King Kong Lives (1986) Review
Although it’s a direct sequel to 1976’s KING KONG, the only character who actually returns after a ten-year hiatus is Kong himself (this time played by Peter Elliot), although Jeff Bridges and Jessica Lange do feature in a snippet of footage from the end of the first movie, footage which looks like it might have been captured by pointing a camera at the film in a local theatre. So, sadly, none of our familiar heroes are around for the movie’s big title reveal: KING KONG LIVES!
That’s right, despite appearances to the contrary, Kong did not die after being hit with almost as many blood squibs as Alex Murphy in Robocop before falling from the top of the World Trade Centre. No, he survived the fall although he now has a dodgy ticker and requires two things: a heart transplant and blood transfusions during the surgery, neither of which is easy to come by.
Giant Ape Surgeon (there’s a niche medical degree) Doctor Amy Franklin (Linda Hamilton, two years after Sarah Connor and looking embarrassed to be here) has managed to source a gigantic robotic heart and is ready to operate if and when a blood donor is found. Fortunately, wandering adventurer Hank Mitchell (Brian Kerwin) stumbles across a second giant ape – a Lady Kong. The pair are brought together for one of cinema’s most bizarre and accidentally comical surgery scenes but once Kong’s blood is pumping again, it heads straight for one particular part of his anatomy and before you can roll your eyes, our amorous ape pair elope to the countryside.
KING KONG LIVES deserves some credit for trying to tell a different story and – mercifully for Linda Hamilton – offer KONG a somewhat more appropriate object for his affections. The problem is beyond the introduction of a second ape (from Borneo), the movie doesn’t really have any other ideas to offer. The movie dutifully checks off the usual mid-eighties sequel cliché boxes but it does so with no sense of urgency or purpose, meandering aimlessly from one set piece to another. There’s action as the army, under the command of tediously fierce Colonel Nevitt (John Ashton) and an unearned and unconvincing romance between Doctor Franklin and pound-shop-Jack-Colton Hank Mitchell as the pair rough it in the woods while trying to track Kong down.
The pace is so languid and events so arbitrary that it feels like nothing very much actually happens and the nothing very much takes far too long to happen to. Adding insult to injury, the film itself has no sense of the passage of time either, as Lady Kong’s inevitable pregnancy seems to progress from conception to labour in a matter of days. Giant apes they may be, but they shouldn’t be pulling down WANDAVISION numbers when it comes to gestation.
Tonally it’s all over the place as if the cast and crew couldn’t decide what kind of film Dino De Laurentiis was minded to make from one day of filming to the next and it’s little surprise that this movie would prove to be director John Guillermin’s penultimate movie and last theatrical release. It takes a lot to make a giant ape movie feel boring, but KING KONG LIVES uses double the apes and delivers less than half the fun.