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How King Kong Lives Totally Subverted Fan Expectations

How King Kong Lives Totally Subverted Fan Expectations


  • In
    The New Empire
    , Godzilla and King Kong’s buddy-cop dynamic shines, creating a lighthearted, action-packed adventure loved by many.
  • King Kong Lives
    introduces a love story, surprising twists, and even a baby Kong, but falls short with outdated production quality.
  • Director Guillermin’s ambitious direction in
    King Kong Lives
    showcases Kong’s character growth despite the film’s overall campy feel.

While reviews for Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire might be a mixed bag at the moment, everybody who has seen the movie seems to be in alignment about one thing. There is a themed balance between the two production companies handling kaiju films in the present day. Toho Studios appears to be handling the more serious stories like 2016’s Shin Godzilla and 2023’s Godzilla Minus One, while Legendary Entertainment (and Warner Brothers, for that matter) are delivering on all the more lighthearted, brawl-style flicks with its own MonsterVerse (which consists of Godzilla, King Kong, and other big behemoths).

One of the most recent examples of Legendary trying to creatively bring the kaiju splendor into the modern day is by showcasing a type of buddy-cop dynamic between the king of all monsters and the eighth wonder of the world. In The New Empire, they struggle, fight, and even run together (which has since become a meme). Surprisingly, this is not the first time in live-action that King Kong was given a more almost-goofy persona on the big screen. The bad news is that King Kong Lives (the 1986 sequel to the 1976 remake of King Kong) would not succeed anywhere close to the most recent big-screen release. On the contrary, the John Guillermin-directed flick (he also led the 1976 version) sends Kong into places he’s never been and, well, shouldn’t be ever again.

King Kong Lives Features Two Love Stories

King Kong fighting military soldiers in King Kong Lives

King Kong Lives (1986)

Release Date
December 19, 1986

John Guillermin

105 Minutes

Starring Terminator alum Linda Hamilton as surgeon Amy Franklin and prolific soap opera name Brian Kerwin as an adventurer named Hank Mitchell, this unusual duo brings the viewer along on a unique, almost two-hour escapade. Starting right at the end of the original, King Kong falls off the World Trade Center tower and into a coma. Quickly transported to a laboratory where all the medical equipment is comedically Kong-sized, our main ape is given a heart transplant. Oddly, this surgical sequence is not cut short, and the whole procedure plays out (it’s a pretty bloody one, at that).

However, because the giant behemoth has complications and might not make it, a blood transfusion from the same species is needed. Enter Lady Kong, whom Mitchell, coincidentally enough, happens to walk right into while traversing through the jungles of Borneo. After a few mishaps during containment, King Kong and his female counterpart run off together into the mountains. Here, in the thick of nature, the two giant kaiju quickly fall for one another. Cupid seemingly shoots two arrows at the same time as Amy and Brian start a romantic kindling at almost the same time these two behemoths start a relationship.

Kong’s Family Takes Center Stage

Whether Guillermin wanted to take chances or the De Laurentiis Entertainment Group (King Kong Lives’ distributors) wanted to put a fresh spin on the classic giant monster, there were a few more surprises in store for viewers in this film. When filled with rage, King Kong doesn’t think twice about outright eating some sadistic countrymen. In what was deemed the biggest twist, Lady Kong gives birth to—you guessed it—Baby Kong!

Sadly, the King dies at the end of the film due to the barrage of fire thrown at him by Lt. Col. Archie Nevitt (played by Beverly Hill Cop’s John Ashton) and only meets his kaiju-sized offspring for a few moments. As you can probably tell by that last sentence, this canon of storytelling was forgotten about as King Kong has been portrayed on film for another 38 years.

There is obviously a lot of merit attached to the negative responses to this movie. Even though it was made in the mid-1980s, using a practical suit (for both the male and female versions) combined with the bland outdoor sets makes King Kong Lives feel like it was made during the ’50s when science fiction movies were a dime-a-dozen. In contrast, the shock value of seeing a well-bloodied or more violent Kong immediately stands out thanks to the otherwise cheap production.

The 18 million dollar budget makes sense, considering the distribution company aims to get the most bang for their buck (look at some of their other movies, like 1987’s Hiding Out and 1988’s Tapeheads). Still, it doesn’t help when trying to make a legitimate-looking giant monster. While the creative directions concerning Kong were respectfully ambitious, the more human personality doesn’t hold any substance when everything around him is so campy.

King Kong Lives Has an Ambitious Direction

One cannot talk about King Kong Lives without analyzing the iconic gorilla’s fateful dynamic with Lady Kong. While the original trailer hinted at her importance in the plot, the scenes involving the female counterpart mostly came off as goofy or even satirical. Fans of the Eighth Wonder of the World were not expecting to see King Kong suddenly turn into someone whose actions were motivated by female persuasion.

While it’s a fine concept for a moment, making an entire theatrical entry dedicated to this love story curtailed expectations – and not in a good way. In one of the few instances of this movie rising above stereotypical love stories, though, the female character that is usually taken a liking to by Kong is now designed the opposite. Amy, who has Kong under her care, strives not to bring him back to full health but aims to keep him away from the danger of the army.


King Kong: All Movies in Order

We’ve done it: Here are all the King Kong movies in order of release date.

Looking at the Rotten Tomatoes score, an abysmal 8% with critics and 17% with audiences, there is no question that this is an excruciating movie. However, hidden among the negative aspects that quickly make this kaiju release ultimately forgettable, some of director Guillermin’s choices prove that Kong can still stand tall when everything around him seems to be falling apart. That said, King Kong Lives is available to stream on The Roku Channel and rent on Prime Video and YouTube. In addition, Kong can be seen in Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, in theaters now.

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