This was a movie I was interested in when I first saw the trailer for it. I missed out on it when it was in theaters, but it recently became available to rent, so I decided to finally check it out. I’m glad I saw the movie. It’s not a perfect movie and has too many problems with it that I don’t know if I can call it good in my opinion, but what I think this movie’s biggest mistake was not focusing on the right character. Instead of being about the people who go to the island and get stuck there, the movie should’ve been about the person who was already there. I’m referring to John C. Reilly’s character Hank Marlow.
When you’re creating a story you want your main character to be interesting. If there’s another character who’s more interesting, who drives the plot more, who seems more compelling than your main character you have two valid options: tweak your main protagonist so they are a stronger force in the narrative or make the story revolve around the other character. Kong: Skull Island should’ve done the latter (and technically the former, but maybe they tried. I don’t know. Do you?).
The first act of the movie is fine. It sets the scenario up, we’re introduced to all the characters, and then we’re off to Skull Island. Once we get to the place things immediately get rolling. The film knows what we want so it gives it to us. The problem is after that nothing interesting happens until the climax. There’s a good amount of down time, which could be used efficiently for some good character development, but it pretty much forgoes that. We get one brief scene with Tom Hiddleston’s character talking about his past. That’s it. He does things, but we never really get to know who he is or who any of the other characters really are. What makes them tick? What drives them? They’re just there and what we know doesn’t make them interesting. The actors are great and do everything to make what they’re given work, but that doesn’t equate to a good character.
Hank Marlow is interesting, however. He’s been stuck on the island for almost three decades. He has a child, but never met them and doesn’t know if his wife had moved on or not. He knows the island really well. He’s been living with the native people so long that he can communicate with them even though they don’t say a word. He had a friend who he lost. That friend was also someone who wanted to kill him when they first both crashed on the island because they were fighting on opposing sides during World War II. He has an interesting backstory, great character drama to mine, and it’s very easy to have an emotional investment in his journey to get home.
Imagine we followed Marlow the entire movie. We see him crash on the island like we do in the movie and then we jump forward in time, but instead of seeing the recruitment of all the other characters, we stay on the island and see Marlow in the present day interacting with the natives, seeing what the day to day is like on Skull Island. Once all that’s established, the story gets going when the other characters show up on the island and he goes to help them. He leaves the safety of the village to go find these people and try to get home. He guides them back using his knowledge and their firepower to get through dangerous areas and giant hostile monsters along the way.
Of course, this is Kong’s movie so the big guy himself will be a part of the journey the entire time. It could’ve been written that Kong and Marlow have a respect for one another so it would make sense for Kong to protect him and the others. Then later in the movie it could be Marlow who decides to go help Kong when he’s in trouble (to be fair, he does in the movie, but only after Hiddleston says he’s going to) and that would really mean something because he could be sacrificing his one chance to get off the island to help out the creature who’s been protecting him this whole time. Having already established Marlow’s relationship with the natives, moments like when Marlow leaves them to go home will hit the audience harder. He would be leaving the family who saved him for another. That really could’ve been such a powerful moment. The ending of the movie would also be more impactful as it ends with Marlow reuniting with his wife and son. The movie wasn’t about him, but the filmmakers knew that was a great way to cap off the story.
All my ideas don’t exactly fit with the current structure of the movie. Certain things would definitely need to be changed. As fun as he is, I don’t believe Samual L. Jackson’s character would be necessary being the hostile creatures on the island would be more than enough to cause problems for the protagonists in my version. And, again, it’s not lost on me that this is Kong’s movie, but if you’re going to spend a decent chunk of time on human characters they have to be interesting. I’m just trying to illustrate that small changes like who’s the protagonist in your story can open a world of different storytelling possibilities.
(They got the title character right at least. I love Kong in this movie. He doesn’t need to change.)