As much as we all hate to admit it—the Cinematic Universe formula has become synonymous with the Blockbuster model of Hollywood films. Franchises are no longer relegated to one-off visits of a particular setting, like the The Dark Knight Trilogy or the original X-Men movies. Now, everything is interconnected and for better or worse, leads to a larger story being told. While Marvel and DC are firmly entrenched in culling their pages for ideas, and the Star Wars franchise tells new and untold stories—the rest of Hollywood is trying to find out how to get in on a piece of the action.
This is likely to have really good or bad consequences on either side. We’re not clamoring for a Paul Blart Cinematic Universe, nor are we exactly excited for the prospect of a XxX one, either (no matter how hard Vin Diesel may try). But Cinematic Universes can be a good thing—stimulating audiences through a more episodic method, and making film studios major bank in merchandising. Perhaps the most exciting of these upcoming CU’s is the Legendary Monsterverse, which begins its campaign proper with Kong: Skull Island. While 2014’s critically divisive (I loved it FWIW) Godzilla merely introduced the idea of giant Kaiju into the world, Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ Skull Island is setting the table for an epic clash between the two legendary monsters. The idea to go full Cinematic Universe came much later in 2014, after Universal Pictures gave the rights to Kong over to Warner Bros. in order to kickstart this Universe. On one hand this knee-jerk decision is worrying—especially considering the game of catch-up that the OTHER WB CU is having right now, but it is none the less still exciting. If done correctly, the prospect of taking King Kong and Godzilla out of rubber suits, and into the next generation is enough for fans new and old to practically throw their money at the screen.
Luckily, Kong: Skull Island makes the best case for a Cinematic Universe to date—keeping the story contained, and not falling into the trope of other CU’s by giving far too much away in the lead-in to the eventual meeting between the two monstrous Gods. Kong is mainly focused around the dangerous digs of the 17-foot monster, taking its colorful cast of characters on a journey to find and eventually escape from the titular island that acts as Kong’s kingdom. Where other King Kong remakes seem to be focused on getting him back to the city, Kong: Skull Island instead focuses on the machinations between the military and scientists that want to destroy or reveal the secrets of the island. It’s a wonderful example of world building, as it not only introduces the loveable primeape himself, but fully immerses the audience in his environment—where everything, including the trees, are a threat. The movie revels in its cheesiness and plays it completely seriously—without being too jokey (MCU) or too dour (DCEU). Vogt-Roberts was given carte blanche visually and stylistically, giving Kong a completely different (and old-school) feel than Godzilla which makes the movie able to stand on its own even without the impending throwdown between the King of the Monsters and the King of the Jungle. There is no wasted time in the movie introducing Kong himself, starting and ending at a fast and furious pace, instead of being bogged down in origin story exposition. It doesn’t treat the audience like newbies in need of yet another primer on what King Kong is (here’s looking at you Spider Man: Homecoming and Man of Steel).
Even the casting of Kong (which features a lot of Marvel Cinematic Universe actors) shows how seriously Warner Bros. is taking the building of this Universe. With a stellar line-up of actors like Samuel L. Jackson, Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, and Vera Farmiga (who will star in Godzilla: King of The Monsters), Warner is putting a lot of star power behind what are essentially big monster movies. They are not only banking on nostalgia, but also trying to bring in new fans as well. Instead of rushing through its main assets, it introduces the audiences to new information in a drip-feed (mostly relegated to off-hand mentions and a very cool end credits scene) that doesn’t take away from the upcoming Godzilla in 2019. Studios are starting to see where Marvel and DC are getting it right or wrong, and shaping their universes without the diminishing returns that other studios are having. A big example of this is the very ill-advised “Universal Monster Movieverse” (seriously), which kicks off with Tom Cruise in The Mummy this summer.
While we haven’t seen it yet, The Mummy looks like a ridiculous cash-grab that is devoid of the soul of the original Mummy trilogy—which wasn’t even that good to begin with. It’s still early, but other than the early intrigue of Cruise’s casting, it seems utterly confusing what the endgame is to this universe at all. The selling point of a Cinematic Universe is pure escapism—the joy of seeing your childhood heroes and villains meet on screen—if the interest is there. I’m not too sure people are giddy over seeing extensions of Dracula Untold in the near future. Marvel and DC have started a trend that, while some may hate it, is only going to continue into the near future—and movies like Kong: Skull Island are prefect examples of how to start a Cinematic Universe right.