I’ll admit, I wasn’t exactly ecstatic when I heard the news that Legendary Studios was making another King Kong movie; ambivalence would best describe my feelings when it was first announced. However, as more news starting coming out about the details of the film, I started to get more and more interested. Tom Hiddelston? Samuel L. Jackson? John Goodman? Vietnam War-era setting? – Sign me up. Then the first trailer dropped, and suddenly moderate, but cautious, interest became absolute I cannot wait for this movie to come out excitement.
Thankfully, the film delivers on all of the fun and spectacle that the trailer teases. For anyone who was let down by the lack of Godzilla in Legendary Pictures’ previous monster outing, rest assured, Kong is present, and you best believe that he gets around to his usual monster fighting, chest beating bad assery. To say that the visual effects in this film are impressive would be an understatement. Every single hair on Kong stands out, and the performance capture work is on the same level as the recent Apes films, which is to say that it is exemplary. And for a Kong whose character is a bit more fleshed out this time around, precise facial recognition is key. That’s right, believe it or not, King Kong is actually kind of a rounded character for once, which is one of the many facets of Skull Island that elevate it above other monster films.
This time, rather than have Kong simply be a brute that falls for a blonde-haired woman (technically this is in the film, but it’s only a referential nod at best) he plays the role of protector for the entire island and its inhabitants, even the human ones. This was a welcome change, as the whole “Beauty and the Beast” angle has been more than played out at this point, and was the reason for my initial indifference to the film when it was originally announced. By circumventing this aging story beat, Kong gets to be an actual hero for the first time, and not just a tragic figure with whom we empathize. It also gives him a justifiable reason to be upset when helicopters fly in and start dropping explosives on his island, blowing giant holes everywhere and killing the local wildlife.
And speaking of the military presence in this movie, one other thing that this movie does well is humanize the usual “let’s blow some shit up – yee haw!” soldiers that we see and give them a little more dimension then we’re used to in a movie like this. Sure, we do get those “I love blowin’ shit up!” characters, but they’re killed almost instantly, and the ones we’re left with are just a bunch of guys looking to go home after a long tour and aren’t necessarily gung ho about following Samuel L. Jackson’s mad journey to destroy Kong at all costs. Now, I’m not saying that these are the most developed characters I’ve ever seen put to film, but it’s nice when characters who are ordinarily two dimensional in movies like this given a bit more depth, and I feel like that is the case here. When one of these guys gets picked off by a giant bird or eaten by a giant spider, I feel it. And for a movie of this nature, that’s rare.
Now, onto the last bit: Samuel L. Jackson, and King Kong, by way of Apocalypse Now. The concept of tackling a King Kong story by viewing it through the prism of Apocalypse Now was an interesting idea to say the least. I remember the director revealing this approach when the film was just starting to be unveiled to the public and thinking, huh…ok. I wonder what that will look like? It turns out, they couldn’t have picked a better parallel for a monster film. Samuel L. Jackson’s character, channeling Col. Kurtz, is a man questioning his purpose in life. The war is over, but we didn’t win…or lose. In his words, we abandoned it. Now, desperate for another mission, he’s sent to an uncharted island in what should be a relatively simple escort job, but turns out to be a nightmare as nearly his entire team is wiped out soon after arriving. For a guy who’s already on edge, seeing a giant ape kill most of his men would understandably push him past his psychological limits, and even though he can be a little over the top at times (to put it mildly) I understand how he gets to this point, and it never comes across as something out of left field. He may be crazy, but I can clearly see how he gets to this point and why he makes the decisions he does in the film. Again, tying Kong with the Apocalypse Now story beat of a guy gone crazy from war gels well, and makes the film all the more entertaining to watch, not just for the giant monster scenes (of which there are many), but for the wonderfully unhinged performance from Jackson as he gradually loses his mind.
What else is there to say? If you’ve seen the trailer, you know exactly what type of movie you’re getting: a fun and endlessly entertaining spectacle with large scale monster fights, funny and likeable characters (did I mention that John C. Reilly steals every scene he’s in? – No? Watch the movie and you’ll see) and the best iteration of King Kong since the original 1933 classic.
THE VIDEO – 10/10
One of the most eye-catching elements of the film, other than the monsters on display, are the stunning and beautifully photographed locations in Hawaii and Vietnam (the latter representing the majority of where the film was shot), and maaaan, do they look good on Blu-ray. Nearly every scene in the movie is a smorgasbord of color, and thankfully, every frame is reproduced perfectly and without edge enhancement. The black levels look good and no crush is to be seen. Like the Planet Earth II documentary I reviewed earlier this year, Kong: Skull Island would no doubt make for a great 4K release to test out a brand new 4K TV. But never fear, the 1080p video on the standard Blu-ray is more than up to the task, and still has the power to wow with its clarity.
THE AUDIO – 10/10
A slowly growing source of controversy with some of Warner Bros’ recent 3D Blu-ray releases, the Dolby Atmos soundtrack is only present on the 4K release and the standard 2-disc Blu-ray release (for which this review is based). But, as I am merely a poor middle class man with a measly 5.1 DTS-HD setup, I opted to listen to that audio track, as it was best suited for my limited means (for the record, there is also a 7.1 Dolby HD track on the disc, in addition to the Atmos).
Despite not having a top channel to hear helicopters being thrown over my head with, the entire sound field that enveloped me was constantly active, with precise movement, and thunderous LFE and bass. I may not have an Atmos setup, but I wasn’t exactly roughing it with the 5.1 DTS-HD track, as it more than complemented the exciting visuals.
Still, though…I can only imagine what it would be like to listen to this film with an 11.1 system. Maybe it’s time I cashed in my 401K and just took the 4K/Atmos plunge. Who has the time to worry about their future finances? I’m here, now, and I want to experience the best possible Kong I can, dammit!
THE SPECIAL FEATURES – 6/10
*Commentary by Director Jordon Vogt-Roberts
- Realizing an Icon
- Summoning a God
On Location: Vietnam
Tom Hiddleston: The Intrepid Traveler
Through the Lens: Brie Larson’s Photography
Monarch Files 2.0 (Companion Archive)
THE FINAL RATING – 9/10
Released in March, Kong: Skull Island earned an early position on my Top Ten list for 2017. Fueled by breathtaking scenery, impressive visual effects, and a sense of fun and adventure that is sometimes forgotten in a time when blockbusters so frequently feel the urge to go dark and moody; Kong: Skull Island is a film that excels in making you feel like a kid again. As for the Blu-ray, while it would have been nice to get an extensive, feature length making of documentary, this is more than made up for with reference quality video and audio. If you haven’t already seen the film, and enjoy adventure stories with giant monsters and dangerous, unknown jungles, then I strongly recommend laying down twenty bucks and picking up this Blu-ray – you’ll have a great time.