King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962)

Written by Nick McCann

69/100

King Kong ushered in a new era of special effects driven American filmmaking back in 1933. Godzilla, 21 years later, took that effects film formula and wove in a palpable social commentary for Japanese audiences. Not to mention the big dinosaur was well on the way to starting a profitable franchise. So given both monsters’ popularity, it seemed only a matter of time before they clashed. Lo and behold, 1962 was the year that brought us an enjoyable proving ground for the future of the series.

Although the previously released Godzilla Raids Again saw the first monster battle of the series, this film sets the standard for how this template is to be executed. Ishiro Honda once again directs with efficient speed and touches on relevant themes once again. All the jabs at commercialism and the advertising industry give the movie a light and satirical tone that makes it the right kind of cheesy. It also does an okay job at rebooting Kong into Godzilla’s follow up adventure, though I feel some of the Kong iconography feels slightly like an afterthought. Also certain details can still come off as hokey for sake of the plot. Even with that, it’s reliably exciting and quick-paced as it builds to the ultimate showdown of its era.

Speaking of which, Kong and Godzilla themselves give me mixed feelings here. Godzilla still looks good with a decent suit design and his continuing relentlessness. Kong’s suit on the other hand doesn’t hold up very well through his dopey face and fur pulled right off a living room floor. But to bring it back positive, the body language in both suit performances are defined well between Kong’s problem solving and Godzilla’s near-constant forward momentum. If there were more non-confrontational moments where the monsters could interact with each other, it’d make this all the more delightful.

When they fight, it’s a great spectacle. The special effects show great improvement from the prior films with lots of model buildings, RC vehicles and even okay blue screening. The fights have funny highlights through the actual excitement, like one shot of rough-looking stop motion and Kong force feeding Godzilla a tree. It’s what you expect from one of these movies. Camera work is energetic, the editing is tight and Akira Ifukube’s score hits with great numbers throughout. In particular, the new islander Kong chant is a strong musical presence.

On the flip side, the human characters are not too shabby this time around. Even though actual character development is still thin, everyone hits the material with personality and clear distinction from one another. Ichiro Arishima stands out greatly as a slapstick-oriented business agent. I couldn’t help but cheekily laugh at this guy, he nails the part. Kenji Sahara, Tadao Takashima, Yu Fujiki and Mie Hama also make up a spry and witty cast. Other supporting players fulfill their job in the plot fine without much time spent on giving them dimensions.

Any casuals looking for a solid Godzilla movie to either start with or get the general idea of the series should consult this one. It’s importance goes beyond just two of the most famous movie monsters together in one package. King Kong vs. Godzilla lays a nice foundation for the series with it’s fast pace, decent characters and charming set pieces. Although flawed, it satisfies all the same. Here’s to Legendary Pictures and what they have in store for their take.

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