Blu-ray Review: Kong: Skull Island

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Kong: Skull Island, the second film in Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros. Pictures' MonsterVerse, scores high marks based on its own self-acknowledged ridiculousness. At no point does director Jordan Vogt-Roberts seem to take the material all that seriously, except to ensure that it's seriously entertaining. Yes, it's another King Kong movie. But unlike Peter Jackson's 2005 remake, there's no sense of overbearing reverence to the source material. This is pulp that's well aware of its own cheese factor. After Gareth Edwards' shaky Godzilla reboot in 2014, the MonsterVerse is back on track.

Kong: Skull Island is now available on Blu-ray (also 4K UltraHD) via Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. 
Kong Skull Island brie larson tom hiddleston.jpg In addition to Vogt-Roberts' energetic direction, Skull Island benefits immensely from an over-qualified cast. Tom Hiddleston (best known for playing the greatest villain so far in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Loki) leads the ensemble as jaded former British Special Air Service Captain James Conrad. Gruff government agent Bill Randa (John Goodman) hires Conrad to lead an expedition to the titular island, a strangely remote chunk of land shrouded in constantly stormy weather. The team includes photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson, Oscar winner for Room) and the seemingly unbalanced Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson). It's a great assemblage of famous stars and each of them brings a sly wit to their performances.

The 1973 setting is treated by Vogt-Roberts almost as a "character" of its own. From the winking nods to Apocalypse Now to the emphasis on the era's limited technology, part of Skull's fun is how immersed it is in its specific time and place. Perhaps the idea of an essentially undiscovered island, cloaked in mystery, set in our contemporary age of satellite imagery would be hard to swallow. But nearly 45 years ago, it's more plausible. Plus the Vietnam era sets up a situation where eternally-frustrated Packard treats Kong as a surrogate Viet Cong. 

Kong Skull Island john c reilly.jpg The mapping mission turns out to be a ruse by Randa. Soon after penetrating the inclement weather, Skull Island reveals itself as something of a lost world. And the dominate creature among all the giant bugs and "skullcrawler" lizard-beasts is, of course, the enormous primate dubbed Kong. Conrad and Randa's team soon encounters the islands' native inhabitants—plus a surprise in the form of World War II Lieutenant Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly, handily stealing the show). Marlow has been stuck on Skull Island since crashing there 29 years ago.

Soon Skull becomes a survivalist tale as the island's newcomers dodge its treacherous creatures. That means interesting plotting goes by the wayside, for the most part. As the action gets louder and messier, Vogt-Roberts falls back on numerous cliches of the genre. It's still a damn sight more inventive than Godzilla '14, but it does become a bit wearying as the CG sturm und drang drags on (though the film is reasonable tight by today's standards and just a hair under two hours). 
Kong Skull Island feat.jpg Warners' Blu-ray offers superb tech specs, highlighted by a Dolby Atmos (Dolby TrueHD 7.1 core) mix that rattles the windows. Fans will appreciate the generous selection of special features: Vogt-Roberts audio commentary, the two-part "Creating a Kong" (23 minutes total), an additional four shorter featurettes, and a short compilation of deleted scenes.

While Kong: Skull Island doesn't try to subvert the "monster movie" genre, it's consistently fun and reasonably inventive. Next up for the MonsterVerse: Godzilla: King of the Monsters in 2019. We won't see Kong again until the following year, with Godzilla vs. Kong. If they're more like Kong: Skull Island and less like the 2014's limp Godzilla, bring 'em on.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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