With the recent release of the latest MonsterVerse installment, Godzilla vs Kong, the world finally got to see some of their favorite monsters pitted against each other in battle. It was a match-up not seen since 1962’s King Kong vs Godzilla and its release, though not traditional, was a massive success. Clearly, fans were interested. The film is the fourth in Legendary’s MonsterVerse series, and the second of the franchise to feature giant ape King Kong. With Godzilla being the primary focus of the franchise so far, it was interesting to see such a Kong-heavy film when it came to their crossover. What it really spent time highlighting though, was why King Kong is so different from all of the other monsters in this franchise.
King Kong is of course known to most people as the giant gorilla who lives on Skull Island. Most films that tell his story show him being taken by humans from his home for scientific purposes, and he often ends up wreaking havoc in New York City and climbing the Empire State Building before being taken down. The MonsterVerse, though, uses the character to tell a slightly different story. The King Kong found in the MonsterVerse is obviously still a giant gorilla, he’s still found on Skull Island, and humans still take him from his home (something only recently revealed in Godzilla vs Kong), but in this series, he is very much the main character of his films. Because of how he is written and portrayed, audiences can’t help but sympathize with him and root for him.
Introducing King Kong as a child in Kong: Skull Island, and then revealing to audiences a backstory where he was essentially orphaned and left to fend for himself at a young age is certainly an easy way to make the viewers care for the character. Not everyone will know what that experience is like, but some will. And even those who don’t will generally have their hearts softened to that kind of situation. Making him young also invokes feelings of protectiveness. Even though he is massive compared to humans, very strong, and very capable of taking care of himself, it’s human nature to feel protective over babies and children. Hearing he is so young adds a lot of depth to his story and makes audiences care about him in a way that they maybe otherwise wouldn’t. Godzilla and the other monsters not getting this kind of heavy backstory treatment removes them from viewers a little bit because the relatability isn’t really there and their characters don’t play on real human instincts quite the same way.
When the giant ape is next seen in Godzilla vs Kong, he’s portrayed as even more sympathetic and human than before. He isn’t a child anymore, but that still plays into effect because fans can have the satisfaction of seeing him all grown up now. He’s bigger and stronger, and kind of angry. He also now communicates: he knows sign language and is able to talk with a little girl. He and the little girl genuinely care for each other, there’s a real connection there. He also is highly motivated by the thought of finding his family, avenging them, and being back in his home.
The character goes through a lot in the film and it can get kind of hard to watch because it’s so easy to identify with the pain, with his sadness, and even when he experiences physical discomfort like being cold or restrained. Despite him being a monster, it’s incredibly easy for the audience to identify and empathize, and really put themselves in these situations. Part of this is also helped because they not only give him sad mannerisms but normal human ones like a sense of humor.
All of this is aided by the fact that King Kong is instantly relatable because of what he is. Not only is he a gorilla, an animal that humans can recognize and easily place as being real, but he’s the most humanoid animal out there. He’s a mammal, he walks on two legs and has a human shape. It’s a form far easier for audiences of humans to empathize and sympathize with because people will find it far easier to see themselves in him. His form makes him the perfect character to write in a way that would be very sympathetic and relatable because part of the work is already done.
Since he was announced as the director of Godzilla vs. Kong, Adam Wingard has said that he wanted the monsters to be the stars of his movie. He was very clear about intending to have them as the main characters who viewers root for, and not so much the humans involved. In the case of King Kong, that goal was certainly achieved. It’s not to say that Godzilla or any other monster in the series isn’t effective as well. They absolutely are, and they’re easy to cheer for, but there’s just something different about the ape. His qualities stand out among the crowd, and make him the perfect monster for audiences to relate to.