The Movie When Kong: Skull Island hit theaters, we ran two reviews that pretty covered the gamut of reactions: One lukewarm and the other enthusiastic, but tempered. Thanks to this, combined with my utter and complete distaste for Legendary’s previous giant monster movie, Godzilla, I passed on seeing Kong’s return in the theater. That was a mistake. The real problems with Godzilla were a piss-poor script and a mediocre director (Gareth Edwards, who has only made one good movie, Rogue One) more interested in making a “serious” take on the genre. Kong: Skull Island, on the other hand, has a script that isn’t genius but serves its purpose well, and has a brilliant director (Jordan Vogt-Roberts, who has yet to make a dud, two films in) who wants to see things on-screen that he’s never seen before and knows that giant monsters are the draw to a giant monster movie. Set in 1973 as America is pulling out of Vietnam, Kong: Skull Island sees the Landsat program discovering a mysterious island nobody’s ever seen or heard of before (except maybe in rumors). Bill Randa (John Goodman), Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) and San (a brutally underutilized Tian Jing), representatives of a shadowy government organization called Monarch, wrangle financing and transportation to the island to ostensibly map it and search for new biotech opportunities. In reality, Monarch is designed to find and deal with monsters. Giant monsters. The film is set in the same world as Godzilla, just a few decades earlier, establishing a shared universe in a much more successful way than either WB’s DCU or Universal’s Dark Universe, seemingly without even trying. The best part of this is that you don’t have to see the awful Godzilla movie to get it. A simple post-credit scene establishes that there are other giant monsters, daikaiju, out there (and they’ll be featured in the upcoming Godzilla sequel, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, directed by another director who understands genre filmmaking, Michael Dougherty) and suddenly the world is blown wide open. Goodman is solid, if restrained, as Randa, but the script doesn’t really give him much to work with as a character arc. Hawkins shines yet again as Brooks, and I hope we’ll see more of him in some aspect as the world continues to build. Jing is wasted in her part, thanks to a script that really doesn’t seem to know what to do with her. As for the military team, Samuel L. Jackson as Packard nails his Captain Ahab role. Jason Mitchell as Mills and Shea Whigham as Cole have a fantastic chemistry (and Whigham gets a startling and subversive final moment that perfectly captures what Vogt-Roberts wanted to accomplish with expectations about this film). Eugene Cordero is underused but brings his A-game. Toby Kebbell’s Chapman gets his own short arc that is cut off midstream, also defying expectation (don’t worry, he also got to do some motion-capture for Kong’s face, particularly in the Oldboy homage halfway through the film). There is a bit more time and development spent with Thomas Mann’s Slivko, who gets separated from his squad with the non-military characters who are the film’s heart. Tom Hiddleston is the mercenary with a heart-of-gold, Brie Larson is the anti-war photographer who wrangles her way onto the mission, John Ortiz plays the stretched-to-the-point-of-breaking Victor Nieves, and Marc Evan Jackson is criminally underused as Landsat Steve. While all of these actors are solid and their characters are interesting, the real focus of the film (aside from Kong), indeed, the character with the most impressive narrative arc and the character the audience wants to see survive and end up happy, is John C. Reilly’s Hank Marlow. Marlow crash-landed on Skull Island in 1944, along with a Japanese pilot, Gunpei Ikari (played briefly by Miyavi in the film’s opening sequence/flashback), over time the two became friends and while Ikari died before our film begins, his spirit lives on in Marlow. Reilly has a natural ability to push the boundaries of what will work and what will be too over-the-top when it comes to comedy. In the trailers, he came off as a little too broad, but in the context of the film, he sticks the landing every time. Stuntman and acclaimed Movement Choreographer/Coach Terry Notary adds Kong to his list of motion capture credits and he does a fantastic job capturing the physicality of the giant ape-who-isn’t-really-an-ape. Wait what? Yes, Kong is not a giant ape but instead is an evolutionary offshoot somewhere between apes and man. Whatever works, folks. Whatever works. Vogt-Roberts finds a way to take a large cast and make almost every character stand out despite a script that falls short at times. But it’s really the digital effects work that brings it all home. The location shooting in Hawaii, Australia, and especially Vietnam is beautiful and mind-bogglingly impressive, but then the digital team from ILM takes everything to another level. Whether it’s the pulse-pounding helicopter battle that introduces Kong to viewers, the inspiringly mythic giant monsters, the grotesque Skull Crawler designs, or the simply amazing final battle between Kong and the Momma Skull Crawler at the climax of the film, almost every aspect of this film looks spectacular. The sound design, Larry Fong’s cinematography, and the use of brilliant color helps to make Kong: Skull Island stand out in a sea of mediocre and generic summer blockbusters. Seriously, this is a film that throws image after image at you, action sequence after action sequence, and allows the visual storytelling to take the lead, giving us a giant monster movie that looks better than most of the serious films out there. There are visual references to things as diverse as Cannibal Holocaust, Oldboy, Evangelion, Dragon Ball-Z, Metal Gear, and so many other things I’m not familiar with that if you’re into manga, anime, or horror you’re going to find things to love. Personally, I can’t get enough of Tom Hiddleston in a gas mask running through vivid green clouds of toxic gas killing monster lizard birds with a samurai sword. That’s going to be my jam for a good long while. The Extras Director’s Commentary: Jordan Vogt-Roberts handles the director’s commentary solo, with no other people to help prop him up or share the blame if it were to go wrong. Luckily, it goes very, very right. If you’re a film student wanting to get some insight into the actual production, you’ll be disappointed. If you want behind-the-scenes gossip, you’ll also be left in the cold. Instead, what we get is a director who is enthusiastic about the property and loved the process of getting a film made that defies and subverts expectation. I’m not a big video game or anime follower, so it wasn’t until listening to Vogt-Roberts that I realized just how immersed he is in those worlds alongside film. He points out a lot of the references that he was making visually throughout the film, so the commentary is an Easter Egg hunter’s dream. We also get a real sense that he was more interested in presenting a film filled with things we’ve never seen on-screen before than he was with being a slave to the studio’s shared universe. They’re never really at odds, although there are moments where he reins in some of his more idiosyncratic indulgences. Probably the most interesting factoid, and one that will explain some of the criticisms that the film received upon its initial release is that the production of the film followed the concept art. The script wasn’t as far along as the concept art, as they had to start the script from scratch when Vogt-Roberts came onboard (the original script was set in 1917 and was a sort-of prequel to the 1933 film). Vogt-Roberts wasn’t really interested in that and instead pitched a Vietnam-era, Hendrix-infused version that, thankfully, Legendary ran with. Overall, this commentary track might not shed a lot of light on the production process as much as it spotlights Vogt-Roberts’ personality. But I’m okay with that. Creating a King – Realizing an Icon: This is a fairly generic behind-the-scenes featurette. The stars talk about what a great time they had and how much they love the film. There’s not a lot of interesting things said or shown. Creating a King – Summoning a God: Much more interesting. This featurette takes a look at the special effects work required to bring Kong to life and it is mind-boggling. Because Kong: Skull Island doesn’t take the 2014 Godzilla route and refuses to tease, Kong is front and center and all over this film. The work that went into this movie is astounding. On Location – Vietnam: Damn, Vietnam is beautiful. Tom Hiddleston – The Intrepid Traveler: Short looks at the shooting locations in Hawaii, Australia, and Vietnam, introduced by Hiddleston. Not much to it. Through the Lens – Brie Larson’s Photography: Very intriguing. Apparently, Larson’s camera was functional and loaded throughout the shoot, allowing her to really take pictures of the people, sets, and landscapes while both in and out of character. Nice shots. Monarch Files 2.0 (Companion Archive): Interesting collection of short pieces that serve as promotional spots for the film. Nicely done, but not a lot of real information there if you’ve already watched the movie. Deleted Scenes: The first deleted scene expands on the introduction of the military characters and really adds to their sense of family and lays groundwork for the dedication they have for each other later. It would have also helped add tension when things go south. The rest of the deleted scenes are your usual lot. Some are interesting, some are not. None are really needed to tell the story. See larger image Kong: Skull Island (BD) [Blu-ray] Kong: Skull Island (Blu-ray) When a scientific expedition to an uncharted island awakens titanic forces of nature, a mission of discovery becomes an explosive war between monster and man. Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson, John Goodman and John C. Reilly star in a thrilling and original new adventure that reveals the untold story of how Kong became King. New From: $8.88 USD In Stock Advance Review: Kong: Skull Island Blu-ray4.5Overall ScoreReader Rating: (0 Votes)Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... 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