Friday 7 May 2021

Movie Review: King Kong (2005)

A mega monster adventure movie about a giant ape tangling with pesky humans, King Kong is both brilliant and bloated.

In New York City of 1933, discredited film director Carl Denham (Jack Black) plans an audacious ending to his latest cinematic project. He wants his cast and crew to sail to the uncharted Skull Island and capture unique footage. Carl ropes star Bruce Baxter (Kyle Chandler) and celebrated writer Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody) into the project, and plucks struggling vaudevillian Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) out of poverty to play the female lead.

They set sail on the Venture with German Captain Englehorn (Thomas Kretschmann) in charge. Once on Skull Island, violent natives immediately seize Ann and offer her as a sacrifice to King Kong (Andy Serkis, motion captured), a huge ape and the dominant beast on the island. Kong takes a liking to the feisty Ann and does not harm her, but has to engage in vicious battles with dinosaur rivals to keep her safe. Meanwhile Carl, Bruce, Jack and Englehorn need to rescue their leading lady, while Carl starts considering the financial rewards of capturing King Kong and bringing him back to New York.

Essentially the same story told in 100 minutes in the classic original is here expanded into a disorienting 188 minutes. Directed by Peter Jackson, this version of King Kong is a technological marvel, and subdues its length with engrossing visuals, a distinct sense of place, and enough scurrying people and rampaging monsters to maintain momentum. The island is a breathtaking and foreboding place, its natural balance contaminated by the arrogant new arrivals, and King Kong is a beautifully rendered beast, Andy Serkis bringing the monster to life and ever so gradually allowing emotions to surface.

King Kong achieves some stupendous and overwhelming action highlights. Rational editing seamlessly stitches the actors into the CGI-enhanced environment, even during the wildest sequences. Jackson (who also co-wrote the screenplay) injects the best shriek-inducing scenes with a mean streak of sly humour. A Brontosaurus stampede walks the thin line between plain silly and ridiculous fun, and later Kong's battle with multiple Tyrannosaurus rex is vicious and viciously funny.

For better or for worse, Jackson goes big and never goes home. His main command must have been "more", every scene and every sequence extended beyond what is necessary, computers whirring and pixels crashing onto the screen in a race to impress. The insistence on adding by addition means the monsters just keep on coming, effectiveness and shock value eroded with every new species. 

In a thankless role confined for long periods in an ape's hand, Naomi Watts manages to provide Ann with spirit and personality. The rest of the cast members trundle through the jungle with good intentions to battle mortal but virtual hazards.

The final 45 minutes take place back in New York, the 1930s lovingly recreated with romantic details as King Kong makes his final stand atop the Empire State Building. His howl is nature's fury at human hubris, loud, large, and often unheeded.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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