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One of the more obnoxious trends of the 2010s is every studio under the sun trying to scare up a bit of the Marvel shared universe magic. While I like the Marvel movies, I do think people put a little too much stock in their shared universe angle being why they’re successful. The truth is that if Iron Man, Avengers, or Civil War hadn’t been good movies all the continuity in the world wouldn’t have saved them; see The Incredible Hulk.
While there are a lot of reasons studios have come to obsess over shared universes none of them seem to be the thing that actually makes shared universes fun. See, studios love shared universes for the online marketing hype machine of clues and threads or the way it brings syndicated storytelling to the movies, making films binge-able when the thing that makes them fun is that they allow several different genres to co-exist. This is where Kong: Skull Island comes in.
If there is one film in next years shared universe outpouring that looks like it totally gets this concept it is Kong: Skull Island, the latest King Kong reboot and next step on the road to King Kong vs. Godzilla. Now, I’ve made no secret of the fact I didn’t like 2014’s Godzilla film, it was a bloated mess with way too much ambition and not enough talent all hung off an incredibly bland lead and some extremely dull monsters.
However, I do acknowledge that ambition and that 2014’s Godzilla had a unique style and aesthetic, especially within the quasi-Kaiju genre that’s been growing in popularity since Pacific Rim. So, the fact that Kong: Skull Island has done so much to break ranks with Godzilla’s tone, visual palette, and the setting is a great move.
Speaking of setting, let’s dive in- our time period seems to be the ‘70s judging by the technology on display in this trailer. That fits with a lot of related elements of the film as well as some thematic ones, but I’ll get back to that. Our heroes are a group of army men and scientists contracted by somebody to go investigate the mysterious Skull Island.
This is more or less the same pitch from the 1970s remake of King Kong, which I actually really like as a subtle nod. Overall, the movie is taking a much less reverent tone towards the Kong then the Peter Jackson adaptation while cannibalizing way more of the mythos than the 1970s remake. It’s a strong approach that also seems to be making the great decision to cut out the New York/spectacle stuff altogether.
The main push of this particular trailer appears to be on the island and our new, giant-sized King Kong. Kong looks awesome, and I really appreciate the way the movie is trying to build him into the ecosystem of this world, again abandoning the whole human sacrifice/giant wall thing from the previous 3 iterations.
The “natives” do look decidedly iffy, I’m still not really sure why these Kong movies don’t just ditch the indigenous people altogether or make them island mutants but as they are here…well, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw some angry takes on them and rightly so.
The brief clip we got of Brie Larson “bonding” with Kong is pretty much in harmony with that as Kong’s obsession with the blonde white lady of the cast has long been a point of criticism for this particular franchise.
We also got a look at some of the island’s other creatures like a giant spider and the so-called skull crawlers. This is the part of the trailer I’m least enamored with as the skull crawlers are basically just tiny Cloverfield monsters and aren’t as cool as the dinosaurs from previous iterations.
I do like the change up of throwing army men into the depths of Skull Island rather than the usual contingent of filmmakers or that one time we sent a team of geologists. It sets a much different tone for the film and seems most in tune the likes of Aliens or Predator, which are good films to emulate.
Which brings me to the real core of this trailer and how much it shifts or rather amalgamates the genre put forth by the previous trailer and poster. Previously, Skull Island felt to me like it was trying to embrace a jungle pulp adventure aesthetic in the style of Doc Savage or The Phantom. A lot of this came from the color palette, the visual aesthetic, and the focus on Tom Hiddleston and John Goodman as the film’s center.
This trailer exchanges that for a greater emphasis on the army guys and, specifically, John C. Reilly, not to mention that superb needle drop in the opening, makes this movie feel a lot more like a Vietnam film that just happens to trade the Vietnamese for King Kong, the Viet Kong if you will.
Reilly’s character is A LOT like Dennis Hopper from Apocalypse Now and the one shot of the explosion in the aviator sunglasses of an army helicopter pilot is speaking the cinematic language of Vietnam incredibly fluently. I’m not exactly sure pulp adventure and Vietnam war movie blend together that naturally but it’s an interesting combo, to say the least and I’m hopeful that it all hangs together.
At the very minimum we know this movie is going to be out there with its ambitions much the way that Godzilla was only now we’re getting stuff like John C. Reilly fighting monsters with a katana and King Kong vs. helicopters. My point is that while both Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island are more or less using their giant stars as an excuse to experiment with genre and form Skull Island looks to have a much stronger foundation for that experimentation.
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