Universal owns King Kong, right? Not exactly. The character's rights are in a weird, confusing place that has only been made more confusing in the wake of numerous lawsuits. For the purpose of what is going on with Neil Marshall's new movie, here's what you have to know:
Merian C, Cooper created King Kong and thought he was licensing the character to RKO for two movies. He never bothered copyrighting Kong, but did copyright a novelization of the movie. Cooper only found out that RKO considered themselves the owners of Kong when he had legal troubles getting a Tarzan Meets King Kong* movie off the ground, and it all got ugly and legal when Cooper found out RKO was licensing Kong to Toho for King Kong vs Godzilla. And it got legal again when Dino DeLaurentiis and Universal bought the King Kong remake rights from RKO in the 70s.
The short version: Cooper ended up owning only limited publication rights to the character, but that was enough for his estate to license the creation of an illustrated novel called Kong: King of Skull Island in 2004. This novel is set 25 years after the events of King Kong and totally ignores the events of Son of Kong; in it Carl Denham and Jack Driscoll return to Skull Island and learn more about the history of Kong and the natives.
Now the rights to that novel have been snatched up and Neil Marshall, the wonderfully two-fisted filmmaker behind Centurion and The Descent and the Battle of the Blackwater in Game of Thrones, is set to direct the film version. He's writing along with Simon Utley. I haven't read the novel (yet) but I know that Neil Marshall has exactly the sort of pulpy attitude that I want to see in my King Kong movies. The big question is what the budget of this will be, and whether Universal is going to try to get involved. It would surely make them happier to have all Kong-related stuff under their roof, I imagine, and they can't legally shut this down. Better to lean into it .