Kong: Skull Island
Kong: Skull Island is a 2017 American monster film directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts and written by Dan Gilroy, Max Borenstein, and Derek Connolly from a story by John Gatins. The film is a reboot of the King Kong franchise, and serves as the second film in Legendary's MonsterVerse. The film stars an ensemble cast consisting of Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, John Goodman, Brie Larson, Jing Tian, Toby Kebbell, John Ortiz, Corey Hawkins, Jason Mitchell, Shea Whigham, Thomas Mann, Terry Notary, and John C. Reilly. Set in 1973, the film follows a team of scientists and a US Army unit recently withdrawn from the Vietnam War who travel to an uncharted island in the Pacific and encounter terrifying creatures and the mighty King Kong.
|Kong: Skull Island|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Jordan Vogt-Roberts|
|Based on||King Kong
by Merian C. Cooper
|Music by||Henry Jackman|
|Edited by||Richard Pearson|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros. Pictures|
|Box office||$566.7 million|
Principal photography took place from October 2015 to March 2016 in Hawaii and various locations around Vietnam. Kong: Skull Island premiered on February 28, 2017, in London and was released in the United States on March 10, 2017, in 2D, 3D, IMAX 3D, in Dolby Cinemas and in 70mm.
The film received praise from critics for the performances of its cast, direction, cinematography, visual effects and for a fresh take on the King Kong story although lack of character development received criticism. It became a commercial success, grossing over $566 million worldwide against its $185 million budget, becoming the 17th highest grossing film of 2017. At the 90th Academy Awards, the film received a nomination for Best Visual Effects. A crossover sequel, Godzilla vs. Kong, is set for release on May 22, 2020.
In 1944, in the midst of World War II, two fighter pilots – American pilot Hank Marlow and Japanese pilot Gunpei Ikari – parachute onto an island in the South Pacific after a dogfight and engage in close combat, but the fight is interrupted by a giant ape.
Twenty-nine years later, in 1973, U.S. government agent Bill Randa hires former British Special Air Service Captain James Conrad, a skilled tracker, to guide an expedition to map out a recently discovered island known as Skull Island. Their military escort is the Sky Devils, a U.S. Army helicopter squadron newly returned from the Vietnam War and led by Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard and his subordinates, Major Jack Chapman and Captain Earl Cole. The group is joined by pacifist photojournalist Mason Weaver, who believes the expedition is a secret military operation and plans to expose it. Upon arrival at Skull Island, Packard's men begin dropping explosives, developed by seismologist Houston Brooks, to map out the island and prove his Hollow Earth theory. However, the air unit is attacked by the same giant ape from 1944, who kills a number of military personnel and scatters the survivors across the island.
Packard regroups with some of the scattered survivors, including Randa, Cole, his door gunner Reles, pilot Glenn Mills, and Landsat employee Steve Woodward. After being confronted by Packard, Randa reveals his affiliation to the secret government organization Monarch, and its plan to use the expedition to prove the existence of monsters and determine their threat to humanity. Packard's group begins making their way to Chapman, whose helicopter crash-landed elsewhere. Meanwhile, the other group of survivors, consisting of Conrad, Weaver, Brooks, biologist San Lin, soldier Reg Slivko, and Landsat employee Victor Nieves, try to get to a rendezvous point to meet a resupply team arriving in three days' time. Along the way, the survivors have various encounters with the island's creatures.
Conrad's group eventually encounters the local Iwi natives and an older Marlow. Marlow reveals the ape is Kong, the island's guardian, worshiped as a god by the natives for protecting them from many predators, including two-legged, lizard-like monsters dubbed "Skullcrawlers". He informs them Kong attacked and destroyed the air unit because their bombs brought the subterranean Skullcrawlers to the surface; the Skullcrawlers are responsible for killing Kong's ancestors, leaving him as the last of his kind. Marlow also tells them that he and Ikari became friends, but Ikari was killed by a Skullcrawler some time ago. He also says they are fortunate that they didn't awaken "the Big One", the largest of the Skullcrawlers.
