King Kong hasn’t been seen on the big screen since Peter Jackson’s 2005 remake of the 1933 film that introduced The Eight Wonder of the World to moviegoers. However, the giant ape will be returning to theaters in 2017 with Kong: Skull Island, a reboot/re-imagining of the King Kong franchise that takes place in the 1970s (a time when the Vietnam War is fresh on everyone’s minds) and follows a group of explorers on an expedition to the eponymous island. There, they encounter a menagerie of giant creatures from a world that time forgot, including old Kong himself.
Skull Island‘s human leads include Tom Hiddleston (the Thor movies) as former SAS officer James Conrad and Brie Larson (Room) as a photojournalist and nature expert. The supporting cast is rounded out by such names as Nick Fury himself, Samuel L. Jackson, Straight Outta Compton costars Corey Hawkins and Jason Mitchell, John Goodman (10 Cloverfield Lane) and Fantastic Four reboot
survivor alum, Toby Kebbell.
Kebbell is perhaps best known for his motion-capture performance as the physically (and emotionally) scarred chimp Koba in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and his next role is likewise a mo-cap character; namely, Durotan the Orc in the Warcraft movie adaptation. A number of people have thus speculated that Kebbell is also playing King Kong via motion-capture in Skull Island, much like Andy Serkis did in Peter Jackson’s King Kong film.
It turns out the claim that Kebbell is playing Kong is… partly true. Kebbell, when he spoke to EW while promoting Warcraft, revealed that he plays Chapman, a human Air Force major who spends most of his screen time with Samuel L. Jackson’s character, in Skull Island. However, he did provide some facial references that will be used to bring the digitally-animated King Kong to life, in collaboration with the mo-cap performance by Terry Notary:
“I gave some facial reference — certain subtleties, certain looks. Terry and I worked on stuff together and created what Kong needed.”
Notary, for those unfamiliar, is a mo-cap performer and movement choreographer who helped to create the realistic movements and motions of the mo-cap characters featured in such films as The Incredible Hulk, The Hobbit trilogy, and The Jungle Book, in addition to Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (where he previously collaborated with Kebbell). Whereas Serkis delivered two full performances – as both the human cook Lumpy and the gigantic Kong – in Peter Jackson’s King Kong, Kebbell emphasized to EW that Notary was largely responsible for handling the role of Kong in Skull Island, while he focused first-most on playing Chapman:
“I was just there as backup for pieces that Terry really wanted to get details on. It’s a real honor to be asked by someone who’s a great performer, to come and help support their performance. It becomes a symbiotic thing, and it’s more like buddies asking each other to help. If we were mechanics and he was having a problem with his sprocket set, it’s more like he borrowed my sprocket set than me playing King Kong.”
You can watch a video of Notary demonstrating the different movement styles for the various “apes” in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, below.
Kong: Skull Island is not expected to feature a “love story” between its female lead (Larson’s character) and Kong like in King Kong movies past, but it will be important for Kong to be a fully expressive and emotive mo-cap creature all the same. The character has long been portrayed as one of the more soulful giant “monsters” of the big screen and one of key plot elements in Skull Island will be the human explorers’ efforts to appreciate and understand the dangerous, yet majestic mythical creatures that the encounter on their journey (judging by previous comments made about the film by Hiddleston and Larson, anyway). For these reasons, it’s encouraging to see that Kong is being brought to life by a pair of proven mo-cap talents in the forms of Notary and Kebbell, respectively.
Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures are likewise banking on filmgoers being taken with the version of Kong presented in Kong: Skull Island, seeing as the studios have already claimed a May 2020 release date for the crossover “event” movie, Godzilla vs. Kong. The studios are moving forward with a direct sequel to the 2014 Godzilla reboot too, but their plans to host another clash between the titans that are Godzilla and King Kong may wind up being canceled if Skull Island isn’t a sufficiently-sized hit at the box office next year.
Given the names involved on both sides of the camera here – including the director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (The Kings of Summer) as well as co-writers Max Borenstein (Godzilla) Derek Connolly (Jurassic World), John Gatins (Flight), and Dan Gilroy (Nightcrawler) – there’s fair reason to believe Skull Island will prove to be a worthy giant monster adventure and notable addition to the larger King Kong filmography yet.
Kong: Skull Island opens in U.S. theaters on March 10, 2017, followed by Godzilla 2 on March 22, 2019, and Godzilla vs. Kong on May 29, 2020.