'Gripping' King Kong

Jason is back with us tonight reviewing the very new King Kong figure based on the upcoming Peter Jackson remake.  It's all yours, Jason!

Thank you very much, Michael.

King Kong has had a long history in American, and in one instance Japanese, cinema. The first Kong movie, the seminal 1933 classic starring Fay Wray, is one of my favorite movies of all-time; Willis O’Brien’s stop-motion special effects are still stunning and effective. Son of Kong followed the original film later the same year. Robert Armstrong’s Carl Denham returned to the jungle in 1949 to retrieve Mighty Joe Young, this time with Ray Harryhausen contributing to O’Brien’s effects.

Flash forward to 1976. Director John Guillermin resurrected our man ape for a remake of the original King Kong. Jessica Lange did the screaming while Jeff Bridges and Charles Grodin battled Rick Baker in a gorilla suit. It was an inauspicious return to the silver screen for The Eight Wonder of the World. Things got worse ten years later when Guillermin inflicted King Kong Lives on an unsuspecting world.

Between appearances on American movie screens, director Ishiro Honda drafted King Kong from Skull Island in 1962 to do battle with Japan’s signature monster, Godzilla. The aptly named King Kong Vs. Godzilla was always a favorite of mine whenever WPIX here in New York would run a week of monster movies in the afternoons instead of the usual cartoons.

Now it is 2005 and the greatest ape is ready for another close-up. Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson is going back to the original characters for a second remake of the first King Kong. Jack Black is intrepid filmmaker Carl Denham, Naomi Watts his naïve ingénue Ann Darrow and Oscar winner Adrien Brody is along for the ride as hero Jack Driscoll. Andy Serkis, who made you believe a Gollum could fish, tackles the role of Kong himself. Things are definitely looking up for Kong in the movies.

But what about in toy stores?

One thing King Kong has never really had is a good toy. I remember some licensed PVC type rubber gorillas called King Kong over the years, but there’s never been a full line of action figures for one of cinema’s greatest monsters. That’s changed as Playmates Toys has released an extensive line of figures in two scales for the new Peter Jackson movie. There are several carded 6” scale action figure sets; tonight we take a look at the most basic of those, Gripping Kong.

Has the great ape finally gotten his toy due? Eh, let’s see…

Packaging - **1/2
Standard blister carding here, nothing overly unique or inventive. There are some nice…scratches(?) along both sides of the blister, but that’s about it. The graphics are OK, again nothing special, but they’re not terrible either. As with all Playmates figures, the card back does a nice job of describing the individual figure, its features and its accessories.

Sculpting - ***
One of the main reasons I chose this Kong is I like the head sculpt a lot. Its closed mouth is much nicer looking than the generic roaring sculpts of the other 6” Kongs. The rest of the body is serviceable, but not at all spectacular. If this figure were released six or seven years ago, I’d say it was well-detailed, but for 2005 this is pretty simplistic stuff, even for a mass market toy. The mid-chest joint is awkwardly sculpted, which takes away from the aesthetic, but the other joints are pretty well hidden. Gripping Kong stands fine on his own.

Of definite note are the copious scars and scratches all over Kong’s body. Apparently Kong really goes through the ringer in this new movie, because every 6” figure in the line is what would be considered Battle Damaged in another line. I don’t know if Kong is beat up from the moment we meet him in the new movie, but it would have been nice to have at least one un-mauled monkey in the 6” scale. 

Paint - **
Michael has said it many, many times in this space, poor paint ops can ruin a good sculpt. In this case, the paint doesn’t ruin the sculpt (which isn’t that great to begin with), but it does nothing to help it. There are odd washes all over this figure; a brown one on his head, white ones on his limbs. I think Playmates was looking to evoke detail, but they blew it. The paint looks ham-handed and random. Great paint ops could have helped the middling sculpt; these left it to fend for itself. I do like the paint detail on the face though.

Articulation - **1/2
Playmates advertises this Kong as superposeable. If you compare it to most of Playmates' other action figures, that’s true. If you compare it to the other gimmicky action-featured 6” Kongs in the line, it’s definitely true. If you compare it to a Marvel Legends, or even a G.I. Joe Sigma 6 figure, it’s woefully untrue. Gripping Kong has articulation at the neck, ball shoulders, elbows, cut wrists, fingers, mid-torso, ball hips, knees, cut ankles and toes for a total of 18 points. Playmates counts the ball shoulders and hips as two points each for a total of 22 points of articulation. However you count it, it’s not what most people think of as superposeable.

