Major spoilers below!
At the end of Peter Jackson's epic 2005 monster adventure film, King Kong, the eponymous ape falls off the Empire State building to his death after losing a battle with some fighter pilots. Jack Black's Carl Denham stands next to his giant corpse on the sidewalk below and morbidly utters, "It wasn't the airplanes. It was Beauty killed the Beast." It's a tragic end for the massive primate who never asks to be dragged to New York City and turned into a freak show, and it's played out similarly ever since his first appearance on the silver screen in 1933. Luckily the Kong in Kong: Skull Island gets a better deal.
Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts's version of the tale wisely ditches the "let's bring King Kong to NYC" plot entirely, instead choosing to dig a little deeper into Kong's role on the island. Scientist Bill Randa (John Goodman) is a member of top-secret government organization Project Monarch and decides to round up a crew of people to accompany him on an expedition to the mysterious and uncharted Skull Island in the South Pacific in 1973. He recruits the Sky Devils helicopter squadron led by Lieutenant Colonel Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) as well as tracker James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and war photographer Mason Weaver (Brie Larson). It doesn't take long for Kong to pop up out of the jungle and start batting helicopters full of soldiers out of the sky, which kills a ton of people immediately, but leaves a core group of survivors left to try and make it across the island in three days time for their scheduled pick-up.
As the group tries desperately to survive, they come across Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), an American pilot who got stranded on the island 30 years earlier after his WWII plane went down. He survived by ingratiating himself with the island's native people, who worship Kong like a God since he protects them, and the rest of the island, from reptilian monsters ("Skullcrawlers") that live underground. The only thing keeping the Skullcrawlers's leader, "the Big One," from rising and destroying everything is the existence of Kong. Most of the group agrees that Kong, though terrifying, is necessary, and they're the ones infringing on his territory. Despite this, Packard, furious that the colossal ape took the lives of his soldiers and desperate for one final mission to give his life meaning, is dead set on killing Kong.
Packard rigs a trap of explosives to blow Kong up, but Marlow, Weaver, and Conrad race to stop him. Unfortunately the trap injures Kong, and the Alpha Skullcrawler awakens. After Kong kills Packard with a bone-crunching squash of his fist, he defends the rest of the humans and his island from the Alpha Skullcrawler. With a little help from a powerful machine gun, Kong is able to defeat the monster and allows the people left in the expedition to leave his island in peace. Although he doesn't die in Kong: Skull Island, a post-credits scene reveals a sequel is in the works that will see Kong facing off against Godzilla. Will he make it through the end of that movie like he does in 1962's King Kong vs. Godzilla? We'll have to wait until 2020 to find out.