OK, so I'm coming to the party late. Suffice it to say that all the things you've read are true - this is glorious, epic, overstuffed eye candy filmmaking at its absolute best. My take on some common reactions?
- Is the opening hour too much? Yes and no. Sure, it's a slow wind, but my reaction was similar to the reaction I had to the similarly criticized slow wind-down of The Return of the King. This is a long, epic film, and the long beginning makes sense considering the length to come. It balances. On top of that I found the characters and performances, and, most of all, the fleeting looks at how films were made in the 30s to be completely entertaining on their own.
- Too much non-stop action in the Skull Island scene? Not at all. For one, the cutting between Kong and Ann and the rescuers (I was just about to dub them the "would-be rescuers," but they do succeed, now don't they?) keeps the pace from getting numbing. But more importantly, there are moments of quiet - Ann charming Kong with some dancin' and Ann and Kong appreciating the beauty of a Skull Island sunset, most critically, to balance the all-out action. The insect scene was great fun if admittedly a little directionless (and the last-minute rescue, I'll admit, did seem forced), but the big centerpiece fight scene between Kong and the three T-Rex's was one of the best action set pieces ever put to film--a real turning point plot and character-wise, this was a crazy-ass fight scene that was also essential to the story. And it was remarkably well-done--edge-of-your-seat exciting and very specific.
- Are the Skull Island natives bordering on racist caricature? Maybe. To Jackson's credit, it's not as if another way of handling the material would have worked. And his treatment of the natives as just completely mad worked, in essence, for me.
- Is Kong himself as good as advertised? Oh yes. The acting is completely and utterly convincing--Kong registers as a character, with moods, prejudices, a history, and a wide range of emotions, and not just as a big monkey. The scenes with him and Ann are remarkable for the amount of emotional weight they carry. To remind oneself that Kong is a bunch of computer programs is entirely unnecessary--he's a character, wonderfully realized.
In the end, for all of the falling beasts, and big toothy worms, and epic fights, and beautifully, expertly just-shy-of "real" old New York, what's wonderful about the film is how emotional it is. The climax with Kong and Ann atop the Empire State Building is just wonderfully tragic, and by that point in the film, the emotional relationship between woman and beast is completely real. Kong falling off the since of that building is one of the saddest film moments I can remember seeing. And, to me, THAT is Jackson's real achievement here.