Forget the cheesy trailers, the huge budget, and the hype. This is a film for those looking to escape reality and who enjoy movies for what they are: entertainment, pure and simple.
The story is set in New York City in the 1930’s, where we meet struggling Vaudeville performer Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts), starving for her first big break. She finds it with sleazily charismatic movie producer, Carl Denham (Jack Black) who, having just lost his star and the financial backing to finish his project, offers her the lead in his film if she can leave to shoot on-location immediately. She hesitantly agrees and through several shady maneuvers and a serious lack of financial support, Carl somehow avoids getting arrested and sets sail to his unknown, exotic film location. Other players are his pushover of an assistant Preston (Colin Hanks), narcissistic film star Bruce Baxter (Kyle Chandler) and the real intelligence behind the operation, playwright Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody), whom Carl tricks into staying on-board. Thus begins the journey to the dreaded Skull Island.
The trip is a long one, the longest part of the movie actually, and veers off on several subplots. One of course, is a budding romance between Ann and Jack, and the other follows the secrets of the crew members – namely a stowaway Jimmy (Jamie Bell) and the Captain himself (Thomas Kretschmann) whom we suspect, know more about this Skull Island then they admit. Regardless, we all know they have to get to the island to find Kong, so Jackson’s decision to prolong their arrival is really a waste of time and film.
Fast-forward through a few “moments” with Jack and Ann, arguments among the crew, and an unnecessarily long boat-landing sequence, and we get to (finally) the arrival on Skull Island and the discovery of the island’s native people. They are a creepy and violently deranged group, who kidnap Ann for a disturbing, cult-like sacrificial ritual. Enter the mighty Kong (voiced by the creature-master himself, Andy Serkis), who carries Ann off into the jungle. Jack soon discovers Ann’s absence and organizes a rescue mission while Carl, the only member of the crew who sees Kong carry Ann away, packs his camera.
From here on out, the movie kicks into high-gear. And I’m talking edge of your seat, neck-cramp-inducing, high-gear. The next two hours contain the most elaborate and intense action sequences I’ve seen in a long time. Now of course, not all of them make sense. Amazingly, lost parties are twice recovered by rescuers who, if really stranded on an unknown island, would have no way of knowing where to find them. Also, Ann is somehow able to run full speed through the jungle without once injuring her shoeless feet. One lengthy battle between Kong and not one, but three T-Rex’s, borders so close to ridiculous, both length-wise and logistics-wise, you start wondering if it will ever end. That being said, you can’t help but be pulled into Jackson’s fantastically fictitious realm. There is simply too much great here, to focus on the mediocre. And speaking of great, there are several heart-stopping sequences after which, you have to unclench your neck muscles and remember to breathe. Talk about engaging.
Another great aspect of this film is the performances. Watts is wonderful as Ann. Particularly impressive is the fact that most of her work was against a green screen and with huge, lifeless props. Yet her scenes with Kong are the entire heart of the film. Unlike the character in the original movie who screams the whole time, Watts’ Ann grows to understand and appreciate Kong which, along with a little help from Serkis’ performance, humanizes his character. Brody is perfect as the unlikely hero. His character has a spirited intelligence and provides a steady and primary support for Ann. He is wonderful to watch onscreen, there is something just inexplicably attractive about him. Black is definitely a stand-out. His conniving, soulless and comical Carl casts an even darker shadow on the already ominous profession of movie producers, but brilliantly so. (Except for that super-cheesy last line of the film, but I won’t spoil it here.) Kyle Chandler is also surprisingly good as the arrogant coward, Bruce Baxter. Who would’ve thought there would be life after that 90’s TV Show, ‘Early Editionr’
One more item worth mentioning briefly is the film’s score. James Newton Howard blends just the right amount of alarm and suspense (sounds like a distant, pulsating heartbeat) leading into the action sequences, as he does with the softer sound that enhances Ann and Kong‘s charming, heartfelt connection. That connection, thanks to Jackson’s script, Serkis’ performance and the brilliance of WETA’s effects teams, just melts your heart. It gives Kong such a humanistic, lovable personality; you can’t help but fall in love with him. It is a major success of the film.
So take what you will from the hype, the big budget and all the computer generated effects. I’ve already admitted there are some cheesy and unbelievably over-the-top moments, but in knowing even the smallest detail about the story, the only expectation to go in with is to be entertained. That’s why we like this medium in the first place, isn’t itr That said, I suppose it depends on one’s individual definition of entertainment. If you’re into small, quiet, meaningful films, “King Kong” is not for you.
Personally, I went in thinking I was not going to enjoy myself. I was ready for three hours of rolling my eyes. I was wrong. It’s been a long time since I’ve gotten so much out of a trip to the theater. If you like a little something of everything: action, drama, romance, even comedy, you will like this film. Look for it to break some records. It just has the all-around appeal to draw repeat customers and serious box-office cash. And all you film snobs out there should go see this movie too. But try to leave your analytical, judgmental alter-egos at home and enjoy yourself, just this once. I did. I think Peter Jackson did too.Rating: A