King Kong ★★★

I'm going to watch every kaiju movie ever, 4/95

My partner and I were looking for something to watch on Netflix and this was on there, so why not. The timing was also pretty alright considering how much Peter Jackson I've been watching lately.

My biggest frustration is, of course, is that it's pretty clear Jackson didn't turn a critical eye to how racist the 1933 film he was remaking was. He does give the Venture a heroic black first officer rather than a racist caricature of an Asian cook, so I guess that's something. And as this was a period piece, it's arguably understandable that the bulk of a film crew would be white, but that's an argument that's never really held much water with me. Sure, it's a period piece, but there's also a 25-foot tall gorilla, so it feels like maybe we can ask people for some suspension of disbelief here.

Of course, the film does have plenty of people of color... in the form of super racist caricatures of Skull Island's native inhabitants. Sigh. I do think the 1933's version of the same were more blatantly, in-your-face racist, but that's not exactly a very high bar to clear. Between this and his Middle Earth movies, there is definitely enough of a pattern at this point to say that Jackson probably has a bit of a blind spot when it comes to racial issues. That's pretty frustrating, and I definitely understand if that's a deal breaker for anyone.

Of course, what Jackson was primarily interested in was Kong himself, and it's no surprise the film absolutely nails its titular, crucial element. Fresh off Lord of the Rings' copious use of motion capture technology, Weta Digital and Weta Workshop were uniquely qualified to bring Kong to life. As was Andy Serkis, who between his performances in Lord of the Rings and the Planet of the Apes reboots, it's difficult to argue anyone but him as the greatest motion capture actor of all time at the moment.

Setting was another strength of Jackson's Lord of the Ring trilogy, both in terms of locations and digital/miniature augmentation, and it's another area in which King Kong excelled. It was oftentimes difficult to tell on wide shots which settings were miniatures and which were digital (whereas my biggest complaint was I've rewatched the Hobbit trilogy is how blatant a lot of the digital stuff is), I'm guessing because like with Lord of the Rings a combination of both was frequently used. Whatever the case may be, it all just looked so gorgeous.

If I can get a bit fangirly for a moment, I do have to say that I would've liked to see Kong be a bit more menacing to the human characters in this. I understand that Jackson was interested in making Kong a more sympathetic figure, but I think you can do that and preserve the really affecting scenes of him attacking the village and all these human characters cowering and/or being stepped on by him. I just think the duality there is really interesting, and I don't think Kong's hands need to be clean for him to be a sympathetic figure.

On an equally fangirly note, however, I am so glad that Jackson had Kong fighting dinosaurs in this version instead of the eye-rollingly unnecessary "skull walkers" or whatever they were called in Kong: Skull Island. I would have liked a bit more explicit of a "holy shit, these are dinosaurs!" reaction from the human characters, but at least they didn't explicitly just completely shrug them off like in the 1933 original.

On the whole, I'm a fan of this, which is probably not a huge surprise given that I'm a fan of both Jackson and giant monster movies. There are some issues with it, certainly, but if you're just looking for a comparatively recent big monster movie, you could do a lot worse.