Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: Kong: Skull Island

“Free Fire” is also new to Blu-Ray this week. 

This is probably not how Jordan Vogt-Roberts, director of “Kong Skull Island,” wants a review to begin, but I have to say, this movie cracked me up. From the opening shot of young World War II fighter pilot Hank Marlowe (Will Brittain) tumbling out of the sky, to the big moments toward the end in which the typical tough guy/hero tropes are flipped on their head, as well as many moments in between, this movie made me chuckle. I couldn’t help but find it incessantly entertaining and a total joy to watch.

Not that it’s a comedy. Far from it. The movie is an action/adventure film through and through, with sequences chock full of stunts and special effects to show for it. The shots of giant ape Kong swatting at Army helicopters and sending bodies flying is an awesome sight to behold. The fact that as one of the helicopters goes down, there’s a shot of a Richard Nixon bobble head rapidly bobbling away turns it a bit comical.

After the World War II era opening, the movie jumps to 1973, in which frustrated monster researcher Bill Randa (John Goodman) and his geologist assistant Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins) plead their case to U.S. Senator Willis (Richard Jenkins) to fund their expedition to a mysterious Pacific island called Skull Island, presumably named after the fact that it’s shaped like a skull. The ground underneath the island is hollow, which Randa believes is a sign that the giant monsters he’s sought for most of his life are real and live there.

The funding is done and the recruiting begins. Randa finds expert British tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) to assist in locating whatever is on the island, and in order to get through the perpetual storm surrounding the island and land safely, they’re given a military escort led by Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), and his second in command, Captain Earl Cole (Shea Whigham). Tagging along is photojournalist/activist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), who’s looking to continue making a name for herself now that the Vietnam War is winding down.

Of course, what they find when they reach Skull Island is the giant ape that gives “Kong: Skull Island” its title. A lot of helicopters go down, and a large portion of the men in Packard’s squadron wind up dead. This puts Packard in a vengeful mind set. He cannot let the death of his men go unanswered, and he sees it as his duty that before they go to the rendezvous to be air lifted off of the island, Kong must die. People can read into that what they will about military might and armed forces jumping in too quickly and violently before having all of the facts. I see it as more personal for Packard. He’s a proud, noble warrior who suffered a devastating defeat at the hands of Kong. Since he holds Kong as the one solely responsible, payback is a must—no questions asked, no dissenting opinions noted. If Packard is akin to anything or anyone, he is most like Captain Ahab in the Herman Meliville’s classic novel “Moby Dick.” Both are leaders who have suffered loss, and as a result are single-mindedly focused on revenge. Packard, like Ahab, will do whatever he can to achieve that objective.

But of course, all is not as it seems. The plot of “Kong: Skull Island” is too clever than to remain stagnant with a simple revenge plot. A group of survivors, led by Conrad, come across a human enclave of humble tribe folk. Living among them is an older Marlowe, now played by John C. Reilly. He explains to them the true mystery of Skull Island, and the role that Kong plays in keeping life on the island in balance. Older Marlowe serves as a comic relief character, and casting the naturally funny Reilly in the role is perfect. The fact that Marlowe knows nothing of civilization for the past twenty-nine years lends itself to laughter too. Sample dialogue:

Marlowe: Who won the war?
Conrad: Which one?
Marlowe: Yeah, that makes sense.

One thing I have always admired about the “Kong” films, stretching back to the 1933 original, is that they do indeed do that thing that all filmmakers pay lip service to but rarely do: They use special effects to tell the story. In 1933, the height of special effects was stop motion animation, and the movie from that year still stands as a great example of it. Next is the 1976 version, which represented the leap forward to using models and animatronics for the special effects. Then in 2005 and now in 2017, we have computer rendered Kong. As impressive as the 2005 version was, this new movie out does it with the level of detail and seamless interaction between the real elements and the CGI elements. It’s a great testament to how amazing computer effects are now that I can say that for not one second was I taken out of the movie because it obviously looked like an actor was acting next to a green screen. Kong may not be real, but he sure looks like he is.

“Kong: Skull Island” is coming out on Blu-ray at the perfect time. Just as summer heats up and all of the big budget summer fare is playing in the cineplexes, here is a movie that offers just as many big budget thrills, yet can be watched in the comfort of your own home. Another benefit is that instead of sitting through the end credits, like in a theater, you can skip right to the end of them and check out the credit cookie at the end that sets up where the franchise is headed. I strongly suggest doing this—it does not disappoint. Buy it on Amazon: Kong: Skull Island (BD) [Blu-ray].

More New Releases: “Fight for Space,” documentary on the past, present, and future of the space race; “The Promise,” love triangle movie starring Oscar Isaac, Charlotte Le Bon, and Christian Bale, set during the last days of the Ottoman Empire in 1914 and the Armenian Genocide; and “Free Fire,” in which two Boston gangs fight for survival in a warehouse in 1978, starring Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, and Armie Hammer.

Andrew Hudak is a lifelong film lover. His column on Blu-Ray new releases appears every Tuesday. He lives in Connecticut.

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