In case you either haven't been paying attention or haven't seen the original 1933 version of King Kong, is about a very large gorilla. Jack Black co-stars as Carl Denham, a shady filmmaker looking to salvage the ruins of his latest picture by making a trek to the mysterious Skull Island. Along for the adventure are Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts), a struggling young actress, Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody), an up-and-coming playwright, and a motley assortment of expendable monster food. On Skull Island a rather scary gaggle of bone-through-the-nose savages see in the lovely Ann the next sacrifice to their almighty god, a massive gorilla named Kong.
With Lord of the Rings, Jackson established himself as the preeminent spectacle filmmaker of the past 30 years, seamlessly marrying story, character, action and special effects. King Kong is no less impressive, but also more bloated and self-indulgent.
The problem with King Kong is that Jackson has done little to improve the story. Instead, he's just padded the film out with more action sequences, including a deadly battle in a valley full of giant insects that was cut from the original film. This scene is Jackson at his absolute best, showcasing all the skill and talent that his reputation has been built on. But the first hour of the film is spent with excessive exposition, character development, and heavy-handed references to Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness.
Black, in a role perfect for Bruce Campbell, is terribly miscast. Brody could just as easily have been replaced with Bruce Boxleitner, and ultimately he has his thunder stolen by Kyle Chandler as a self-absorbed actor. Watts, always fun to watch, gives the film's second-best performance . The film's best performance belongs to Kong himself, an amalgam of computer-generated imagery and an assured performance by Andy Serkis, who brought Gollum to life in the LOTR films.
It isn't until the film's second act, sometime into the second hour, when everyone arrives at Skull Island, that things start to get good. From the moment the ship nearly crashes on the rocky shores of the foreboding island, the film never relents in its nearly nonstop thrill-ride approach to storytelling. And in the nearly 90 minutes spent on Skull Island, King Kong stands tall as one of the most purely entertaining films of the year.
King Kong is a good movie that should absolutely be seen on the big screen. But if you arrive about an hour late and leave about 20 minutes early, you won't see a good movie, you'll see an excellent one.
Open Friday, Dec. 16. Pioneer Place, Lloyd Cinema, St. Johns Twin, Eastport, Division Street, Oak Grove, Cedar Hills, Cornelius, Hilltop, Lake Twin, Sandy, Sherwood, Tigard, Wilsonville, Cinema 99, Cinetopia, City Center, Vancouver Plaza.