Toho’s plan worked as King Kong vs. Godzilla was a global success, and new Godzilla films would come out annually for the next several years. But let’s looks at the 1962 film more closely. Interestingly, at the time of the film’s release, our (the West) only connection to King Kong was the original classic film, its sequel, Son of Kong, and maybe the original 1899 book (if anyone read it). In those two films, King Kong was a stop-motion animated character. Now, the giant ape is a guy in a gorilla suit and bears minimal resemblance to the original. To me, not a big deal. Toho also takes some liberties giving King Kong the ability to increase his strength from massive electrical surges, thus counter-acting Godzilla’s atomic breath.
But, Godzilla fans are here for giant monster battles and the destruction of Tokyo. The story that ties the action pieces together is a little silly, which is par for the course for Toho Kaiju productions, but at the same time, it strays from the central message warning humankind of the global destruction of nuclear weapons and testing.
“…fans are here for giant monster battles and the destruction of Tokyo.”
As expected, there is a lot of action. Godzilla attacks military miniatures on his way to Japan. King Kong first appears to save a village from a giant octopus attack. This set piece uses a real octopus and looks creepy yet amazing. We get a good fight between the two in Japan, and it all culminates in an epic finish on Faro island.
To me, the greatest weakness of King Kong vs. Godzilla is that we have to rely a lot on our previous knowledge of both creatures as not much time is spent developing any real sympathy for either of them. We feel for King Kong as he is strapped to a giant barge — like a monster and he is clearly outmatched at the start of the fight. I suppose the second greatest weakness is the cringe-inducing use of Asians in blackface for much of the Faro Island scenes, but that’s a whole other conversation.
When I was a kid, I was a fan of Marvel Team-Up and Marvel Two-In-One comics. There is an inherent coolness and excitement when bringing two of our favorite characters together, even if the stories were weak and sometimes sloppy in execution. King Kong vs. Godzilla is the first such giant team-up, and while the story was average for a Godzilla film, it was still pretty cool to see King Kong come to life once again.
"…an inherent coolness and excitement when bringing two of our favorite characters together..."