By now, most of us have heard the news out of SDCC that Legendary Pictures will be taking on King Kong with the 2016 release of Skull Island. Speculation is already out there that the studio, who also brought us this summer’s Godzilla reboot (which I actually really liked), will eventually match the two beasts together in their own take on the iconic and pulpy 1960’s battle.
Please do not ruin this one, LP.
The thing is, Godzilla was ripe for a redo after the so-bad-it-was-never-good Matthew Broderick version. Things could only go up from there, and they did. I was happy that the new Godzilla had sort of a noble purpose, and that he was mostly the same scale throughout. It was intensely satisfying.
But King Kong is another matter because Peter Jackson’s 2005 version was superb, and it has already made up for an awful remake (the 1976 version). Sure, it was three hours long. But it fleshed out the heart of Kong’s story in a way that I will go on record here as saying exceeded the original. Kong isn’t the villain; he is the tragedy. The human reaction to something intensely “other,” the need to possess it, package it, sell it—that’s the villainy. The original film makes the point, but only Jackson’s film explores the creature himself.
I’ve got a thing about gorillas. I have since I was a little kid. And what always bothered me about the original King Kong was that despite making the point that stealing Kong and putting him on display led to disaster, Kong is still basically a monster. And a creepy, sexualized monster at that. There is still a wrongness about him that isn’t really addressed and has led to all kinds of misconceptions about gorillas ever since.
What Jackson’s version did was change the dynamic with Ann from lustful to playful. She was no longer a sensual object to a raging alpha, but a favorite toy to a lonely (and, okay, somewhat psychotic) outsider. The issue of possession is still there, but it’s no longer about her possession as a female. Andy Serkis’ King Kong is unstable because he is isolated; it’s hard to be the only one of his kind. So when a blonde, dancing little pixie comes along and delights him, he wants to own “it.” He is childlike. And Ann, trying to save her own life, sees how troubled he is. She tries to connect. The relationship is now completely changed, and it is completely humanizing. It’s a deeper bond, a platonic love, that puts everything that happens next in a different perspective.
And doesn’t it change the impact of that famous last line? Beauty did kill the beast, but not because he lustfully went after her in an uncontrollable rage. It’s because he wanted to protect his only friend from this dangerous new world he was in, and it was her world. Tragic.
It was also epic. He fought a T-Rex and everything, proving that it’s possible to fight a giant lizard and still have some character development.
So announcing that we’ll all be going back to Skull Island in a couple of years for some epic action carries with it serious responsibilities. Don’t go backwards. Don’t turn Kong into a mindless anger machine, a roar with no substance. Godzilla might be all about the scale of property damage inflicted, but Kong is about the struggle with otherness. Don’t forget that and make him a monster for the sake of it.
And for heaven’s sake, if you decide to pit them against each other, come up with a decent plot. Don’t just pit them against each other because they’re big and it’s cool and hope we won’t notice that you forgot to explain that part. Don’t be that movie studio.