King Kong Escapes is the sort of movie that almost makes me feel like a dick for enjoying it because I know it’s not due to it being a legitimately good movie. Exactly the opposite in fact. I’m mostly enjoying it because of how little of the movie holds up. I’m enjoying the primitive effects and goofy costumes. I’m enjoying the obvious miniatures and dolls that make up much of the practical effects. I suppose the fact that I’m enjoying it at all is what’s important but I still can’t help but feel like a jerk that most of that enjoyment derives from “ha! Look at that cheap effect!”
King Kong Escapes opens very promisingly as we are immediately introduced to robot King Kong. Mecha Kong? Robo Kong? According to Wikipedia it’s actually Mechni-Kong. Fair enough, Mechni-Kong it is. So Mechni-Kong is super goofy looking and has been created to dig inside this cave in order to uncover a bunch of radioactive material that humans aren’t able to get near. However the radiation shuts him down and the new plan is to get the actual King Kong to come and finish the job. Mechni-Kong remains largely absent from the rest of the movie until the very end which is a disappointment. To me this movie was sold on “a big ape fights a big robot ape” but not only do you get very little of that fight, you also get very little of the robot ape in general. More robot ape is always the way to go in any film and this movie does not deliver.
The stuff on Skull Island when the team goes to retrieve King Kong is my personal highlight of the movie, even if it plays out in a very familiar way. Kong fights a bunch of other monsters on the island and eventually falls in love with the girl who has come along on the expedition. The love stuff, whatever, but man it is never not going to be fun to watch dudes in costumes fight each other. Here the main brawl is between Kong and a dinosaur and its good stuff. The Kong costume though is quite terrible. He looks so fucking doofy all the time. Don’t get me wrong I think it’s great and no doubt the budget for the picture was quite low but you can’t take anything too seriously when Kong has a perpetual daft look on his face. He does throw a rock at the water in order to strike a huge serpent in the head though, and that’s pretty amazing.
I already mentioned the primitive effects and while they are indeed funny they are also infinitely charming as well. Outside of the goofy costumes, you get toy submarines and helicopters, obvious dolls representing characters in some shots, and all manners of other similar things. Again they clearly didn’t have a lot of money to work with here so it’s interesting to see the methods they used to pull off what should be a large scale movie on a very small scale. It’s the same way Ed Wood movies are both hilarious and kinda genuinely great. Yeah they are so low rent it’s hilarious but god damn if you can’t help but respect the guy for doing what he needed to do to get the shots.
The problem is that there simply isn’t enough of that. Much of the movie is spent with regular King Kong stuck in captivity or Mechni-Kong entirely absent so we instead are forced to spend time with the human characters and who wants to do that? Sure the over the top bad guy can be fun but for the most part I wasn’t too invested in what was happening. It’s certainly possible for these monster movies to have solid human characters as I can think of a few of the Godzilla pictures where you don’t mind the time spent away from the monsters, but here that does not apply.
I also couldn’t help but be disappointed in the final fight between Kong and Mechni-Kong. You know the movie is building towards their confrontation and then when it finally happens, it’s mostly just them hanging off the side of a tower and batting at each other. This is an ape fighting a robot ape, it should be the most incredible thing ever but instead it’s quick and largely uninteresting.
King Kong Escapes certainly has its fun moments but I would rank it in the lower tier of the classic “man in rubber suit” monster movies that I have watched. A fun first half leads into a surprisingly slow second half that all caps off in a disappointing brawl. Not bad, but not something I can hugely recommend either.
Oh and I think this might be the first blu ray I’ve ever watched where once the movie ended, it immediately fired up again from the beginning without me doing a thing. The movie was THAT confident I would want to dive right back in immediately. That’s very arrogant and incorrect of you King Kong Escapes.