The savage history of humankind is turned on its head in the new trailer for Kong: Skull Island. Evolutionary theory tells us that ancient humans obliterated traces of even the largest animals every time they set foot on a new island, but that is clearly not the case in Legendary Pictures’ upcoming Kong flick. In this retelling of evolutionary history, the giant ape has always been king, and we his underlings.
In the trailer, a team of overconfident researchers, their helicopter suddenly downed by an airborne palm tree, abruptly discover that the allegedly untouched South Pacific island they’re exploring — “a place where myth and science meet” — is in fact home to a giant ape. Kong, we’re told, “is King around here,” which should suggest that there are no humans on the island. After all, our evolutionary history has revealed that when it comes to the food chain, we’ve never been satisfied with any position but the top.
But, as it turns out, there are people on this island, and there are other giant animals — the reptilian “skullcrawlers” — to boot. This suggests that, contrary to how evolution actually panned out for the Earth’s large species, in this retelling of Nature’s story, Homo sapiens lost.
Humans didn’t lose when they first set foot on the continent we know as Australia some 45,000 years ago. The massive animals they discovered when they landed — the giant wombats known as “diprotodons” — didn’t last long after humans arrived, even though they’d lived a happy existence on the landmass for some 1.6 million years. They, like many other giant species on the continent, are thought to have evolved to be so large because their superiority in the Australian food chain remained mostly unchecked. Without much competition for resources, the diprotodons’ large size didn’t really factor into their ability to survive, and so they did.
All that changed when humans came. Whether diprotodons ultimately died out because humans killed them or destroyed their natural habitats remains to be explained, but what we do know is that humans, armed with technology and advanced hunting skills, had (and, let’s be honest, still have) a nasty habit of bringing extinction wherever they go.
In Kong: Skull Island, it’s likely that our favorite gigantic ape and his equally large reptile enemies descended from ancestors that lived giant, carefree lives near the top of the food chain and managed to maintain that position even when humans arrived. We don’t know how long the native tribes of Skull Island have been around, but it’s pretty clear they haven’t had the same effect on island wildlife that other humans have had historically.
While it may not seem like it in the film — Kong is a pretty scary dude — this situation is, in a way, the best-case scenario for human-animal cooperation: If humans respect the beasts that should be at the top of the food chain, there remains a natural order that prevents any one species from becoming extinct. Coexistence, in this retelling, is a given, and it’s not a bad price to pay for the preservation of animal diversity.
Besides, King Kong doesn’t seem like a terrible leader compared to some of the ones we’ve got today.