutely fun stuff and the digital artistry is phenomenal. I do love most of the creature designs, I think Kong looks awesome, they don't go out of there way to over-emote Kong the way Jackson's King Kong did, but he has a great range of rages. The giant octopus and spider are great, but the main baddies the "skull crawlers" didn't quite do a lot for me, much how I didn't care for the MUTO in the recent Godzilla (2015) movie, but they're decent enough that I didn't hate the movie for them, in fact I loved it. 

I think adding the Vietnam war-theme to the movie kept it fresh, we've seen quite a few incarnations of King Kong since the original, and I love the Apocalypse Now aesthetic, the shots of the helicopter squadron in action, they're mirrored aviator glasses adding a certain coolness to the proceedings, reflecting certain scenes of action and horror. The PG-13 movie is never frightening, this is a straight-up action-creature feature, there are no frights, but there is some epic monster action, and loads of tiny human being picked-off by bizarre threats, including some sort of saw-billed birds, and of course by Kong. 

Blu-ray Special Features: 
- Director’s Commentary
- Creating a King: Realizing an Icon (12 min) HD
- Creating a King: Summoning a God (13 min) HD
- Monarch Files 2.0 (8 min) HD 

- On Location: Vietnam (6 min) HD
- Tom Hiddleston: The Intrepid Traveler (7 min) HD
- Through the Lens: Brie Larson’s Photography (2 min) HD
- Deleted Scenes (4 min) HD 

This movie gave me pretty damn near everything I wanted to see from a new Kong flick, it got to the action quickly, it offered a plethora of one-dimensional characters who do what they gotta do, and there's plenty of creature action, so good on director Jordan Vogt-Roberts for bringing Kong to the big screen with the action I craved and some cool visuals. Sure, it's loaded with the pre-requisite amount of Blockbuster bullshit, but as mindless, stuff your mouth with popcorn summer blockbuster goes this was a fun one, I didn't even mind that I cannot buy Hiddleston as a man-of-action, he's just not that guy, but he has charisma to spare. The movie is loaded with tasty classic 70's rock, including "Down On The Street" by Iggy and the Stooges, a seriously badass song for a seriously badass monster flick!

Disclaimer: This release was sent to us courtesy of Warner Bros. for review on the site.