Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
"LAST OF THE MONSTER KIDS" - Available Now on the Amazon Kindle Marketplace!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

RECENT WATCHES: King Kong Lives (1986)

Hype backlash hit the 1976 version of “King Kong” about as hard as is possible, the movie going from the most anticipated release of the year to a punchline within months. The remake was still, by any measure, an enormous success. Producer Dino De Laurentiis knew Kong had franchise potential. For reasons I can only assume have something to do with the complicated legal history around Kong's ownership, it would take ten years for a sequel to arrive. Director John Guillermin would be the only talent to return for “King Kong Lives.” The sequel would become a critical punching bag and a massive box office flop, essentially ending Kong's cinematic reign for years to come.

As the title indicates, the sequel begins with the unlikely supposition that Kong survived his bloody fall from the top of the World Trade Center. The big ape has spent a decade on life support, supervised by Dr. Amy Franklin, a massive pacemaker ready to go into his chest. The problem is that a suitable blood donner has never been located. That all changes when explorer Hank Mitchell discovers another massive ape in the jungles of Borneo. And she's female. Kong gets his surgery and his new heart. He also feels drawn to the Lady Kong. The two break out, go into the forest of the American Southwest, and begin a new live. The military is on the giant gorillas' tails. So are Franklin and Mitchell, hoping to save them before its too late.

“King Kong Lives” cranks up the campy elements that were already present in the 1976 film. Sometimes the movie's goofiness seems almost unintentional. The early scenes devoted to Kong's open-heart surgery features a massive, pizza-slicer shaped saw. A crane is used to lower a huge pacemaker into the monkey's chest. Later on, the unlikely situation of a giant ape sneaking up on people happens twice. Other comedic elements are no doubt intentional. The Bornian natives that keep Mitchell company are farcical. During his climatic walk through the suburbs, Kong is hit in the face with a golf ball. The most ridiculous scenes involves the big ape fighting a group of rowdy rednecks. I don't know if the image of King Kong fighting a typical collection of Cletuses and Jeds was an image that really needed to exist.

Beyond the existence of rip-offs like “Queen Kong,” the sequel is also the first film to feature a same species mate for Kong. By the end, “King Kong Lives” takes this idea to its logical conclusion, the two giant apes' begetting a son. Kong finding a female his own size and starting a family is another one of the sequel's dumb ideas. It's also kind of touching. The two Kongs hanging out in the woods, living among themselves, sharing trees and rocks like gifts is goofy. For all these years, Kong's story has been about an outsider in a strange land, rejected by everyone around him. And especially by the woman he loves. To see the gorilla finally find mutual love, something resembling normal wedded bliss, is somewhat satisfying.

Sadly, “King Kong Lives” chooses to parallel the apes' love story with a far more uninspired human love story. When Dr. Franklin and Mitch first meet, they hate each other. Of course, the script follows the path of the countless romantic comedies made before and after. The problem is that the pair's romance doesn't grow out of natural interactions. The script throws them together suddenly. After finding the gorillas' love nest, Amy makes the sudden decision to invite Mitch into her sleeping bag. After a night of sweaty primate love, Amy and Mitch remain close partners throughout the rest of the film. It just comes out of a nowhere. Worst yet, the pair's performers have no chemistry. Linda Hamilton does not seem entirely convinced by the script's campy excesses. Brian Kerwin goes in the opposite direction, playing Mitch as a comedic buffoon.

Of course, monster fans are not here for the love story. We are here to see Kong tear shit up. The sequel at least provides us with that much. Kong escapes his hospital bed by tossing his massive shackles across the room. Kong gorily dispatches the good ol' boys who attack him. One gets snap in half like a Slim Jim. Another gets bitten in two, the film lingering on Kong chewing up and swallowing the guy. This being a kaiju movie, the military pursues Kong and his mate. The big climax has the gorilla crushing tanks, Jeeps, and helicopters, throwing huge rocks and chunks of land around. The psychotic general determined to kill Kong – the film's proper villain – receives a memorable fate: Crushed by Kong's fist in a graveyard. As in the previous film, the animatronic suits are extremely well done, expressive and realistic. The ape's movement is far more realistic and convincing this time.

“King Kong Lives” concludes on a sequel hook. After being gorily shot full of holes by the military, Kong greets his newborn son and dies. Dr. Franklin then insures Lady Kong and Kid Kong are shipped to a nature persevere in Borneo, where no assholes in helicopters can bother them. “King Kong Lives'” disastrous box office results would insure that no further sequels would follow. (Another causality was John Guillerman's career. The former blockbuster maker's next, and final, movie would go straight to TV.) All things considered, the sequel is a rather goofy affair, the script full of holes and ridiculous scenarios. Still, “King Kong Lives” is slightly better than its reputation suggest. Kong fans should probably watch it, just for the decent special effects and giant monster mayhem. [5/10]

No comments: