I want to preface this Spoiler Free review by stating I’m a huge Godzilla fan, own all the movies, and I love them. As super fan of giant monsters, Kaiju and other films that feature strange beasts, this movie has everything a Kaiju fan could ask for. Great special effects, superb actors, giant monster battles, human drama, some comic relief all woven into a captivating and engaging story.
This Kong is not the same as the one depicted in the 1933, 1976 & 2005 movies. No this Kong is molded after the 1962 Kong featured in Toho Studios film “King Kong vs. Godzilla. In fact the Kong depicted in “Kong: Skull Island” will grow up to fight the Godzilla from the 2014 Legendary Studios film “Godzilla.” I look forward to when hese two juggernauts will battle toe-to-toe in their own feature film “Godzilla vs. King Kong” in 2020. This time out Godzilla will get top billing.
But in this movie Kong is King and the star of the show. Rendered wonderfully in detailed CGI Kong is brought to life and is the focal point. He isn’t the only star shinning in this extravaganza though. Delivering stellar performances are John Goodman, Samuel L. Jackson (any movie he is in is made even more enjoyable), Tom Hiddleston, the lovely Brie Larson and John C. Rilley. I do want to say a little more about John C. Rilley. From the trailers I knew going in he would provided some comic relief. I was fine with that because I do not always care for dark and gritty films and like a balance of emotions in movies. I feared that his comic relief may render the movie too comical and that it wouldn’t be taken seriously. Yes, John C. Rilley does provide comic relief but that isn’t all. He is not only central to the plot he has some very serious and dramatic moments and I am safe to report his excellent performance really steals the show.
All in all this is a very satisfying entry into Legendary’s Monsterverse and it sets up more films in the franchise that I eagerly await.
I have decided to review the King Kong movies. There are actually 7 movies with King Kong as the central Character. I recently saw the movie King Kong Escapes and that has put me in a King Kong mood.
- King Kong (1933) – The original film is remembered for its pioneering special effects using stop motion models, and evocative story.
- The Son of Kong (1933) – A sequel released the same year, it concerns a return expedition to Skull Island that discovers Kong’s son. The critics’ response to the film was generally mixed, but it was successful.
- King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) – A film produced by Toho Studios in Japan, it brought the titular characters to life via detailed rubber and fur costumes, and presented both characters for the first time in color. The Toho version of Kong is much larger than the one in the original film. This is more than likely because of a significant difference in size between the 1933 King Kong and Godzilla (and, for that matter, all of the company’s giant monsters), with Kong automatically rescaled to fit Toho’s existing miniature sets.
- King Kong Escapes (1967) – Another Toho film (co-produced with Rankin/Bass) in which King Kong faces both a mechanical double, dubbed Mechani-Kong, and a giant theropod dinosaur known as Gorosaurus (who would appear in Toho’s Destroy All Monsters the next year). This movie was loosely based on the contemporaneous cartoon television program, as indicated by the use of its recurring villain, Dr. Who/Dr. Huu, in the same capacity, Mechani-Kong as an enemy, Mondo Island as Kong’s home and a female character named Susan.
- King Kong (1976) – An updated remake by film producer Dino De Laurentiis, released by Paramount Pictures, and director John Guillermin. Jessica Lange, Jeff Bridges and Charles Grodin starred. The film received mixed reviews, but it was a commercial success, and its reputation has improved over the last few years. It was co-winner of an Oscar for special effects (shared with Logan’s Run).
- King Kong Lives (1986) – Released by De Laurentiis Entertainment Group (DEG). Starring Linda Hamilton, a sequel by the same producer and director as the 1976 film which involves Kong surviving his fall from the sky and requiring a coronary operation. It includes a female member of Kong’s species, who, after supplying a blood transfusion that enables the life-saving surgery, escapes and mates with Kong, becoming pregnant with his offspring. Trashed by critics, this was a box-office failure.
- King Kong (2005) – A Universal Pictures remake of the original (set in the original film’s 1933 contemporary setting) by Academy award-winning New Zealand director Peter Jackson, best known for directing the Lord of the Rings film trilogy. The most recent incarnation of Kong is also the longest, running three hours and eight minutes. Winner of three Academy Awards for visual effects, sound mixing, and sound editing. It received positive reviews and became a box office success.
I have not seen Son of Kong and I saw King Kong Lives but that was so many eyars ago and it was so awful I do not feel the need to torture myself again with that monstrosity. Consider that sentence my review of that film! I have already reviewed King Kong vs Godzilla in my Godzilla series so you can read that here.
That leaves me with the 1933 original plus the 1976 and the 2005 remakes along with King Kong Escapes. I consider King Kong Escapes more pf a Toho Kaiju movie than a King Kong movie (it really is telling a different story). I would put Kong vs Godzilla in that category too. So I we review that first and then taking the 2005 remake first I will work back in time until I reach the 1933 original. If I do have a chance to see Son of Kong prior to that I will review it.
Stay tuned to this blog for the King Kong Reviews!!
The next movie in the franchise is King Kong vs Godzilla and it is also the first Godzilla movie presented in full color. Godzilla Raids Again came out in 1955 and we wouldn’t see another Godzilla film for seven years until King Kong vs Godzilla hit the silver screen in 1962. In between the time Toho began exploring other creature features such as Mothra and Rodan. King Kong vs Godzilla was directed by Ishirō Honda with visual effects by Eiji Tsuburaya, the film starred Tadao Takashima, Kenji Sahara, and Mie Hama.
