WARNING: The following article contains SPOILERS for Kong: Skull Island
Contrary to the saying, it seems there are actually three guarantees in life: death, taxes, and the world's undying love of King Kong. The giant fictional ape returns in Kong: Skull Island as part of a larger plan to bring him into battle with the rebooted Godzilla. But the king of the jungle's origin story comes first, told in an outlandish, Vietnam War-era story of colorful characters and even more colorful movie monsters for Kong to crush. A perfect set-up to pay homage to the versions that came before.
Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts has openly admitted to paying tribute to the dozens of influences in his own creative vision of King Kong, ranging from Akira to Resident Evil video games, and the recreations of classic scenes in the original King Kong. There are just as many ties to the larger monster universe, so we're breaking down each and every one for fans hungry for the secrets locked inside Skull Island.
Needless to say there will be SPOILERS in our list of Kong: Skull Island Easter Eggs & Godzilla Hints.
11. "They Were Trying to Kill Something"
Before the movie's cast is actually brought face to face with the colossal creatures that inhabit Skull Island, they're given a tease of what's to come through an origin story of the island itself, including a series of atomic bomb testings carried out in 1954. It's those nuclear bombings which have a greater significance to the shared monster universe, since - as it's put in the movie - the bomb tests were intended not just to master the new form of weaponry, but "to kill something."
Those who already saw 2014's Godzilla in an effort to see connective issue have as explicit a nod as they're likely to get, with that film already claiming that the famous nuclear testings in the South Pacific during that decade were just a cover to kill the beast known as Godzilla. Another massive creature from a land that time forgot, the footage shown in the presentation is actually some of the exact same film used in Godzilla from Monarch's archives.
10. The Magic Jacket
Before the marketing began to roll out, audiences expected Kong: Skull Island to follow a similar tone and style as previous King Kong movies... until actor John C. Reilly appeared, and threw expectations out the window. The reveal of his character, Hank Marlow (an American pilot who crash landed on the island in World War II) began with his one-of-a-kind leather jacket, emblazoned with the phrase "good for your health." Fans of Reilly's 'Dr. Steve Brule' character born from Tim & Eric had their minds blown, seeing his catchphrase ("For your health!") adapted into such a blatant easter egg.
In reality, the jacket bears a line above and below its insignia, spelling out the phrase "Good for your health... Bad for education" lifted out of Katsuhiro Otomo's manga and animated film Akira. The phrase is found on Shotaro Kaneda's jacket above and below a capsule pill... and as director Vogt-Roberts explained in an interview with Moviefone, the easter egg was a case of total coincidence:
Ironically, it is a Steve Brule Easter egg but it was originally designed as a reference to "Akira" and the jacket they wear in "Akira." It just happened to brilliantly coincide with the "For Your Health" Steve Brule reference. I remember when I showed the jacket to John he said, "You know that's a Steve Brule thing, too?" And I said, "Yeah and it's also an 'Akira' thing." So he said, "All right, well people are going to go nutty for this." I said, "All right." In a normal world, my instinct would have been, Ah,that's too close. But I thought, No, this is perfect. The fact that the original "Akira" reference lines up with this thing in John C. Reilly's life is too good to pass up.
9. King Kong Company
Marlow's jacket just keeps on giving for fans of pop culture and iconic American cinema, since it also includes a reference to Martin Scorsese's Taxi Driver (1976). If you look closely, you'll notice Marlow's jacket has a fictional army patch sewn on alongside the replica ones, placed over his heart, and bearing the outline of what looks like one of the Skullcrawler monsters the stars do battle with throughout the movie.
The similarity is a bit of mystery, but Vogt-Roberts confirms that it's no accident - and the strange patch's layout and style is created in the patch belonging to the entirely fictional group that Travis Bickle (Robert DeNiro) fought in during the Vietnam War - the 'King Kong Company':
That is intentional. And it's a reference also to "Taxi Driver." If you look at the patch that Travis Bickle wears on his jacket in "Taxi Driver," it says "King Kong Company." If you side-by-side the two images you see the similarity.
8. Conrad & Marlow
From the very first images and full-length trailer, it was clear that Kong wasn't going to just be set during the events of the Vietnam War fictionally followed in Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now, but be completely inspired by them. But that's just taking influences, inspiration, and homage from a movie rich in both, since Coppola's dark exploration of human nature was, itself, a cribbing of author Joseph Conrad's novella "Heart of Darkness." Swap out the slavery and financial stripping of the African jungle and people for the Vietnam War, and you've got yourself a hit!
Vogt-Roberts makes sure to pay tribute to the source material just as Coppola did, naming two members of his cast after the original. The man who discovers the island's "darkness" is Hank Marlow, named for the protagonist of the novella, Charles Marlow. And the ostensible 'star' of Skull Island is given the name James Conrad, as a reference to the author.
7. The Princess Mononoke Vibes Are Strong
When you talk about worlds and kingdoms hidden away behind the veil of ancient history, mysticism, or fantastic spiritual entities, it's hard to do it without paying tribute to Hayao Miyazaki and his Studio Ghibli animated features. It shouldn't really come as a surprise, then, that his work played a pivotal role in helping the filmmakers grasp what kind of unique fictional realm King Kong would live in. Since dinosaurs have been done - in the original, the remake, and more recently in Jurassic World - and done well, according to the director, they needed a different answer for their own 'land that time forgot.'
It's a shift in style best embodied in the massive, ancient, realm-blending body of the Sker Buffalo:
Suddenly Miyazaki and "Princess Mononoke" and this sense of beauty and spirituality and this slightly heightened mythical feel was created. That broke open the door for the design of what these other creatures should be. If Kong is the god of the island then these other creatures are the gods of their own domain. And I loved that. I loved that idea and I love Miyazaki and I think there's a lot of "Princess Mononoke" in this movie.