Chapman is ambushed and eaten by a Skullcrawler, while Conrad's group helps Marlow complete a boat built from parts scavenged from Marlow and Ikari's downed planes. They ride down the river, and manage to secure communication with Packard's group, but the boat is attacked by pterosaur-like creatures that kill Nieves. They regroup with Packard, who insists on searching for Chapman, though his true objective is to secure weapons and kill Kong, who he perceives as an enemy due to killing his men. Marlow leads the two groups to a mass grave littered with the bones of Kong's kin. There, the same Skullcrawler that killed Chapman attacks the group, killing Randa and many soldiers before dying in a flammable gas explosion triggered by Weaver. Learning about Chapman's death, a vengeful Packard becomes even more determined to kill Kong and avenge his fallen men. The group parts ways, with Packard's group retrieving weapons from Chapman's chopper and laying a trap for Kong at a nearby lake, while the non-military personnel head back to the boat. While scouting the path ahead, Conrad and Weaver encounter Kong up close and, seeing his true peaceful nature, they resolve to save him.
As Conrad and Weaver encounter Kong, Packard's group uses the remaining seismic charges to lure him in. Kong charges to the lake, where Packard incapacitates him with ignited napalm, though Woodward is killed. Conrad, Weaver, and Marlow arrive and persuade the other soldiers to spare Kong, but Packard refuses to stand down. A massive Skullcrawler, the Big One, emerges from the lake and Packard is crushed to death by a recovering Kong. The Skullcrawler overpowers Kong and chases the humans to a marsh near the island's edge. Cole is killed in a failed suicide bomb attempt to kill it. Kong returns to rescue the others and battle the beast, and is aided by the survivors. Weaver is knocked into the marsh during the fight but Kong saves her from drowning. The Skullcrawler then tries to kill Kong and eat Weaver, but Kong finally kills it by tearing out its tongue and eviscerating it, and allows the survivors to leave the island.
During the credits, Marlow is shown returning home, reuniting with his wife, meeting his son for the first time, and watching a Chicago Cubs game on television.
In a post-credits scene, Conrad and Weaver are detained and recruited by Monarch. They are informed by Brooks and San that Skull Island is just the beginning and that Kong is not the only monster king to roam the world. As proof, they are shown archive footage of cave paintings depicting the monsters Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra, and King Ghidorah.
- Tom Hiddleston as James Conrad, a former British Special Air Service Captain who served in the Vietnam War with the Special Air Service Regiment, hired as a hunter-tracker for the expedition by Randa. Hiddleston described his character as a man who holds "no political allegiance in the conflict" but "understands conflict", further stating, "He’s a former soldier who has been formed by an understanding of war, but his specific skill set is something that's attached to the power of nature; and I think that's something people haven’t seen in a long time".
- Samuel L. Jackson as Preston Packard, a United States Army Lieutenant Colonel and leader of the Sky Devils helicopter squadron, assigned to escort the group of explorers on the expedition. Jackson compares his character to Captain Ahab from Moby-Dick, stating, "He does have to exact some measure of revenge for the people he's lost. That's just the nature of how we operate—eye for an eye!".
- John Goodman as William "Bill" Randa, a senior official in the government organization Monarch, who is in charge of the expedition.
- Brie Larson as Mason Weaver, a photojournalist and peace activist. Larson stated that her character has her "own sort of motive" as to why she joined the expedition: "That's the interesting thing about this movie. It's a group of misfits that are all coming from different angles looking at the same thing. You get to see how many different views in regards to nature and how we should handle it are dealt with from many different perspectives". Larson further added that Weaver has an "interest and respect for nature" and "Through that she has a closer, more loving, and intimate relationship with Kong".
- Corey Hawkins as Houston Brooks, a geologist and Yale University graduate, recruited for the expedition by Monarch for his groundbreaking theories on seismology.
- Toby Kebbell as Jack Chapman, a United States Army major and Sea Stallion helicopter pilot who is Packard's right-hand man.
- John Ortiz as Victor Nieves, a senior Landsat official on the expedition.