There are problems with some of the joints as well. The mid-torso joint has limited enough range of motion to make it useless and annoying. The wrist and ankle cuts are at an angle, which makes for an awkward look in most poses. The worst sin of articulation here is one of omission. Cut biceps joints would have made a world of difference on this figure, their absence severely limits the amount of good looking poses you can achieve.

One positive, the reason this is called Gripping Kong is the finger and toe articulation. It’s sturdy and allows Kong to hold onto things well.

Accessories - ***
Gripping Kong comes with three pretty fun accessories; a PVC bug thing called a Weta-Rex, a vine to swing on and a mini-figure of Ann Darrow. The Weta-Rex is what it is, a pretty large PVC bug. It’s decently sculpted and painted. The vine is nice. It has a sturdy hook on one end to attach to stuff and a handle on the other for Kong to grip, which he does well. The Ann Darrow mini-figure, like all the humans in the line, is basically a gumball machine toy, if that. She features the barest minimum of sculpted detail and paint; she doesn’t even really have a full face. That said, it is cool to pose Kong holding Ann in his hand, and that’s basically what she’s for, so I can’t complain too much.

Fun Factor - ***
I know that rating is probably a bit surprising since I’ve been pretty rough on Gripping Kong so far, but sometimes the whole is greater than the sum or its parts. I base this rating on two things. First, I think kids are going to have a blast with this line as its squarely directed at them. This is a line of monkeys, monsters and dinosaurs (some of which can eat the mini-humans); what’s not for a kid to love? Second, Gripping Kong is a pretty fun figure for collectors too. I enjoyed posing him with Ann in hand and he’d make a great monster gorilla for your 3 ¾” displays. I think he looks cool squaring off with the evil hunters from Chap-Mei’s Dino Valley in the picture. Gripping Kong may not be a triumph in any one area, but a big, scarred monkey toy is cool no matter how you split the banana.

Value - **1/2
I was tempted to go a half star higher here, but just couldn’t bring myself to do it. I paid $9.99 for Gripping Kong at Toys R Us, which is about what I expect he’ll be at all the major retailers. For that price, you get a sturdy figure with decent articulation and some pretty cool accessories, but compared to what you pay for lines like Marvel Legends, G.I. Joe Sigma 6 and even Playmates own Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, that’s not that great. Still, if you’re a big monkey/gorilla/Kong fan, you can go ahead and bump this score up that other half star.

Overall - **1/2
When I heard Playmates acquired the King Kong license, I had dreams of single-carded 5” scale humans with guns and machetes versus a 20” or 30” King Kong. That’s not at all the way things turned out. By going the route they did, Playmates avoided any issues with actor likenesses and, honestly, will probably make a lot more money. Doing things my way would have driven kids away from the humans and their parents away from jumbo Kong’s price point.

Gripping Kong just missed being a three-star figure. The paint ops and some key articulation issues keep him in the realm of relative mediocrity. The bad news is I feel pretty confident saying this is the best Kong in the 6” line. The good news is, if you’re willing to make the investment, this Kong probably looks and plays great with the Skull Island playset, which is scaled for use with the 6” figures. I don’t see myself getting any more Kongs, but if the mood and the money were right, I could see myself going for Skull Island and one or two of the single carded monsters. If you’re not a big Kong or jungle adventure fan, you’d probably do well to just leave this line alone.

Things to Watch Out For:
If you can manage to find one with more muted paint washes, go for it. Other than that, there’s little to worry about with Gripping Kong.

Score Recap:
Packaging - **1/2
Sculpt - ***
Paint - **
Articulation - **1/2
Accessories - ***
Fun Factor - ***
Value - **1/
Overall - **1/2

Where to Buy - 
As you know, I got mine at TRU, but I expect you’ll see these guys all over the place soon. It’s a mass-market line for a huge movie, it’ll be everywhere. That said, you’re probably well served to just wait for the inevitable clearance.

Figure from the collection of Jason Chiveras.

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