John Beck had acquired the rights to the film when it was in its concept stage. At first Kong was going to fight a giant Frankenstein like monster in San Francisco and the movie was tentatively titled King Kong vs Prometheus. Beck was going to use traditional stop motion animation for the creatures. This soon became cost prohibitive and the project was shelved. Toho studios eventually showed interest in the project and decided to make the movie and substituted the Frankenstein creature with their very own Godzilla. Toho eventually did make a two movies featuring a Frankenstein like creature, Frankenstein Conquers the World and my perennial favorite War of the Gargantuas.
There is a difference between the American and Japanese release. This movie is where the franchise begins its step toward a more family, or shall I say, child friendly tone. The Japanese cut of the movie features more comedic action scenes between the two protagonists. Much of this was edited out of the American version trying to make the movie more sophisticated for the American audience. The new footage was directed by Thomas Montgomery and it depicted Eric Carter, a UN reporter who narrates much of the action from a UN communication satellite broadcast. The movie also had scenes of Arnold Johnson, the head of the Museum of Natural History in New York who explains Godzilla’s origin and why Kong behaves as he does.
The previous movie, Godzilla Raids Again, has the big guy entombed in a mountain of ice at the end of that movie. Both the Japanese and American versions have Godzilla escaping from his icy grave at the start of this new movie. However, the difference is that in the Japanese version this is treated as a sequel to the previous movie and his escape from the ice is treated as a reappearance. In the American version Johnson’s explanations into Godzilla’s origins treats this movie as if it is Godzilla’s initial appearance to the world. My guess to the reasons why this approach was taken was due to the wider distribution of the film and that for many Americans this would be their first Godzilla movie.
The plot is pretty simple. The head of a large pharmaceutical company wants to find if the legends of King Kong are true and if they are, they want to use the giant creature in their add campaigns. They send out a search crew to bring the big beast back to Japan from the mysterious Faro Island. Meanwhile a US nuclear submarine gets caught in an iceberg freeing Godzilla who begins to go on a rampage. On Faro Island the native village is attacked by a giant octopus. Kong comes and defeats the giant octopus and drinks some berry juice and is intoxicated and falls asleep. The Japanese team captures him and tows him back to Japan on a giant raft.
By this time Godzilla is attacking Japan and when the government realizes that Kong is on his way and since they do not want two giant monster in Japan, they order Kong to be destroyed. After a failed attempt to blow him up an angry Kong swims to shore and faces Godzilla for the first time. The first round between the two behemoths is short with Godzilla blasting Kong’s chest hairs with his atomic halitosis.
The Japanese armed forces tries in vain to stop Godzilla from entering Tokyo. They are finally successful in averting Godzilla from Tokyo when they erect a barrier of power lines around the city filled with a 1,000,000 volts of electricity. Overpowered by the electricity Godzilla heads for the Mt. Fuji area. That night when Kong approaches Tokyo he comes up against the power lines and the contact with the electricity actually makes him stronger. Kong now attacks Tokyo but his new found strength gives the Japanese armed forces an idea. They explode capsules full of the berry juice from Faro Island and knock out Kong and transport him strapped to a bunch of giant balloons to the Mt. Fuji area where Godzilla is, with the hope that they will fight each other to their deaths. Sounds a little silly doesn’t it? But it is fun!
The two do meet up and they begin to battle one another. This is actually the meat and potatoes of the movie and depicts some classic fun and destructive monster battles. The question always asked is who won? The debate rages to this day. The American movie depicts that Kong was triumphant as we see him swimming back to Faro Island after a brief underwater battle with Godzilla. In the Japanese version it is speculated by the human characters that Godzilla survived and it is certain that he will return again. In truth the ending in both versions is rather anticlimactic. After an epic battle the two monsters fall into the ocean when an earthquake strikes Japan. This earthquake is much more enhanced with stock footage from other films in the American version. We do not see the underwater battle. We just see bubbles in the water and then Kong swimming away. I would have liked a more visual and decisive end.
The suit for Godzilla was designed differently for this move. Godzilla suits were often redesigned for different purposes. The main reason was to create a suit that would be easier and safer for the actor to wear. Those suits were heavy and hot and could be lethal! So anytime they could improve on the suit it was a good idea. The second reason the suits are changed is to give Godzilla a different look for the tone of the movie. Since this was the first color film we see that Godzilla is not green as he is often thought, he is more of a charcoal gray. His tiny ears were removed and wouldn’t be seen again for decades. He went from 4 toes on his feet to 3 toes. His tail was shortened and his face elongated to give him a more reptilian look. The suit for Kong is just bloody awful!! He looks like a moth eaten teddy bear that was lost underneath someone’s couch for months on end. The face is the worse. It barely resembles a gorilla. The other point about Kong is that he isn’t the same version from the original 1933 movie. That King Kong was only 25 feet tall (7.6 meters). In this movie Kong is 148ft tall (45meters) to match Godzilla’s 180ft (55meters) height.
All in all this is a fun movie and I enjoy it. If you’re a Godzilla fan I am sure it is on your list of favorites. In all honesty I would love for this movie to be remade. With the special effects as they are now this could be a depicted as a great monster battle.
I give the film a solid B.