- Jing Tian as San Lin, a biologist working for Monarch. According to Vogt-Roberts and Borenstein, her role was originally larger but had been reduced. Alison de Souza of the Straits Times wrote that in the final film Jing Tian's role would be described in Chinese as a "hua ping" (花瓶), meaning a vase, which refers to insignificant roles, and that she "hardly does or says a thing."
- Jason Mitchell as Glenn Mills, a warrant officer and helicopter pilot of the Sky Devils and close friend of Cole.
- Shea Whigham as Earl Cole, a seasoned Captain of the Sky Devils who wields an AK-47 instead of an M16 and close friend of Mills.
- Thomas Mann as Reg Slivko, a warrant officer of the Sky Devils, known for carrying a portable record player.
- Terry Notary and Toby Kebbell as King Kong (Mo-cap performance), a 110-foot-tall gorilla who is worshiped as the king and god on Skull Island by the Iwi natives. Notary stated that this Kong is an adolescent and he tried to play Kong like a "14 year old that's trapped in the life of an adult", stating that it took three days to film the motion capture scenes. In addition to playing Chapman, Toby Kebbell also provided some facial references for Kong, stating, "I gave some facial reference — certain subtleties, certain looks. Terry and I worked on stuff together and created what Kong needed. 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."
- John C. Reilly as Hank Marlow, a U.S. Army Air Forces lieutenant of the 45th Pursuit Squadron who has been stranded for nearly 29 years on Skull Island since World War II. He knows the creatures of the island, and is a friend of the Iwi natives. Will Brittain portrays a young Hank Marlow, and also plays Marlow's son.
Additionally, Eugene Cordero appears as Reles, a warrant officer of the Sky Devils and Packard's door gunner; Marc Evan Jackson portrays Steve Woodward, a Landsat employee on the expedition; Richard Jenkins portrays Senator Al Willis, a politician who reluctantly funds the expedition; and Miyavi portrays Gunpei Ikari, a Japanese World War II pilot who crash-lands on Skull Island alongside Marlow.
Initially announced by Legendary Pictures at the 2014 San Diego Comic-Con, Universal Pictures was to be the distributor. Legendary then moved the project to Warner Bros. in order to develop a crossover film featuring King Kong and Godzilla.
Legendary offered Joe Cornish the job of directing the film, while Peter Jackson, who directed the 2005 version of King Kong, suggested Guillermo del Toro, who Legendary worked with on Pacific Rim and Crimson Peak. In September 2014, the studio announced that Jordan Vogt-Roberts would direct the film.
The script saw a number of screenwriters attached before filming. Seeking the continuity between the King Kong and Godzilla worlds, Max Borenstein (writer of 2014's Godzilla) wrote the first draft, while John Gatins was hired to write the second draft. Borenstein's initial influence was Apocalypse Now, revealing, "What popped into my head for the paradigm of the movie was Apocalypse Now. That’s obviously a war movie, but I liked the idea of people moving upriver to face a misunderstood force that they think of as a villain, but ultimately they come to realize is much more complicated." It was later revealed that Dan Gilroy had also collaborated on the Borenstein and Gatins draft. On August 18, 2015, it was confirmed that Derek Connolly was also doing script rewrites. Borenstein worked a final pass on the screenplay before shooting began, and credited the screenplay to all of the writers, saying, "It was definitely collaborative in terms of what’s on the screen, though none of us worked together. There are pieces of my work in there as well as the work of the other two writers and John Gatins, who was credited for story. Everybody had a really good hand in it."
In April 2016, artist Joe DeVito sued producers of the film for using elements of his Skull Island universe, which he claimed that he created and the producers used without his permission.
Director Vogt-Roberts stated that he wanted Kong to look simple and iconic enough that a third grader could draw him, and the image would still be recognizable. Vogt-Roberts also wanted Kong to feel like a "lonely god, he was a morose figure, lumbering around this island," and took the design back to the 1933 incarnation, where Kong was presented as a "bipedal creature that walks in an upright position." Vogt-Roberts additionally stated, "If anything, our Kong is meant to be a throwback to the ’33 version. [Kong] was a movie monster, so we worked really hard to take some of the elements of the ’33 version, some of those exaggerated features, some of those cartoonish and iconic qualities, and then make them their own…We created something that to some degree served as a throwback to the inspiration for what started all of this, but then also [had] it be a fully unique and different creature that — I would like to think — is fully contained and identifiable as the 2017 version of King Kong. I think there are very modern elements to him, yet hopefully he feels very timeless at the same time."
