With the current monsterverse toplined by Godzilla and King Kong now heading to streaming after seemingly running out of steam before it ever really got started, it’s fun to look back to a more low-fi time. The success of Toho’s Godzilla franchise led to exhuming the rights to the 1933 King Kong, and then reworking it as an element of their ongoing building-destroying franchise so that there’s a fair knock-em, sock-em fight between the legends at the end for everyone to enjoy.
So we still have an expedition to a remote island, called Mondo here, and we still have King, a giant ape who falls in love with a comely Susan (Linda Jo Miller). But there’s a new and absurd framework for the action; Kong is working for the mysterious Dr Who (Hideyo Amamato) who, alongside the spendidly named Madame Piranha (You Only Live Twice’s Mie Hama) is hoping to use Kong to replace his Mechani-Kong, a metal replica of the ape. Can Kong escape Dr Who and find true happiness?
King Kong Escapes is much like many of Ishiro Honda’s films, generally good to look at if patchy in effects by today’s standards, although some of the models are genuinely delightful. Mechani-Kong steals the show here, walking like a wrestler, with big boggly illuminated eyes and a sly metal smile that suggest an invention of Wallace and Gromit in the vein of Crow T Robot; he’s a wonderfully silly creation that causes mirth every singly second he’s on screen.
With Kong himself looking somewhat threadbare, Mechani-Kong is considerably more amusing here than anything in the Godzilla or Pacific Rim series so far. It seems odd that the fur and eggbox creatures built for these old movies have more character and personality than today’s CGI creations; not everything is improved by technology, and in fact, many things just get worse…