King Kong cometh!

Directed by Peter Jackson.
Written by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Merian C. Cooper, Edgar Wallace.

Cast
Naomi Watts as Ann Darrow
Jack Black as Carl Denham
Adrien Brody as Jack Driscoll
Andy Serkis as King Kong/Lumpy
Evan Parker as Hayes
Jamie Bell as Jimmy
Kyle Chandler as Bruce Baxter
Thomas Kretschman as Captain Englehorn
Colin Hanks as Preston
Lobo Chan as Choy

Premise:

A Depression-era filmmaker/flim-flam artist heads to a mysterious island where he finds a big ape.

High Point:

1. This Kong is a fully-realized movie monster, on par with Lord of the Rings‘ Gollum and Karloff’s Frankenstein Monster.

2. While the film gives us too much of a good thing on Skull Island, most of those sequences prove breathtaking and frightening. This island is far scarier than any previous home Kong has had. Dinosaurs attack in large numbers. Giant insects, python-sized centipedes, and Lovecraftian slugs crawl in its lowest ravines. This is the best thrill ride in town.

3. Jackson has recreated 1933 New York as marvelously as he did Middle-Earth, setting off neural fireworks in your visual cortex.

Low Points

1. Jackson needs to find a good editor. Oh, they’ve done a beautiful job on individual sequences. However, this film didn’t need three hours to tell its story; at least a half-hour easily could have been chopped. The opening backstory sequence could have been shortened, we might have been just as happy with one fewer creepy-crawly Skull Island scene, and “Kong on Ice” should have been downsized.

2. Ann and Jack’s escape from Kong’s Lair might’ve played better if I wasn’t undergoing “exciting Skull Island sequence” fatigue, but even in a film that makes us believe several impossible things, this pushed my willingness to suspend disbelief a wee bit too far.

The Scores:

Originality: 2/6 They’ve expanded on the original film in various ways, but basically, Jackson has lovingly recreated his favourite childhood film, from the 1930s setting to the mysterious, stylized Skull Island, to the vertiginous climax.

Effects: 5/6. I have to give this a perfect score, because they’ve made Kong entirely believable and Skull Island visually staggering. The film’s recreation of 1933 New York City may be the best effect of all; it’s as though Jackson and crew obtained permits to film 72 years in the past. Strictly speaking, however, the effects aren’t perfect. The human/dinosaur interactions, while exciting, don’t always look quite right, and instances of CGI humans look like CGI humans.

Story: 5/6 This remake keeps the adventure and charm of the original, but builds on it. They may have developed the backstory just a little too much, but the changes to Ann Darrow’s character make sense, and make her oddball relationship with Kong work. Jackson has also addressed many of the conundrums from the original film, such as what good the wall might be in keeping out a primate able to scale skyscrapers.

Acting: 6/6 The cast give excellent performances.

Production: 6/6

Emotional Response: 5/6

Overall: 5/6.

In total, King Kong receives 34/42

Additional Comments

So, what is the appeal of Kong?

1. Giant apes are inherently cool.

As Zaphod Beeblebrox once said, “shrewd, but dull.”

2. Sex appeal.

Showing all the curiosity of an adolescent boy, the ’33 Kong peels off Ann Darrow’s clothes, strokes her and then sniffs his finger. While Jackon’s Kong lacks many of the sexualized aspects which characterize the original, the film has arguably developed the sexual politics, and Kong/Darrow can be read as an embodiment of a very traditional, horribly stereotypical, but not altogether irrelevant concept of gender relationships. Kong is big, bestial, and primal, but he has a heart. He can and does fight monsters on Ann’s behalf, but can’t remember to control his temper. Pseudo-heroic poseurs like Baxter pale beside him; tricky guys in suits like Denham screw him over. Civilization constrains him; eventually, it kills him. Ann, initially frightened by the more powerful Kong, asserts herself, shows her entertaining side, and they form a bond which no one else truly understands, but which we all recognize. They are simplified and primal essentialist male and female.

Either that, or he’s a big smelly monster and she has a serious case of Stockholm Syndrome.

3.Power Appeal

Forget gender; Kong is a stand in for anyone who has felt strong feelings. The character holds a particular appeal for little kids and nerds, and anyone who would like, just once, to have that kind of power.

4. Humanity’s love-hate relationship with nature.

Kong and the island he inhabits are nature personified. The island draws us and seems like a wonderful mystery, but must there be so many bugs and hidden dangers? The fishing’s great here, but I’ll be happy to get home and take a shower…. He’s primal, big, and dangerous. We love him, and yet we know him dangerous, deadly, and our attempts to tame the savage lead to disaster, and reveal humanity the true monster.

This film really pushes this last point. The original Carl Denham had more than a little Barnum in him, but this one’s an outright huckster, and while he has likable qualities, he also shows our impulse to explore mysterious nature, to capture and display the exotic, as dark and potentially destructive things.

5. It’s a fun adventure.

C’mon! We all want to sail off the map and have cool adventures. King Kong provides us with the opportunity, with spectacle and thrills to match anything Spielberg’s thrown at us.

I’ll say it again: this is the best thrill-ride in town this season.