Hayao Miyazaki's Princess Mononoke helped influence the design and approach of the monsters, Vogt-Roberts stated, "Miyazaki[‘s] Princess Mononoke was actually a big reference in the way that the spirit creatures sort of have their own domains and fit within that. So a big thing [was] trying to design creatures that felt realistic and could exist in an ecosystem that feels sort of wild and out there, and then also design things that simultaneously felt beautiful and horrifying at the same time." However, biophysical analysis of Kong and other creatures concludes that although biophysically they are viable, the ecosystem of the island could not support them.
The two-armed pit lizard from the 1933 King Kong film was used as a reference for the Skullcrawlers. They were also inspired by a number of other cinematic creatures; Vogt-Roberts stated, "That creature, beyond being a reference to a creature from the 1933 film, is also this crazy fusion of all of the influences throughout my life – like the first angel from Evangelion, and No-Face from Spirited Away, and Cubone from Pokémon."
At the same time of the announcement of Vogt-Roberts as director, the studio also announced that Tom Hiddleston would play the lead role. For a time both, JK Simmons and Michael Keaton were attached to roles however both left due to scheduling difficulties. On July 23, 2015, Brie Larson was cast in the film to play the female lead. On August 5, 2015, it was announced that Corey Hawkins was cast in the film to play a supporting role. On August 6, 2015, Deadline Hollywood reported that the studio was in early talks with Samuel L. Jackson to replace the role which Simmons vacated, while John C. Reilly was being eyed for Keaton's role, but not offered it yet. Tom Wilkinson was also offered a role in the film.
On August 20, 2015, Toby Kebbell joined the cast of the film, while Jackson and Reilly were confirmed for roles. On August 25, 2015, Jason Mitchell joined the cast, to play a pilot. On September 25, 2015, John Goodman was cast to play Randa, a government official and leader of an expedition, and Thomas Mann was also cast. On October 1, 2015, John Ortiz and Shea Whigham were added to the cast in unspecified roles. On October 13, 2015, Eugene Cordero joined the film, and on November 2, 2015, it was announced Will Brittain had joined the cast, portraying a pilot, in one of the last key leads in the film. In May 2016, Toby Kebbell revealed that Terry Notary would portray Kong through motion capture, and that Kebbell provided some guidance for Kong's motion capture sequences.
Principal photography on the film began on October 19, 2015, and concluded on March 18, 2016. Filming took place in the northern portion of Vietnam, including Tràng An, Vân Long and Tam Cốc (Ninh Bình Province), Hạ Long Bay (Quảng Ninh Province), and at the entrance of Tú Làn Caves System (Tân Hoá, Trung Hoá Village, Minh Hoá District Quảng Bình Province), the island of Oahu in Hawaii, and Australia's Gold Coast. Locations included Honolulu's Chinatown, and at the Kualoa Ranch and Waikane Valley (Ohulehule Forest Conservancy) on Oahu. In mid-January 2016, filming started in Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia.
Vogt-Roberts has cited a number of films that inspired Kong: Skull Island, stating, "If I were going to break it down for people, I’d say you obviously have Apocalypse Now and just the era of ‘70s filmmaking, with films like The Conversation, too. Also Platoon was an inspiration, and the South Korean film The Host as well. The entire Neon Genesis Evangelion series was a big influence." Vogt-Roberts also cited Princess Mononoke as an influence on the approach and design of the monsters. He cited Sachiel from Neon Genesis Evangelion, Cubone from Pokémon, No-Face from Spirited Away, and a creature from the 1933 King Kong as inspirations for the Skullcrawlers.
The film's score was composed by Henry Jackman. To fit the '70s period of the film, Jackman blended '70s psychedelic guitars into the score. Regarding the music used in the film, Vogt-Roberts stated, "I wanted to use songs from the Vietnam era and a myriad of hits from the '70s... this provides a striking dichotomy, sets the tone and gives us great moments of fun."
