Godzilla vs. Kong notably brings together two of the most iconic monsters in cinema history for a rematch of sorts, following the 1962 film that first pitted the two against each other. This version is also the fourth film in Legendary’s MonsterVerse series, following 2014’s Godzilla, 2017’s Kong: Skull Island, and 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters.
Fandom spoke to director Adam Wingard (You’re Next, The Guest), and cast members Millie Bobby Brown (Stranger Things), Julian Dennison (Deadpool 2), Alexander Skarsgard (True Blood), Eiza González (Hobbs & Shaw), and Demián Bichir (The Nun) about the durability of the title characters, the film’s tone, and more.
THE TEST OF TIME
The original King Kong was released in 1933 and the original Godzilla in 1954 and both characters have been staples of pop culture ever since. Other movie monsters may come and go, but these two truly seem unstoppable.
Regarding the secret to their success, Alexander Skarsgard remarked, “It’s interesting, the evolution of Godzilla being created as kind of a symbol of the consequences of atomic war, then morphing into more of a symbol in a way of Mother Earth and the hubris of humanity and how we feel like we can just drain the planet in any way we want and this becoming the physical manifestation of what happens when we think that we’re the apex predators, that we’re top of the food chain, and then Mother Earth, in the shape of Godzilla or Kong, comes to take revenge. I think that is something exciting for the audience, because they feel like we kind of deserve to be put in our place in a very fun and exciting way.”
Julian Dennison admitted he wasn’t a “die hard Godzilla fanatic” prior to joining the film, but said he’d come to realize, “There’s a lot of weight behind the characters and I think when you take something that’s been around for so long you really need to pay respect to it. I think this film really emphasizes the love that the diehard fans really have for Godzilla and Kong. They are giant monsters and we want to see them fight but you also really need to pay respect to the story and the creation and how long they’ve been around for.”
Said Adam Wingard, “I think both of the characters kind of represent the origins of special effects and blockbuster cinema to a certain degree. On either end of the world, obviously, they mean drastically different things, or they’re kind of metaphors for different things originally. But what’s cool about them is that there have been so many iterations, remakes, sequels and all of those kind of things that we’ve seen that you can do so many things with them but somehow the core vibe of these characters stay the same and it’s very unique… There’s something instinctual, there’s like a chemical recipe about the kind of the simplicity of the monsters, the purity of them, and for whatever reason they won’t go away. Some things, they kind of run their course and they become outdated, but it feels like they’re more relevant than ever in a lot of ways.”
As the trailers indicate, Godzilla is the looming threat in Godzilla vs. Kong, having seemingly become more destructive towards humans, for reasons initially unknown, with Kong more strongly positioned in a heroic role through the story.
Said Wingard, “I feel like I kind of got the lucky draw with this film in terms of I got to do the film where Godzilla becomes the heel finally. He’s been the good guy in the rest of the Monsterverse films but it was only a matter of time before he got to be the bad guy again, because that’s how he always rolls; he goes back and forth. And so that kind of naturally put Kong front and center as the protagonist, because I think, as the heel, Godzilla needs to be a bit more mysterious, this is how you gotta approach that character. Plus, we just saw Godzilla in King of the Monsters and it felt like we could do something like this [now]. He’s had two movies, Kong’s just had one, so this movie plays with Kong a little bit more as a hero.”
That being said, Wingard promised, “Godzilla gets a lot of really cool moments. And even though I kept the basic design of Godzilla the same, because I wanted it to feel consistent from the last movie, I think we get to see Godzilla do a lot of different things in the way that he really gets a little more animalistic in some of the fighting in this film. He gets really pissed off a couple of times. It was cool to be able to play with them in that regard.”
FUNNY (BUT NOT TOO FUNNY)
Wingard’s films tend to have a healthy sense of humor while avoiding self-parody and he said with Godzilla vs. Kong, “I knew right away that I wanted to get a little bit of that 80s kind of feel to it. I looked at the rest of the MonsterVerse films and all the other Godzilla and King Kong movies that had come before and I felt like there was a real opening to do something totally different in sort of my style that hadn’t really been seen before. I knew I wanted to see all the colors of the neon cities, I knew that I wanted to see totally new alien landscapes within Hollow Earth and all of those things.”
