"King Kong" is a failure. It is a huge ugly misadventure of bloated special effects, and was it not for the last act where the film's finally finds its voice – the beautiful, tender love between a big ape and his fair maiden – I would have called it a total washout. Know this: I really wanted "King Kong" to work; I am a fan of the 1933 original and I have great respect and admiration for director Peter Jackson. He had used an epic, indulgent approach to craft the memorable "Lord of the Rings" trilogy but I wonder why he chose to transpose the very same template for Kong's story, a story that is smaller, personal and all-together more intimate. It is a fatal miscalculation that costs "King Kong" the inherent benefits of nuance. My point is simple and true: "Lord of the Rings" was a big story and it needed a big way of telling that story. "King Kong" needed a different approach.
The film is set in the 1930s, the time of the Great American Depression and the opening sequence is a nice little montage that is quick to clarify New York City's bourgeoisie life and also the squalor of the poor. We will meet Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts), a beautiful actress down on her luck and desperate for work. Over-zealous filmmaker Carl Denham (Jack Black) will court her to join him on an exploratory expedition to a remote island to make a film that will blow everyone's socks off. On their voyage we will be introduced to numerous supporting characters including playwright Jack Driscoll (Adrien Brody). I will be kind in referring to them as supporting roles but most of these characters are actually bit-parts (Andy Serkis' Lumpy, Jamie Bell's Jimmy, Colin Hanks' Preston and others). The thing about bit-parts is that they must never be allowed to evolve into supporting roles because of their limited influence on the main plot in the screenplay. "King Kong's" writers disregard this important screenwriting guideline. When some of these "supporting characters" meet their fate at the hands (feet, claws and teeth) of the nefarious creatures on Skull Island, the film stops to acknowledge their departure but we do not care. Interestingly, there is an early scene in the film when the Carl Denham's cameraman asks him: "Want to switch to the six-inch lens?" Carl replies: "The wide-angle will be fine." This line is both funny and ironical because it immediately confirms our suspicion that Carl may very well be a channel for director Peter Jackson's persona. Eventually, Kong will be captured, caged and brought back to New York as the film segues into its last act.
At the heart of the "King Kong" is a classic Greek Tragedy: The big ape's ill-fated love for Ann, it is an unflinching affection that will ultimately lead to his subjugation by a people that want to exploit and benefit from him. There is rich material here – Kong is the metaphoric representation of the purity of our soul; his capture draws parallels with slave trade; and his shameless exhibition is a commentary on society's hunger for spectacle. The film has fleeting moments where Jackson masterfully examines these themes, especially in the last thirty minutes. But we are made to "enjoy" (I prefer the term endure) two-and-a-half hours of exposition, character development that has no substantial pay-off and a mind-numbing action and adventure extravaganza all in the name of entertainment (remember, special effects must exist only to serve story). And herein lays the film's paradox, its undoing – on one hand "King Kong" wants to be uncomplicated entertainment for everyone and on the other a sad, complex love story with strong moral and social undercurrents meant for everyone. In the end it is everything, it is nothing. - Adnan Khan