In Honor of GxK, it’s APE-RIL at Cinapse! This Week’s Two Cents Roundtable: CONGO!!

Two Cents is a Cinapse original column akin to a book club for films. The Cinapse team curates the series and contribute their “two cents” using a maximum of 200-400 words. Guest contributors and comments are encouraged, as are suggestions for future picks. Join us as we share our two cents on films we love, films we are curious about, and films we believe merit some discussion. Would you like to be a guest contributor or programmer for an upcoming Two Cents entry? Simply watch along with us and/or send your pitches or 200-400 word reviews to [email protected].

The Pick: Congo

In honor of Kong’s return in Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, this month the Two Cents Film Club is going ape for APE-RIL!! We’re looking at a lineup of ape-themed movies (not just Kong) with some surprises in the mix.

Our first entry is 1995’s Congo, which was at the time a follow-up of sorts to the smash hit of Jurassic Park as a new Michael Crichton adaptation. And like that beloved film, it adopted a similar mix of a science-fiction premise, a broad mix of action-adventure and comedy, a troupe of established and upcoming character actors doing their thing, and some creature violence with a dash of body horror. Unlike that film, it wasn’t particularly well received and certainly didn’t launch a new franchise.

The Team

Ed Travis

Laura Linney, Dylan Walsh, Joe Don Baker (Walking Tall), Bruce Campbell, Grant Heslov (Oscar-winning producer & frequent George Clooney collaborator), Tim Curry, Joe Pantoliano, Ernie Hudson, Delroy Lindo, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Lost), John Hawkes (blink and you miss him)… you keep watching Congo and the cast just keeps piling on more and more beloved actors. I promise you, because I was there… Congo didn’t quite hit like this in 1995. In fact, Congo may have been one of those movies that helped me, a 15 year old at the time, understand personally that maybe some movies just are not good! I’ve seen Congo several times over the years and it just never quite gelled for me. I’m not here to say it’s all of a sudden a good movie in 2024, but time has certainly done it favors, most notably thanks to the unbelievable talent and fame this cast portended. It takes itself a little too seriously and is never quite exciting enough to be an action movie or intriguing enough to be a sci-fi movie or scary enough to be a horror movie. But as a weird blockbuster attempt to capitalize on the Michael Crichton adaptation phenomenon that Jurassic Park kickstarted, Congo showcased what some serious star power can do, and Amy the signing gorilla is still quite charmingly realized as a “man in suit” character all these years later. Beloved character actor Ernie Hudson swaggers his way through this film in a way he often hasn’t had the opportunity to in his long career. And while Laura Linney doesn’t quite make the case for Laura Linney: action star, it is wild to see this revered actress shooting flare guns out of airplanes to counter heat seeking missiles, or firing diamond-powered lasers at hoards of killer apes, sometimes cutting them in half. Congo is not without its charms, is what I’m trying to say, even if a prime Tim Curry hammy villain can’t quite put it over the top as something that falls into the “good” category. 

PS: Eagle eyed viewers will note that Taco Bell had a corporate tie-in with Congo. I’ve never been much of a thief but I have a hilarious memory of finding a giant Congo banner behind a local Taco Bell as a teen and my friends and I running away with it. What to do with an ill-gotten 30ft. Taco Bell Congo banner? I think we made it into a slip & slide, honestly.

(@Ed_Travis on Xitter)

Jay Tyler

I had never seen Congo before this watch, and all I knew about it (outside of a cut-away Freakazoid gag) was that it was basically Jurassic Park but with apes. But there are two problems with that. One, despite being a legendary producer with several culture-defining hits under his belt, Frank Marshall isn’t much of a director, especially if you compare him side-by-side with Spielberg. The film feels weirdly cheap, from the edit to shot composition and even some of the set design. This idea had been in development hell for over 15 years, so it is entirely possible it just needed to go and it was deemed the time to strike. But the effect is a movie that feels instantly dated, with effects that would broach past camp even in their day and age.

The other problem is that it’s not really a monster feature set in a confined conceit. Rather, it’s a “jungle adventure” picture, with all of the colonial traps that come with that. Of course, this being the 1990s, it attempts to have its cake and eat it too, spending much of the front half exploring the chaotic political nature of post-colonial Africa, but by the time our band of bizarrely mismatched heroes have made it into the heart of the jungle? It dives deep into tropes straight out of 1940s serials: a lost city, missing scientists, a great white hunter (portrayed by Ernie Hudson doing some kind of accent) and plenty of fish-out-of-water danger abounding. The fact it takes until the final 30 minutes of the movie for the killer gorillas promised in the opening to finally show up is insane, but I suppose that’s only if you are expecting a killer gorilla movie, which I was. The end result is a nostalgia act for a genre that was problematic enough in its heyday, was shaggy in the 1990s, and now feels borderline offensive. If it was more exciting or provided some sense of perspective beyond rehashing old favorites, it might be something. As is, it is probably best left buried in the jungle.

(@jaythecakethief on Xitter)

Justin Harlan

In my youth, I was a diehard Michael Crichton fan and watched so many genre films in the vein of Congo and somehow I never read this book nor watched this movie. Of course, that changed this week, as I finally pressed play on this one.

After seeing others discussing the reputation of this one and how bad it is, I was pleasantly surprised… at first. It has a distinctly 90s feel that works on my nostalgia centers of the brain and the inept moments early on felt mostly endearing.

But, as the film continued on, it was hard to maintain interest and those ineptitudes lost their charm. While never truly bad, the final impression this film left was one of mediocrity. In other words, it commits the cardinal sin of being mostly forgettable… even if the accents of Tim Curry and Ernie Hudson are significantly less forgettable than the rest of the film. I certainly did enjoy both of them a good bit, so I guess it wasn’t all for naught.

(@thepaintedman on Xitter)

Austin Vashaw

For Michael Crichton fans, an interesting component of watching the movies is comparing them to their novels. I enjoy reading Crichton’s books and generally tend to like them a bit more than their film adaptations, but when I read Congo in high school, I found it (for reasons I don’t really remember) a little tedious compared to the adventurous tone of the movie.

I haven’t read it again since then, but I’ve seen the movie a couple times and always have a good time with it. It’s no Jurassic Park, but I dig the vibe and especially, as Ed pointed out, the cavalcade of incredible character actors whom I now recognize and greatly appreciate (but wouldn’t have 25 years ago). Ernie Hudson steals the show, fully biting into his role with a fervor and charm that he’s rarely afforded the opportunity. And Tim Curry getting yelled at by Delroy Lindo to stop eating his sesame cake (after being explicitly invited to do so) will never not be funny.

I’m quite fascinated by the idea (which may have been explored more in the novel) of genetically imprinted memories, with Amy, an ape raised in captivity, having such “memories” from her ancestors. It’s such a primal concept that invites rumination.

At the end of the day the movie could definitely use more killer apes (they don’t really show up until the finale), but the film also mixes up the action with an exciting aerial sequence, a hippo attack, as well as some chaotic political intrigue that really sells the idea of really being out of one’s place with no safety or comfort, so I can’t stay mad at it.

(@VforVashaw on Xitter)

Upcoming Picks: APE-RIL! (In Celebration of Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire)

Upcoming picks:
Greystoke: The Legend Of Tarzan, Lord Of The Apes (1984)
Dunston Checks In (1996)
King Kong (2005)
Kong: Skull Island (2017)

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