CS Set Visit: Director Adam Wingard on Godzilla vs. Kong!
Back in March 2019 ComingSoon.net took a trip to Village Roadshow Studios in idyllic Queensland, Australia to visit the set of Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary’s Godzilla vs. Kong! The fourth entry in their MonsterVerse series follows in the footsteps of previous entries Godzilla (2014), Kong: Skull Island (2017) and Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019), each of which had a unique filmmaker at the helm. For the $200 million GvK the studio brought in noted genre director Adam Wingard (Death Note, The Guest, Blair Witch), who had the unique experience of making a sequel before the previous installment King of the Monsters had even been seen by audiences.
“I really love sequels,” stated Wingard during our discussion after the trailer was released. “One of my favorite films is ‘Terminator 2,’ and also ‘Aliens.’ I love sequels where they can take something somebody else has done and then do their own spin on it and expand. This film is directly taking place after ‘King of Monsters,’ but it’s also way in the future from ‘Skull Island,’ which took place in the seventies. One of the most important things was that this feels like a legitimate sequel to those movies, that this feels like a legitimate match up between Godzilla vs Kong, even though Kong is a little bit different because he’s aged from the time of the last movie.”
While we were unable to chat with Wingard while we were on set, we talked to him shortly after the release of the amazing trailer and the simultaneous HBO Max and theatrical release on March 31 was announced. Interested in whether or not the disappointing returns and fan complaints about King of the Monsters affected Godzilla vs Kong, Wingard denied much in the way of course correction, and with good reason.
“One of the reasons why they brought me for a follow up to ‘King of Monsters’ is because I am so different than Michael Dougherty as a director,” Wingard explained. “He leans more into the horror realm, and his approach to Godzilla is really scary in a lot of ways, and I think that they knew that the next film after that had to be different regardless of how it was going to be received. My take was always going to be tonally very fun and colorful, so fortunately it didn’t really affect us too much in a literal way. There wasn’t a major course correction in terms of what the film was going to be about or how we had to approach certain action scenes or any of that kind of stuff, because fortunately we were already doing our own thing and it matched up with what it felt like people had been wanting anyways. Obviously I’m aware that people felt like the movie was too dark in places, or there were too many particle effects. My version always had the ocean battle with this magic hour sunset look. My very first image of the movie was King Kong and Godzilla fighting in a neon futuristic synth wave city. That already has lighting built into it because that’s what the whole sequence is, and so those kind of things didn’t really get affected thankfully.”
The two title monsters had previously met up to duke it out in Ishirō Honda’s 1962 cult classic King Kong vs. Godzilla. Wingard’s film dispenses with the painfully dated depiction of islanders as well as the man-in-suit practical effects, but it also differs from its predecessor in one key way: Continuity.
“Part of the problem with ‘King Kong versus Godzilla,’ the original movie, is that we’d already established Godzilla, he looks basically like he did in the earlier films, but this was a new King Kong,” opined Wingard. “This was the first Toho version of King Kong. He looks a little weird, and he’s not stop motion either, you know? So he feels like a totally new character. It’s a totally new interpretation. So in a weird way, you don’t feel like this is really King Kong versus Godzilla. You’re like, ‘It’s Godzilla, but this other guy is a different version of King Kong.’ I look at ‘Batman vs Superman,’ as an example -and this is just my opinion- but my issue with that movie is it’s a new Batman. It’s Ben Affleck as Batman. Up until then Christian Bale was the definitive Batman, so it felt like we’re doing Batman vs Superman, we’re also restarting Batman. So it doesn’t have that feeling of the ultimate match up of these characters. There’s something off about it, and so going into this movie I didn’t want that feeling. Normally Legendary would allow the directors to put their spin on Godzilla and I could’ve changed them. I like how Dougherty updated Godzilla with the classic maple leafs on his back. But for me I wanted this to feel like the Godzilla we’ve been used to for the last few movies, and I wanted Kong to feel like the Kong that we had in ‘Skull Island’ so that when they fought it really felt like this was really them going at each other. Even though I probably would have liked to, for instance, made Godzilla’s head a little bit bigger, his head’s a little small, you know? That complaint is not lost on me, but at the end of the day, it’s like, ‘This is the Godzilla that we have here and let’s see how he matches up with King Kong.’ Let’s not try to like, change it up and do something different.”