Kong: Skull Island was originally set a release date for November 4, 2016, but in December 2014, the release date was pushed back from its original release date of November 4, 2016 to March 10, 2017. The new release date coincides with the franchise's 84th anniversary. It was released in 3D and IMAX 3D, as well as in Dolby Vision High Dynamic Range, and Dolby Atmos sound in Dolby Cinemas and presented in 70mm. The film premiered at the Cineworld Empire Leicester Square in London on February 28, 2017.
Kong: Skull Island has grossed $168 million in the United States and Canada and $398.6 million in other territories for a worldwide gross of $566.6 million. Made on a production budget of $185 million, with about $136 million more spent on global marketing costs, the film needed to make at least $450–500 million worldwide in order to break even.
In the United States and Canada, Kong: Skull Island was projected to gross $40–50 million in its opening weekend, as well as a worldwide debut of $110–135 million. The film made $20.2 million on its first day from 3,846 theaters, including $3.7 million it made from Thursday night previews. In total, the film earned a better-than-expected $61 million on its opening weekend, defying the film's initial projection by 35%. In IMAX, it made $7.6 million from 382 theaters, repping 12.5% of the film's total opening weekend. In its second weekend the film grossed $27.8 million (a drop of 54.4%), finishing second at the box office behind newcomer Beauty and the Beast.
Internationally, the film debuted with $85.1 million from 20,900 screens in 65 markets. It opened in every market except Japan and China. In IMAX, the film scored the fourth-biggest March release with $4.8 million from 672 theaters (the second biggest without China in it). The biggest openings came from the United Kingdom, Ireland ($7.6 million), South Korea ($7.4 million), Russia ($6.2 million), Mexico ($5.7 million), France ($4.1 million), Taiwan ($3.6 million), Australia ($3.6 million), Brazil ($3.4 million), Germany ($3.4 million), Malaysia ($2.65 million), India ($2.4 million), Spain ($1.6 million) and Italy ($1.6 million), while in Vietnam (where the film was primarily shot and centered on), it scored the biggest opening of all time there with $2.5 million. This was a week following a huge model of the primate outside the theater caught on fire at the film's premiere. The film would eventually open in China with $71.6 million (its largest international market) and in Japan with $3.5 million, where the film was released as King Kong: Giant God of Skull Island (Kingu Kongu: Dokurotou no Kyoshin). After its overseas run, the film would gross US$398 million internationally.
Kong: Skull Island received generally positive reviews from critics. On the film review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 75% based on 323 reviews, with an average rating of 6.5/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Offering exhilarating eye candy, solid acting, and a fast-paced story, Kong: Skull Island earns its spot in the movie monster's mythos without ever matching up to the classic original." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 62 out of 100, based on 49 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale.
Michael Phillips of The Chicago Tribune lauded the film, giving it three-and-a-half stars out of four: "I saw little in [Vogt-Roberts'] first feature to indicate the deftness and buoyant spirit he brings to Skull Island. This time, the money's on the screen, but it bought a really good movie, too." Mike Ryan of Uproxx gave the film a positive review, noting, "Kong: Skull Island is still a hoot. It was a movie that was not at all on my radar as something I was dying to see and yet I had way too much fun watching it. I just wished it had embraced its craziness just a little bit more. (But, yes, there’s still plenty of crazy to go around.)" Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter gave the film a positive review as well, stating that "all the requisite elements are served up here in ideal proportion, and the time just flies by, which can rarely be said for films of this nature." Kyle Anderson of Nerdist News found the film entertaining but flawed, saying, "It's certainly not a perfect movie, and a lot of the characters feel like sketches more than fully-fledged people, but it roars along enjoyably from start to finish."
