Our film this week is from 1986, and it is called “King Kong Lives.” “What??” you’re saying. “No he doesn’t!” King Kong fell off the Empire State Building in 1933, or off one of the Twin Towers in 1976, or off the Empire State Building again in 2005. In any case, he is dead. He does not live. This film’s title is a falsehood, like “The Neverending Story,” or “Pretty Woman.”
This is a sequel to the 1976 “King Kong” remake, and it begins with footage from the end of that film to bring us up to speed, i.e., so we’ll know exactly which facts are being disregarded in order to produce a cash-grab sequel. We can’t really be annoyed at the preposterousness of Kong being brought back to life unless we first see him plummet 1,300 feet to his death. So here it is. Yep, there he goes, from the roof of the North Tower to the pavement below. That’s a dead ape, all right.
But no! Suddenly it’s 10 years later and we’re at a facility in Georgia, where Kong is on life support, tubes coming out of his mouth and everything. (New York City has a lot of resources, but apparently the nearest giant-ape treatment clinic is in Georgia.) Kong has been in a coma all this time. Scientists have spent millions to manufacture an artificial heart to replace his failing one, but he’s too ill for the surgery. His blood has deteriorated — “he’s been comatose for too long” says one of the doctors, pronouncing it “comma-tose.” Kong needs a blood transfusion from someone of the same species! Quick, get Danny DeVito on the phone!
As luck would have it, at this very moment there is an explorer out in Borneo or somewhere looking for wild creatures to exploit, and wouldn’t you know it, he stumbles across a female Kong. The explorer’s name is Hank Mitchell (Brian Kerwin), or Mitch for short, and he and a few blowdart-wielding natives tranquilize Lady Kong with no trouble at all. Getting her onto a ship and bringing her to the United States proves to be pretty easy, too, so much that the film doesn’t even bother showing it to us. I seem to recall the perils of finding, capturing, and relocating Kong occupying a significant portion of the previous “King Kong” films, but apparently it’s not that hard after all.
Back in the States, the general public is delighted to know that a blood donor for Kong has been found. Everyone is eager to see the big fella up and around and escaping and running loose and terrorizing people again. Kong’s chief physician, Amy (Linda Hamilton), leads the team of surgeons in supplying Kong with new blood and then performing the heart transplant, which requires comically oversized medical instruments, like the Lilliputians operating on Gulliver. (Unanswered question: What did they do with Kong’s old heart? Imagine the practical jokes you could play with that thing!) Meanwhile, Lady Kong is chained up in an airplane hangar a mile away, enjoying the 500 pounds of cookies and oil tanker full of juice that the Red Cross provided for donating blood.
When you perform heart-transplant surgery on King Kong, even a King Kong who has been comma-tose for 10 years, King Kong only needs three days to recover. King Kong doesn’t even have surgical scars on his chest. King Kong is a bad-a em-effer. He wakes up, smells Lady Kong a mile away, breaks out of the facility he’s in, and lumbers across the countryside to get him some lovin’. Lady Kong is smitten with Kong after he rescues her from the Army men holding her captive and carries her — she can walk, but he carries her, because he is chivalrous — out into the mountains. Ladies, when was the last time your man did anything that noble for you? You can’t even get them to carry out the kitchen trash, amirite??
At this point, the viewer is filled with terror as he realizes the next logical step is for King and Lady Kong to make sweet, sweet love. To my great relief, the giant-apes-having-sex motif is only hinted at, not shown. But several minutes are spent showing the monkeys courting one another in the seclusion of the mountains, which might be cute if 1) it weren’t just two actors in monkey suits and 2) this weren’t supposed to be an adventure movie. “Honeymooning with the Kongs,” while a fine idea for a TV sitcom, doesn’t exactly put viewers on the edge of their seats, unless it is to leave.
The Army, adhering to its usual policy in movies of wanting to destroy every living thing that is not normal-sized and American, pursues the Kongs into the mountains but can’t find them. To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, to lose one 50-foot ape may be regarded as misfortune; to lose two 50-foot apes looks like carelessness. Meanwhile, Amy and Mitch, brought together by their shared interest in gargantuan mammals and feathery hairstyles, drive into the mountains on their own and find the Kongs with no problem whatsoever. Mitch apparently has a knack for stumbling across Kongs. You know how some people have a gift for finding a parking spot? Mitch has that with Kongs.
Against the protestations of Amy and Mitch, the Army captures Lady Kong and kills King Kong (again) by knocking him into a river deep in a ravine, wherein he bashes his head against a boulder and drowns. Flash-forward a year, with Lady Kong sitting forlornly in an underground silo, and guess what? She’s knocked up! Oh snap! She and Kong didn’t use protection — what would they have used? A hot-air balloon? — and birth-control pills make her grouchy, so here we are.
But wouldn’t you know it, King Kong still isn’t dead (again) after all! He’s been hanging out in the swamps, eating alligators and pining for his baby mama. Since we enjoyed seeing him break Lady Kong out of jail the first time it happened, earlier in this same movie, now we get to see him do it again, this time with Amy and Mitch’s help (sort of). Kong and his girlfriend — they were never legally married, and their child will be a bastard — head out into the countryside again, stumbling into a square dance and running afoul of some idiot rednecks who, being idiots and rednecks, think it’s a good idea to torment a giant gorilla.
The movie eventually ends, which is good news for all concerned. For a while there it seemed like it was just going to keep repeating itself. King Kong is re-killed again by the Army another time, making three deaths for Mr. Kong (counting the opening recap footage) in one film, his personal best. But Lady Kong delivers a healthy baby boy just before Kong passes on. Unfortunately, it has Godzilla’s face. Whoops! No, just kidding. It’s Kong’s baby for sure, and Kong gets to hold the tyke for a moment before re-dying (again). Then Lady Kong and Junior Kong are shown living a carefree life back in their home jungle, Amy and Mitch apparently having persuaded the government to let them take charge of the beasts and ship them back to Borneo or wherever. The movie doesn’t explain how this happens, probably because it never could.
I’m puzzled by several aspects of “King Kong Lives,” not least of which is why it’s called that when the title character spends more time dead than alive. In the beginning, they want to kill Kong, going so far as to knock him off a skyscraper to accomplish it. Then suddenly they’ll spend millions of dollars to keep him alive. Then they find another member of his presumed-extinct species, use her to revive him, and then immediately want to kill them both. So they hunt them down some more, kill one of them, and let the remaining one and her baby go home to the jungle. How can we expect our government leaders to establish a workable foreign policy when its giant-ape policy is riddled with inconsistencies? Kong/Mitch 2012!