This is not just one of the most thrilling action movies ever made – it is more like five or six of the most thrilling action movies ever made. It is not quite twice as long as the usual movie, but it is packed with enough edge-of-your-seat/did-I-just-see-that/goose-bumpy popcorn pleasure for a year’s worth of blockbusters.
We’ve got zombies. We’ve got stampeding dinosaurs. We’ve got very oooky bugs and creatures that look like alimentary canals with lots and lots of teeth. We have hubris, big time. We have tender love stories. We have a lovely damsel in distress — repeatedly — and heroic men who will risk their lives – repeatedly -– to save her.
And we have a really really really big gorilla. It takes almost an hour into the movie before we meet him, but he is worth waiting for.
Peter Jackson showed us with The Lord of the Rings that he knows how to make movies that give us the grandest special-effects-laden spectacle but never let us lose sight of the characters who make it more than pretty pictures. In this remake of the classic that first inspired him to become a director, Jackson has created a masterful mix of story and splendor and hold-your-breath adventure.
The film opens with shots of wild animals, and then realize they are in cages, in a New York zoo. And then we see people, in a sort of cage, too — the Depression has everyone feeling trapped.
Then we meet our characters and soon they are on their way to the uncharted Skull Island to make a movie. There they run into every possible kind of jungle peril, including a gigantic, dinosaur-bashing gorilla who captures — and then is captured by actress Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts). They bring him back to New York and put him on stage in a silly show with bright lights and loud noises and people in evening clothes laughing and applauding. And then he escapes.
Jackson’s staging of the big action scenes is sensational, especially a dinosaur stampede and what I can only describe as a massive and meticulously timed stunt involving a lot of vines. But what is even more impressive is his sensitivity in the small, tender moments, including a breathtakingly exquisite scene on an ice skating rink. Kong himself, a combination of computer effects and the gestures and movements of actor Andy Serkis (who also provided the same services for Golum in the “Lord of the Rings” movies) gives what can only be called a performance, and a beautifully calibrated and expressive one.
The script manages the trick of being true to the source without any ironic winks or post-modern spins but also without taking itself too seriously. A clever little shout-out to Fay Wray, star of the original, sets the tone.
And a great deal of credit has to go to the actors, who more than hold their own in front of all of the special effects. Jack Black (School of Rock) plays movie producer/director Carl Denham, something of a towering monster himself. While Kong appreciates beauty and demonstrates honor, even some humility, Denham cares only about his movie and will lie, cheat, steal, and sacrifice anyone around him to get the movie made. Naomi Watts is Ann Darrow, a hard-luck vaudevillian let down by everyone she ever trusted who wants to be an actress and accepts a part in Denham’s movie, to be filmed on location in a mysterious uncharted place called Skull Island.
Adrian Brody (The Pianist) is playwright/screenwriter Jack Driscoll, who involuntarily comes along for the ride when Denham insists that the boat take off before Driscoll can leave — and before the police can stop them.
This is an old-fashioned wow of a they-don’t-make-’em-like-that-anymore movie movie with thrills and heart and romance. And a very big gorilla. Who could ask for anything more?
Parents should know that this film has a great deal of very intense peril and violence, including guns and spears. There are zombie characters who are quite creepy and scary animals — both enormous and small, and grisly images. Many characters are injured or killed and there is a reference to suicide. Characters drink and there are some romantic kisses. Characters use some crude language and some swearing.
Families who see this movie should talk about the question one of the characters asks about Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Why do people “keep going down the river?”
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the original and read this history of King Kong’s movies, but should skip the campy 1976 version starring Jessica Lange. The World of Kong is a guide to Skull Island produced by the people who designed this movie.