Conversely, Peter Bradshaw of The Guardian awarded the film one out of five stars. In his negative review, he described the movie as a "fantastically muddled and exasperatingly dull quasi-update of the King Kong story." Matthew Lickona of The San Diego Reader also gave the film one out of five stars, writing: "It’s fun to watch [the monsters] in action, but on the human side, the film is clumsily written, over-cast and underacted, with only frustrated soldier Samuel L. Jackson striking the right tone of crazy amid the chaos." Chris Klimek of NPR mentions how "Kong is at its mediocre best when it pretends to be a nature documentary about Skull Island's bizarro flora and fauna," but lamented how "every time the movie threatens to get interesting, one of its hordes of ersatz, non-animated characters shows up and starts talking again." Anthony Lane of The New Yorker noted that what the film "yearns to be, is a pop-culture Apocalypse Now, with the human foe removed, the political parable toned down, and the gonzo elements jacked up." J.R. Jones questioned the film's setting, saying "this Jurassic Park knockoff takes place neither in the Depression era, which gave us the original King Kong, nor in the present, when satellite photos would surely alert us to the existence of a 100-foot gorilla. Instead—and for no reason I can fathom, except perhaps the classic-rock tunes desired for the soundtrack—the story takes place in 1973, when the Vietnam war is winding down and President Nixon is being driven from office."
Several critics have commented on Larson's role in the movie, having recently won an Oscar for Room, with Michael Salfino of The Wall Street Journal remarking that "a starring role in a popcorn movie on the heels of a passion project can open up an actor to ridicule."
|Award||Date of ceremony||Category||Recipient(s) and nominee(s)||Result||Ref.|
|Teen Choice Awards||August 13, 2017||Choice Movie: Sci-Fi||Nominated|
|Choice Movie Actor: Sci-Fi||Tom Hiddleston|
|Choice Movie Actress: Sci-Fi||Brie Larson|
|Annie Award||February 3, 2018||Outstanding Achievement for Character Animation in a Live Action Production||Jance Rubinchik, Adrian Millington, Alberto Martinez Arce, Kyle Winkelman||Nominated|
|Visual Effects Society Awards||February 13, 2018||Outstanding Visual Effects in a Photoreal Feature||Jeff White, Tom Peitzman, Stephen Rosenbaum, Scott Benza, Michael Meinardus||Nominated|||
|Outstanding Animated Character in a Photoreal Feature||Jakub Pistecky, Chris Havreberg, Karin Cooper, Kris Costa for "Kong"||Nominated|
|Outstanding Effects Simulations in a Photoreal Feature||Florent Andorra, Alexis Hall, Raul Essig, Branko Grujcic||Nominated|
|Outstanding Compositing in a Photoreal Feature||Nelson Sepulveda, Aaron Brown, Paolo Acri, Shawn Mason||Nominated|
|Academy Awards||March 4, 2018||Best Visual Effects||Stephen Rosenbaum, Jeff White, Scott Benza, Michael Meinardus||Nominated|||
|Saturn Awards||June 2018||Best Fantasy Film||Thomas Tull, Mary Parent, Jon Jashni and Alex Garcia||Pending|
|Best Film Special / Visual Effects||Stephen Rosenbaum, Jeff White, Scott Benza, Michael Meinardus||Pending|
Kong: Skull Island was released on HD Digital on June 20, 2017, and on 4K Ultra HD, 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray and DVD on July 18, 2017. The film debuted at the top of the NPD VideoScan First Alert sales chart and the dedicated Blu-ray chart for the week ending on July 23, 2017. To date, Kong: Skull Island sold $41.5 million worth of DVDs and Blu-rays in North America.
In September 2015, Legendary moved Kong: Skull Island from Universal to Warner Bros., which sparked media speculation that Godzilla and King Kong will appear in a film together. In October 2015, Legendary confirmed that they would unite Godzilla and King Kong in Godzilla vs. Kong, set for a release date of May 29, 2020. Legendary plans to create a shared cinematic franchise "centered around Monarch," that "brings together Godzilla and Legendary’s King Kong in an ecosystem of other giant super-species, both classic and new." While Legendary will maintain its home at Universal Pictures, it will continue to collaborate with Warner Bros. for the franchise.
Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts had expressed interest in doing a film about Marlow and Gunpei's time on the island, stating, "I keep joking that personally I'm more interested in doing a $30 million version of young John C. Reilly on the island. Just some weird, the odd-ball monster comedy with him and Gunpei."
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