Kong: Skull Island is a very different type of King Kong movie. The box office smash does feature a giant ape, but its story completely diverges from the classical story laid out by the 1933 original and replicated by its remakes; instead of the parable of beauty killing the beast, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ movie is more of an Apocalypse Now homage.
Plot aside, there’s a more integral difference between the original monster and the current version: his size. Kong was originally 25 feet tall, but in this version stands at four times that (and it’s hinted in the movie he could grow even taller). This size difference enables this new Kong to engage in some bigger fights (helicopters are no issue for him), although the film doesn’t really comment much on the practical change. That wasn’t always the case, as we’ve recently learned.
“The alternate opening that I pitched to them, the studio said: ‘No. You’re crazy. You can’t do that!’ So it’s World War II. A full squad comes to this beach. They’re killing each other – and then suddenly, this giant monkey (that looks a lot like the monkey from the last ‘King Kong’ movie) comes out of the jungle. And they just kill it. It’s dead. And you’re sitting there going, ‘Wait, did they just kill King Kong? Did they kill the hero of this film?’ And then you’d hear a roar and see a much bigger creature – the real King Kong. That was the crazy version of me wanting to send a message that this isn’t like other King Kong movies that you’ve seen. The studio were like: ‘You can’t do that.’”
The version of the film released in cinemas likewise opens in World War II, but takes a different approach. It follows a younger version of John C. Reilly’s character, Lt. Hank Marlow, crash landing on Skull Island and engaging in a fight-cum-chase through the jungle with a stranded Japanese pilot before the mammoth Kong interrupts. In practice it manages to have plentiful examples of the movie’s varied style and sets up a key plot strand, so is indeed more fitting of the bigger picture, but Vogt-Roberts’ initial version is definitely intriguing.
It was clearly a light jab at Peter Jackson’s 2005 version, which was incredibly faithful to the original. While there’s something fun about that sort of knowing wink to franchise fans, it could be taken as a bit too much; there’s no real reason to want to disrespect previous iterations of the film. As fun as it would be to see, the finalized version is probably more fitting (especially given how the film later deals with other members of Kong’s species), hence the studio’s decision.
Regardless of how it opened, what’s important with Skull Island is what it set up; the film is a direct lead into Legendary’s MonsterVerse, building up to 2020’s Godzilla vs. Kong. There’s a lot of clues in the film towards a bigger world of monsters, so in some ways having another, smaller Kong could actually have been a distraction.