*. Expectations must have been high for this one. At least among kaiju fans. It was released to coincide with Toho’s 30th anniversary, and featured Hollywood’s most famous giant ape facing off against Japan’s most famous monster lizard. Both legends appearing for the first time in widescreen and colour.
*. Alas, while not the worst film in either franchise I think it may be the most disappointing. Not in terms of box office (it was the biggest hit in the series for Toho) but creatively.
*. I’m not talking about the turn toward humour, but that’s a point worth addressing. In the early Americanizations of the first two Godzilla movies (Godzilla, King of the Monsters and Gigantis the Fire Monster) one could feel a pull toward comedy not present in the Japanese originals. This was inadvertent, the result of having to crudely splice in stock footage or the effect of poor dubbing and translation. In King Kong vs. Godzilla, however, the brakes are off and even the Japanese version is going for laughs all the way. The studio had decided that children were the target audience so they wanted to lighten things up. The result was “a salaryman’s comedy with giant monsters,” in the words of Stuart Galbraith IV.
*. I don’t have a big problem with this. Let’s face it, the human storylines in these movies are usually a waste of time anyway, so if they wanted to go for laughs and play a lot of broad comedy in the background I say Why not? And the idea of targeting tabloid television news was, in 1962, pretty fresh (with a lot more of this appearing in the Japanese version than in the American cut).
*. No, where this movie falls down is precisely in the stuff that should be its bread and butter: giant monsters flattening buildings and going toe-to-toe.
*. The models, especially of trains and excavating equipment, look even more toy-like than usual. Kong’s costume is terrible, like someone wrapped in a mangy hide rug. And the fights are a joke. All the wrestling, chest-thumping and hand clapping are fine. Again, that was stuff they were throwing in for the kids and it works on that level. But there’s little interesting going on, mostly just Godzilla smashing Kong with his tail and Kong throwing boulders at Godzilla (though I did like Kong’s judo flip, and shoving a tree in Godzilla’s mouth). Furthermore, the monsters’ special powers don’t make much sense. Godzilla’s fiery breath works, until it doesn’t. Kong apparently develops a quick immunity. Then we’re told that Kong is made stronger by electricity. Why? I have no idea. But he chews on power lines and when struck by lightning he not only revives from the dead but gains a special shock-touch power.
*. The only good fight actually occurs in the early going, when Kong takes on a giant octopus. It’s all downhill from there.
*. Other parts of the movie are just laughable, but not in a good way. Kong being tranquilized and then transported by helium balloons to Mount Fuji, for example, and all the cutaways (in the U.S. version) to Japanese and American news desks, where we get play-by-play from anchors and scientists.
*. Even the ending is left a bit vague and anti-climactic. We’re told Kong is the victor, but it seems unlikely Godzilla has drowned. He’s an aquatic lizard, known for swimming long distances in the ocean, so we can be confident he’ll be back, and in a better movie (Mothra vs. Godzilla).
*. In a lot of ways this film marked a real change in direction for the franchise, and it is a kind of kitsch landmark, but it’s nowhere as much fun as you’d have a right to expect.