6. Biohazard Helicopter
Vogt-Roberts proudly cited that his influences, homages, easter eggs, and tributes counted into the dozens, if not hundreds... but not all of them would be readily identifiable to viewers. Some of the other nods and references on our list are hard to miss, or easy to see, but one creative shot used to reveal King Kong in the second Kong trailer owes its origins to a video game series... weirdly enough, one more closely tied to survival horror than science fiction or classic Hollywood: the Resident Evil series from Capcom.
We speak of the shot following Kong's murderous arrival (smashing a palm tree into the cockpit of a helicopter, killing those on board and sending the chopper falling to the ground in an instant. The camera sweep through another helicopter in slow motion, showing Kong too large to actually even see properly from the confines of our human characters. Vogt-Roberts cited a shot from a Resident Evil game cinematic as the source of that idea - and it looks like shot from Operation Raccoon City is the one in question.
5. Apocalypse Now
As mentioned above, Francis Ford Coppola's Apocalypse Now became a Hollywood masterpiece when all was said and done, so it's only fitting that its one sheet poster should be constructed by legendary poster artist Bob Peak (the mind behind iconic posters for films like West Side Story, the Star Trek films, Superman, and countless others). It's a poster so good, the studio couldn't resist creating an homage to the film in marketing form, basing Kong's IMAX poster off of Peak's design.
Swapping out Marlon Brando's bald head for that of the giant gorilla (hopefully the first time that line's ever been constructed), and the protagonist's river boat for a crashed bit of World War II-era aircraft, the rest is clear homage. The helicopters figuratively dwarfed next to Brando's head as the enigmatic 'Colonl Kurtz' are literally dwarfed next to Kong, making this both a tribute and a helpful scale tool.
4. "Hold Onto Your Butts"
Kong: Skull Island isn't the first time that actor Samuel L. Jackson goes up against massive, killer creatures from a land before time, and we're confident saying it won't be the last, either. Jackson's character, a military man named 'Packard' is less than thrilled with the mission and wildlife he's faced with, viewing the entire 'expedition' with a cocked eyebrow. But as his team prepares to set off into the unknown, Packard knows that almost anything could be waiting for them on the other side... a sentiment summed up in his warning that he and his fellow travelers should "hold onto their butts."
It's so obvious it's hard to call it an easter egg, as Jackson famously uttered the line in Steven Spielberg's Jurassic Park (1993). In that instance, the "unknown" was hoping that computers would reboot, so the stakes are significantly altered. But when asked how he managed to get Jackson on board with such an overt callback to another prehistoric/monster movie, Vogt-Roberts explained to Bustle that it was a shock to him, as well:
Honestly, I put it in the script and thought for sure he was going to say 'No way,'" the director tells me at the Los Angeles press day for the film. "I didn't even mention it [to him]. I didn't say anything about it. Then it happened, and I was like, 'OK, we did that.'
3. Kin Kongs
Even the idea of what King Kong should be has changed over the decades, from a cartoonish man in a gorilla costume, to a massive, naturalistic gorilla. But with Kong, the idea is to present the beast as a true kingly colossus, not intended to capture the realistic movements or behaviors of an ape, but something completely new. And to make it happen, the filmmakers chose performance capture regular Terry Notary, a veteran of the process (next seen in War for the Planet of the Apes and playing Thanos's movie henchman in Marvel's Infinity War).
As proof of just how small the community of elite performance capture really is - and how influential Andy Serkis has been - audiences have already seen Notary acting alongside Serkis, in the Apes series, playing the grey-haired Rocket and Caesar, respectively. What makes it weird? Well, Kong's departure from the previous version seen in Peter Jackson's movie is a departure from Andy Serkis's who provided the motion capture for his Lord of the Rings director. Small world.
2. Marvel Reunion
It isn't just the realm of actors used to performing in bodysuits and facial dots that's shrinking, but the group of working actors who haven't appeared in a comic book superhero film for Marvel Studios. In that respect, Kong: Skull Island is practically a Marvel reunion. Tom Hiddleston plays Conrad here, having played Loki in the Thor series. Brie Larson plays Mason, but will eventually be seen as Captain Marvel in her solo film. Samuel L. Jackson is a man of action in Kong, but as Nick Fury, leaves most of the dirty work to his Avengers.
John C. Reilly has experience with unique monsters thanks to his time in the Guardians of the Galaxy's Nova Corps. Shea Wigham makes a memorable stand against a Skullcrawler (or tries to), after years spent fighting covertly in Marvel's Agent Carter. Corey Hawkins has a small role in Iron Man 3, and Toby Kebbell played Doctor Doom in Fox's Fantastic Four... but we should probably just forget that one.
1. Post-Credits Monsters
Mason and Conrad escape as one of the few survivors of Skull Island, but soon learn that they aren't quite home free. Not yet, anyway. First they have to be held in an interrogation room for unknown reasons, before a projector starts up to show them additional images pertinent to the new world of monsters King Kong resides within. The cave paintings of massive monsters will seem random to casual viewers, but those who know their iconic movie monsters will see plenty of the all-time, Hall of Fame monsters planned for a film debut of their own.
We've gone in depth on that Skull Island post-credits scene already, so we'll run down the essentials here. Visible in the photos are images of Rhodan, Mothra, and King Ghidorah, as representatives of Monarch HQ inform the characters that "Kong isn't the only king." Ghidorah is actually shown in battle with Godzilla itself, with the atomic lizard's iconic roar heard as the scene fades to black. Bring on the kaiju!