A long ‘Kong’ has plenty to beat the chest about
“King Kong” is dang long.
Not that director Peter Jackson doesn’t have the skill to keep his audience enthralled for over three hours. His “Lord of the Rings” movies each managed to ratchet up the momentum at every turn. But his “reimagining” of the 1933 “Kong” original — which Jackson clearly adores, and the 1976 adaptation which he doesn’t but from which he still borrows liberally — should have been excised significantly. Jackson seems to have forgotten why the “Director’s Cut” was invented, and where it belongs — on DVD.
After all, there is only one 25-foot, 800-pound reason why audiences are going to see “King Kong,” so don’t make us wait an hour and 15 minutes to see the big fella! Yes, the backstory has merit, but it also contains plenty of superfluous material that doesn’t propel the story significantly.
As expected, Jackson’s magnificent design concepts are beautifully engineered by his effects crew and perfectly evoke the bustling, struggling shanty towns and soup kitchens of Depression-Era New York.
We meet down-on-her luck vaudeville acrobat Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts), and desperate filmmaker Carl Denham (Jack Black), whose chance meeting sets the stage for a journey to Skull Island to bring to life playwright Jack Driscoll’s (Adrien Brody) unfinished adventure. The setup is important, and each of the skilled actors does his part. But the romantic inklings between Jack and Ann seem forced, and too much time is spent on minor characters who are eliminated once the action starts.
Once the crew arrives on the rugged, uncharted island, Ann is captured by the predictably creepy and ruthless natives who use her as ape bait.
Some of the action sequences, especially those involving dinosaurs, are suitably pulse-raising, but they overstay their welcome. However, the scenes involving Kong are a cut above. Jackson and his team haven’t really improved the look of a T. Rex since “Jurassic Park,” but Kong himself is a wonder to behold.
Using actor Andy Serkis much the same way he did in the “Rings” movies, Jackson captures an impressive array of nuances and characteristics naturally and seamlessly.
Some of the film’s best moments are its most subtle — including the interplay between the captured beauty and the brawny beast. Proving once again that blondes have more fun, Ann quickly surmises that her possessive primate is enchanted with her tricks and only seeks to gently toy with her and eventually give his life to protect her. These scenes suit Watts’ abilities, although we could live without the several dozen slow motion pans of Watts gazing longingly at Kong with her stunning aquamarines.
The final third of the movie leaves the original story pretty much intact. Kong is brought back to New York to be made spectacle of, he breaks free and meets his doom warding off biplanes from atop of the Empire State Building. These scenes are shot affectionately, but almost too ethereally.
By now pushing the three-hour mark, the film loses a lot of dramatic steam. Still, there is plenty to respect, for Jackson has made the definitive Kong adaptation. No need to make another one anytime soon.
Good thing, my bladder couldn’t handle it.
Rated PG-13 for violence, frightening images and many religious profanities.