Peter Jackson's King Kong is a spectacle of big-budget adventurism that indulges in flashy childhood monster-movie fetishes while upping the original's sentimental quotient to new grandiose levels. Filled with furious action and exotic locales, the film gives Kong a much broader canvas to wreak havoc upon in this retooled version of the famed story. The big screen's largest primate has also been given more time to do so, with a three-hour-plus running time weighing heavily on the audience's shoulders as each act is expanded to mixed results. Needless backstories take center stage in the beginning, just as the middle tends to blur into one long chase sequence that is downright excessive in its scale and endless barrage of thrills. Viewers might find themselves caught up in the breathless imagery, but one senses that Jackson isn't flexing his storyteller muscles as much as he's fulfilling his own boyhood dreams of the prehistoric rock 'em, sock 'em material. In that way, the director momentarily ceases to involve his audience in the drama, opting instead to deliver fast-paced action with multiple icky, gooey, ferocious creatures filling the screen to dizzying degrees.
Ironically, the picture's strongest moments are its quietest, as Kong and Naomi Watts build a sincere and touching bond that goes far beyond the creepy unrequited love of the duo in the 1933 original. It's this relationship that fuels the bravura third-act opening with a lavish and witty recreation of the villagers from the original, as dancers cavort Broadway-style in front of the broken and battered giant ape. What follows is a miraculous recreation of one of the most famous scenes in movie history that is as heartbreaking an experience as any. Time will tell how the film will be viewed years down the road, but one thing is for sure -- this isn't the King Kong that Peter Jackson would have made before Lord of the Rings (which was originally the plan). The film might benefit from the sensitivity gleaned from Tolkien's trilogy, but on the flip side of Hollywood's cursed coin, his unlimited power and success no doubt bloated what was once a slim tale of beauty and the beast and turned it into a personal journey of obsessive boyhood dreams come true, not unlike the film's monomaniacal filmmaker Carl Denham.