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For all the action, comedy and excitement on show in the new trailer for Kong: Skull Island, it’s hard to disguise the biggest problem on show — one that may translate to the finished film, worryingly enough: Kong is no longer the king of all he surveys.
Oh sure, there’s a line literally arguing the opposite: “That’s Kong. He’s king around here,” says John C. Reilly’s character in a sly nod at the origins of the franchise only slightly undercut by other scenes suggesting that same character isn’t the most reliable source of information. Though it’s a cute shout-out to the original name of the overgrown gorilla who debuted back in 1933, it also underscores an obvious question about the movie: Why not just call him King Kong in the first place? Is that actually any sillier a name than “Kong”?
Perhaps the answer is simply that Skull Island is embarrassed of Kong. Certainly the trailer could make that argument, as loaded with familiar faces and additional monsters as it is. Not only is Kong not enough of a threat to carry the movie on his own hairy shoulders, he has to watch his star power being eclipsed by a cast including Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Samuel L. Jackson and John Goodman, as well as the aforementioned Reilly. The movie is stuffed so full of recognizable actors that it feels at times more like a contemporary Towering Inferno than a King Kong film.
In amongst all of this, Kong feels more like an afterthought than anything else; he’s neither protagonist nor antagonist, but instead relegated to the background, where he can provide some visual interest and wrestle the almost inevitable giant monster who’ll appear just before the end of the movie. To judge from this trailer, he’s more a domesticated giant ape acting out a contemporary version of The Godzilla Power Hour than anything recognizable as the King Kong audiences have come to expect.
This might be a necessary transition. Certainly, even Peter Jackson couldn’t make a more traditional King Kong into a success when he tried it as his first post-Lord of the Rings project back in 2005, and in an environment where The Avengers and other superheroes routinely deal with massive threats to the world, the idea of a giant gorilla rampaging through the urban environment might not pack the same appeal that it once did. (If nothing else, it might just make audiences wish the sequel to 2014’s Godzilla was in theaters already.)
Nonetheless, it’s difficult not to be disappointed that Skull Island doesn’t lean more heavily on the idea that a giant gorilla is amazing, without having to add in more unknowable beasties and monsters to grab the audience’s attention. The idea of Kong not being the central monster — even a noble, misunderstood one, as in some takes on the character — in any story bearing his name feels like a misstep and a misunderstanding of the King’s appeal. What kind of movie world are we living in where an oversized ape isn’t enough anymore, and how do we find our way back out?
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