I never understood why Congo got such a reputation as one of the worst films of all time. I think people are just bitter that they went in expecting something like Jurassic Park, and got something else instead, so they panned it.
Which is a shame, because it has a lot going for it. It’s an entertaining jungle adventure film like what they used to make way back in the 1930s, with an ensemble cast of quirky protagonists hopping from one insane setpiece to the next: EVERYTHING is out to get them, not just killer apes, but also killer hippos, crooked African paramilitary units, vicious weather, a volcano that threatens to destroy their destination shortly after they arrive, and even dick-eating leeches. It has a cute talking gorilla, and makes it feasible (via possibly fictional “sign language to speech” technology). It features badass guide and scoundrel Munroe Kelly, one of the best characters Ernie Hudson ever got to play; and Laura Linney as a tough female protagonist who doesn’t ditch her femininity. It has Tim Curry chewing the scenery as only he can. It features several memorable one-shot characters, like smart-mouthed Eddie Ventro (Joe Pantoliano), slimy Captain Wanta (Delroy Lindo) who steals the one scene he’s featured in, and the spooky but friendly Ghost Tribesmen. The Zinj apes are scary as hell. The ape suits are remarkably well done, and the apes themselves remarkably well acted. It has a good score by Jerry Goldsmith.
It also has an action figure line that’s hit or miss.
Kenner was notorious for two things: questionable likenesses, and recycling molds from their other toy lines. Congo is an egregious example, with the vehicles and humans consisting of 90% recycled parts from the Jurassic Park and Aliens toy lines of the early 90s. That said, the human protagonists look pretty cool regardless.
If you’re a Jurassic Park collector and find your collection wanting for badass black guys, the Congo toy line is here for you. It has no less than three such figures: barrel chested Kahega (center) and two variants of Munroe Kelly. With the exception of two “deluxe” figures (the Munroe on the right with the working bazooka, and the Bonecrusher ape in the background), none of the figures had action features, which was fine with my past child self: no action features means no weird gimmicks to get in the way. Kenner would have just recycled them from Jurassic Park anyway (they recycled other JP parts within that very same toy line already). I’m disappointed in the lack of Tim Curry here, but I can always try to make a custom figure to include him in the lineup.
Karen Ross is basically Ellen Ripley with a makeover, and I probably like her least as a result. I’d like to get a (unfortunately rare) Sarah Harding figure from the Lost World line and revamp her into a new Karen. She does feature a big “power diamond” which can be fitted onto some of the other figures’ accessories, including Amy’s computer backpack.
Which brings me to the highlight of the Congo toy line: the apes.
Amy is extremely cute and impossible not to love. She comes with her sign language translator just like in the movie, and she’s endearingly dainty compared to the rest of the apes.
Said apes, hailing from the Lost City of Zinj, are a sight to behold. The sculpts are amazing, and they’re made of vinyl just like Bandai Godzilla toys, so they feel just right in your hand. The exceptions are the two Zinj attack monkeys which came with the deluxe figures, and the deluxe Bonecrusher, who rages out with the push of a button on his back.
There was a Pepsi promotional offer where you could mail order a variant of the Blast Face ape (originally named Skinhead, which somehow wasn’t PC enough I guess). Someone on ebay was selling these in droves, so I got three.
A feature that keeps taking me by surprise is the glow-in-the-dark teeth and eyes of the Zinj apes. Totally unnecessary, but it does manage to make these monsters even scarier in the right lighting.