He continued, “I think that’s sort of like one of the specialties of what makes my movies an Adam Wingard film, is that they have this sort of tightrope balance where there’s humor but it never goes too far into camp, it’s always right on the line. The movie always takes its stakes seriously. That’s one thing that’s always important to me, that the danger is real in these movies, and that there’s a reality to it, there’s a grounding so it’s like you’re kind of trying to always go from one to the other without stepping too far in either direction.”
Skarsgard’s character, Dr. Nathan Lind, is among those guiding a mission to Hollow Earth, beneath the surface, and the actor noted the film involved Kong coming to believe he may have family there. Said Skargard, “Obviously, after a year of this pandemic, I feel like that is something we can all relate to, the longing to connect and be with loved ones.”
Demián Bichir, who plays scheming Apex CEO Walter Simmons, said he very much appreciated Wingard’s approach, explaining, “We want to make it real, whether you give a little wit to the character or put a little comic hint to it. But whatever we do it needs to be organic and it needs to be real. That’s how he pretty much approaches the whole process,” adding he soon realized and appreciated that Wingard brought the same approach to the monster characters as well.
It can be a bit complicated to make a film where your title characters are gigantic creatures that need to be added later via digital effect and Skarsgard laughed, recalling surreal moments on set. “Adam is like, ‘Alright, and now you’re looking over here and Kong is falling into four skyscrapers and they’re collapsing and now Godzilla is shooting his atomic breath!’ And then to do that with a straight face and be into it and there were definitely moments where I was like, ‘What are we doing here, actually? This is crazy!’ And also to find some semblance of humanity in there, because I feel like in a way, our job — it’s obviously a movie about King Kong and Godzilla — and our job, the actors, we’re kind of a vessel for the audience, because I think you want the audience to connect with these animals, with these massive, huge Titans, and, in a way, root for them when they’re fighting.”
Brown, returning from Godzilla: King of the Monsters as Madison Russell, spends much of the movie paired with Dennison (as Madison’s classmate, Josh Valentine) and Brian Tyree Henry (as Titan conspiracy theorist Bernie Hayes) and remarked, “I think what was really great Julian has this naturally ability to make everyone in the room smile and so as soon as I met him it was like he just comes on camera and he just tells a joke and its hilarious.”
Dennison added, of this trio, “I definitely think the three musketeers in the film, they definitely were like a sanity to the chaos that is Godzilla vs. Kong and they really just did a good job at keeping it real… What would it be like if we plucked the audience and we put them in the film and how would they react?”
Between the MonsterVerse films and Stranger Things, Brown noted, “All I ever hear is ‘We’ll do it in post!’ So I’m used to that.” Though she said she’s purposely looking at non-effects driven projects to mix into her career as well, Brown stressed, “I love my CGI team and I love working on Stranger Things because they are kind of a mini version of Godzilla films, because we are on a big scale, we’re just on Netflix, and then we have Godzilla, who’s on the big screen. So I think that I’ve had the best of both worlds in TV and film in regards to CGI.”
Eiza González, who plays Simmons’ daughter, Maya, said that filming the scenes where the creatures would be added later, “Was such an interesting process. You have to play with your imagination and go back to this kid-like mentality. You want to take it seriously because these are real characters, but you also felt like you were a little kid creating forts in your living room.”
A FACE/OFF FUTURE
On top of a just-announced Thundercats film, the very busy Wingard is currently developing a sequel to 1997’s action classic Face/Off, which is the most successful and most beloved of John Woo’s American films. Woo has a very distinct style and asked how he would approach this follow-up to Woo’s work, Wingard said, “One of the biggest draws for doing a Face/Off sequel is I wanted it to feel like a lost John Woo movie. He’s one of my biggest influences as well. The Killer, growing up, was one of my favorite movies – it was always kind of like my favorite movie in high school if you asked me which one it was.”
Regarding mixing his sensibilities with Woo’s, Wingard remarked, “That’s the experiment of the movie, is can I kind of put myself in that John Woo world, where it’s all the slow motion… There’s a sincerity to his films, for better or worse sometimes, and I really wanted to get into that because it’s like, if not now, when? This is my opportunity to totally indulge and try to do the Face/Off experiment. I’m very, very excited about that.”
Godzilla vs. Kong opens March 31 in theaters and is available on HBO Max the same day.