“When Adam came on we had an idea for where wanted to go with the movie,” explained producer Alex Garcia. “We had a really early treatment about what the movie could be, but a lot of heavy lifting was done with Adam. So while elements of that are still what the initial story was and is still there, Adam came in right at the moment where we could say ‘Okay, we’re making this movie here’s what we’re thinking,’ and he was really able to take some of these elements further. We had loosely talked about the idea of this corporation and of Hollow Earth, but there’s also a through line about conspiracy theories. It plays with those ideas and why we come up with those things and the reactions to dangers and things we’re afraid of. We come up with all these things to often help to mask and help to process those things – and that’s something Adam’s really interested in. So that is seeded in through all of this and it really took the movie further.”
“When it comes to these godlike creatures, the movie itself is split into two concurrent storylines, which you could organize as Team Godzilla/Team Kong,” said Wingard. “Team Godzilla’s being led by Millie Bobby Brown and Brian Tyree Henry. Team Kong is on the other side of the world being led by Alexander Skarsgard and Rebecca Hall. Each one of the human’s stories really punches up what the monsters are going through and gives us more emphasis. It’s an exploration of the future and the past, and you see a little bit of that in the trailer with the neon lights and putting Godzilla in that kind of setting.”
Of course in our set visit report we got to see the amazing set of the control room inside King Ghidorah’s skull, which Millie Bobby Brown and her friends infiltrate. Wingard helped put that scene we saw shooting into context… without spoiling too much.
“In a subtle way Ghidorah kind of haunts this movie,” Wingard teased. “That’s the most recent event, in terms of the monster world, because this film takes place a relatively short period afterwards, but specifics is just one of those things where I can’t really talk about it too much because I want people to have as pure of an experience as they can.”
Between our set visit and the trailer it’s easy to see why Wingard’s vision for the film is perfect. He watched every Godzilla movie ever made before embarking on it, so he was aware that when the Toho Godzilla films began in the 50’s they were somber, made in a post-Hiroshima context. The first few films in Legendary’s MonsterVerse mirrored that, but as the Toho films went on they became more colorful, outlandish and fun. Godzilla vs Kong looks to bring the fun back into the new franchise.
“The thing that attracted me to doing the MonsterVerse version of Godzilla and Kong is the fact that each one of these films by every director before me -Gareth Edwards, Mike Dougherty, Jordan Vogt-Roberts- each one was able to put their stamp on these different films,” he said. “Each movie feels like that director’s film. I wanted to be able to make not just the Adam Wingard version of Godzilla and Kong but also the most Adam Wingard movie that I can make. I wanted to get everything that represented me as a filmmaker into this, and all the things that made me excited about doing a monster movie in general. Part of that is just a tone thing. I like movies with a fun tone. This is the first PG-13 film I’ve ever done. I’ve never done a movie that wasn’t rated R, wasn’t violent and lots of swearing and stuff. That was a unique experience, but not a difficult one because my leanings and my background in terms of what made me want to become a filmmaker in the first place are always films made for kids. A lot of them were rated R films, but they’re still made for kids. For instance, ‘Terminator 2’ is like a gateway horror film. It’s really made for kid sensibilities, but it’s rated R, it’s very violent, but not so much so that you can’t watch it as a kid. Sci-fi was actually my way into getting into ‘Terminator,’ ‘Aliens,’ and all those things. Those were the movies that gatewayed me into horror, and this movie is returning to sci-fi roots that originally sucked me into wanting to become a filmmaker in the first place.”
Godzilla vs. Kong is set to open in theaters and stream on HBO Max beginning March 31.