In 1962, two of the biggest movie stars in the world went mano-a-mano in the classic monster movie King Kong Vs. Godzilla. With shared universes all the rage these days (thanks Avengers), the people behind 2014’s Godzilla have taken the next step to reuniting these two titans with Kong Skull Island (Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack, a 3D Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack, a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, DVD), the second film in the MonsterVerse series that will also include 2019’s Godzilla: King Of Monsters before 2020’s rematch, Godzilla Vs. King Kong. It’s just too bad Kong Skull Island is less like the epic Iron Man and more like the just-okay Ant-Man.
Set in 1973, Kong Skull Island follows a group of intrepid explorers — including Samuel L. Jackson (Pulp Fiction), John Goodman (10 Cloverfield Lane), Tom Hiddleston (Thor: The Dark World), and Brie Larson (Trainwreck) — as they head to an unexplored island in the South Pacific. But when they get there, they quickly realize that contracting malaria from mosquitos is the least of their worries. Which is why some of them spend their time on the island running from giant bugs and other hazards, while others show us why everyone should read Moby-Dick.
What’s refreshing about Kong Skull Island is how it doesn’t waste any time teasing us with just hints of the titular ape. Unlike so many monster movies, including his pal Godzilla’s flick, Kong not only appears in the opening of the movie, but he’s also there to greet the human characters when they first arrive on his island. Which makes sense: If a bunch of jerks just walked into your living room, you wouldn’t wait an hour before yelling at them to get out.
Kong Skull Island is also interesting because it’s not just another remake of the Kong Kong. Though it does have some of the same plot points. While no one is trying to capture him, and never makes it to Manhattan, he does get into a fight with a big lizard, is worshipped by the locals, and becomes briefly smitten with Larson, who — like Fay Wray, Jessica Lange, and Naomi Watts before her — is a nice blonde lady. Though his attraction isn’t the full blown love his cinematic cousins clearly felt; he just likes her as a friend.
This is not surprising, given that “nice” is about all that you can say about Larson’s character. While Kong Skull Island has an impressive cast, most of the characters aren’t fleshed out enough to make you care whether they get eaten or not. Sure, that’s often a complaint of monster movies and action flicks, but it’s especially noticeable here. Even Hiddleston, who usually chews up the screen, is unusually reserved and shallow here.
But then, the real star of Kong Skull Island, as it should be with any monster movie, is the big guy himself. And he is impressive. Not only is he the biggest Kong we’ve seen since King Kong Vs. Godzilla, but he’s also rather sympathetic, even when he is smacking army helicopters out of the sky. He’s also the only one in the cast who has anything approaching a character arc.
Unfortunately, having shallow human characters isn’t the only problem with Kong Skull Island. The movie is undermined by some unnecessary, and unnecessarily-artsy, slo-mo that is really out of place. It also has a rather obvious ’60s/’70s soundtrack, as typified by having Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Run Through The Jungle” in a movie where people are literally running through a jungle.
Even with these problems, though, Kong Skull Island is still a better monkey movie than the 1976 remake of King Kong, its 1986 sequel King Kong Lives, and Peter Jackson’s 2005 version. But it’s not as good as the classic 1933 original, the aforementioned King Kong Vs. Godzilla, or 1967’s King Kong Escapes. Though, admittedly, the latter two only beat this for being campy, Japanese monster movie fun.
As for the Blu-rays and DVD of Kong Skull Island, they have a number of special features that will satisfy fans of this monster movie. Though it too comes up a bit short sometimes.
First up on the Kong Skull Island Blu-rays and DVD is a running audio commentary by director by Jordan Vogt-Roberts (The Kings Of Summer). For those curious about the minutia of movie making, it’s as informative as you’d expect, though as with all commentaries, it would’ve been way better if he had been joined by some of the cast, especially Jackson or Hiddleston.
The Kong Skull Island Blu-rays and DVD also have almost four minutes of deleted scenes, some of which are rather interesting, though none would’ve changed the film in any significant way. It’s just too bad that there’s nothing to indicate why they were cut.
Next, the Kong Skull Island Blu-rays and DVD have three making-of featurettes: “Creating A King: Realizing An Icon,” which talks about giving Kong a somewhat new story; “Creating A King: Summoning A God,” about how Kong was physically and technically brought to the screen; and a look at the filming in Vietnam called “On Location: Vietnam.” All of which are informative, though also fairly typical for these kinds of things.
The Kong Skull Island Blu-rays and DVD also has a featurette called “Tom Hiddleston: The Intrepid Traveler,” in which the actor talks about the different locations where the film was shot, as well as “Through The Lens: Brie Larson’s Photography,” in which Vogt-Roberts talks about the real photos Larson took during the shoot. Both of which are interesting, but also seem like they could’ve been combined with the two “Creating A King” videos and the “Vietnam” one into a single making-of featurette.
As for the fictional side, the Kong Skull Island Blu-rays and DVD have “Monarch Files 2.0,” a companion to the “Monarch: M.U.T.O. File” on the Godzilla Blu-ray and DVD, that’s presented as classified files about Skull Island, the natives (human and animal), and the mission chronicled in the movie.
The Kong Skull Island Blu-rays and DVD even have a quick commercial for the upcoming prequel comic book Skull Island: The Birth Of Kong. Though, oddly, there’s no mentioned of the previously released companion comics Kong Of Skull Island: Volume 1 and Kong Of Skull Island: Volume 2.
While the Kong Skull Island Blu-rays and DVD have a lot of good extras, they are missing the movie’s original trailers, something I always think should be included on a movie’s Blu-ray and DVD. Though I also think this should’ve included a trailer for the 2014 Godzilla movie, and maybe a teaser for Godzilla: King Of Monsters.
In the end, Kong Skull Island is a fun monster movie, and is done justice, mostly, by its Blu-ray and DVD editions. Even if it just an appetizer for the bigger fight to come.