Spoilers for Kong: Skull Island and Godzilla follow.
Godzilla and King Kong are gods when it comes to destruction. Superheroes have nothing on their mayhem. We want to see these monsters trash everything in their sights for our viewing pleasure; it's why we go to the movies.
But monster movies don't relate to us if humanity isn't in the picture. It's easy for filmmakers to forget about the humans in these types of movies, because the monsters are so much fun. That's where Kong: Skull Island succeeds better than the 2014 Godzilla reboot.
Godzilla's Missed Opportunity With Bryan Cranston
Godzilla was an entertaining romp just like Kong, but it didn't have the right balance between humans and monsters. Bryan Cranston’s performance in Godzilla was great — so great that the human story died along with his character.
Let's be real, Aaron-Taylor Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen did the best they could, but the story didn't provide enough weight to their characters. Since Godzilla was pretty much a tease until the very end, the human characters needed to be vital to the story leading up to the grand finale. Whenever Godzilla would show up, it was damn exciting; but when he wasn’t on screen, we had to suffer through characters with no chemistry.
Godzilla felt like it was trying to emulate the structure and tension of Jaws, but Steven Spielberg's breakout film worked because of its focus on Roy Scheider's Martin Brody, not just because of the shark. We will never forget about the characters in Jaws because their arcs were entertaining.
Bryan Cranston’s arc in Godzilla was likewise entertaining, but he was killed off way too soon. I thought the slow reveal of Godzilla was fantastic, but the scenes with the other humans felt like filler.
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John C. Reilly's Arc Brought Balance To Kong: Skull Island
The world of #KingKong always had deep drama, from the human characters to Kong himself. We saw how cruel the world is through the eyes of both human and monster. Every version of King Kong has had this element, and Skull Island is no different.
Enter John C. Reilly’s World War II soldier Hank Marlow. He added great balance to the monster movie without overshadowing our beloved giant ape.
Reilly truly had a full arc in Kong. He was a soldier who got stranded with an enemy; they became friends, found a way to survive with the natives, and discovered hope in the end. The credits completed his arc, with him arriving home and finally getting the perfect hot dog and beer he sorely missed.
Cranston's Joe Brody needed an arc like John C. Reilly's Hank to resonate with us.
Samuel L. Jackson's Arc Did The Same
Kong: Skull Island had a great (human) villain in Samuel L. Jackson's Preston Packard, whose only focus is destroying the giant ape by any means. Packard was a bored soldier. After the war, the lack of action left him unsatisfied with the future. When he arrived on Skull Island, he discovered a new purpose: an enemy beyond anything he's ever faced.
The final scene before Packard's death was proof that the little humans are just as important as the giant monsters. The scene with Packard setting Kong on fire was a treat to see. It shows how far a villain is willing to go to kill, no matter the threat.
How Kong: Skull Island Learned From The MCU
It doesn’t hurt that Skull Island had a similar formula to the #MarvelCinematicUniverse, mixing grand action with comedy. John C. Reilly perfectly balanced the movie’s narrative, being the comical relief and providing the story’s no-nonsense exposition. Kong: Skull Island learned from its predecessors and dove right in with the action, but it never forgets what the movie is all about. The film even had a greater villain than the average Marvel film.
Skull Island gave us a brand new take on King Kong, but it also gave us a fun romp with laughs. It’s entertainment through and through. The film is really light on deep meaning, but it sure had character. It knew what we wanted and gave it to us without a wait.
Skull Island created something special without making us feel as if it was a remake or a reboot, and the human characters mattered. John C. Reilly and Samuel L. Jackson were the highlights — just as Bryan Cranston was the highlight of Godzilla — and their talents were not wasted.