Godzilla vs. Kong: Inside the Monster Fight of the Century

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By now you’ve probably seen the Godzilla vs. Kong trailer. You know, the one where a giant ape not only punches a giant lizard in the face (and does what almost looks like the Henry Cavill arm-cocking maneuver) suggesting there’s a new contender for the title of “King of the Monsters.” Audiences will find out who wins when the film drops on HBO Max and in theaters on Mar. 26, 2021, but in a 2019 visit to the Australian production, Den of Geek learned there is more to the movie than a mere clash of Titans.

Instead, executive producer Alex Garcia teases a film about the duality of the “primordial and the technological” elements that pervade the film narratively and aesthetically. Of course there will be throwdowns between two marquee monsters — and possibly a mechanized one — who might just have some history together.

The Monsterverse Main Event

The screams are noticeable on the Godzilla vs. Kong production in Gold Coast, Queensland. Rather than emanating from victims of a monster rampage, it’s the sound of roller coaster passengers at the Warner Bros. Movie World right next door. But there be monsters in the Village Roadshow Studio offices. In a conference room filled with journalists, the walls are adorned with concept art of creatures, including the titular prizefighters duking it out.

“This is obviously the title event in our MonsterVerse series,” says Garcia. Directed by Adam Wingard (Blair Witch; You’re Next) for Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros., and starring Alexander Skarsgård and Millie Bobby Brown (reprising her role of Madison Russell from Godzilla: King of Monsters), Garcia says the upcoming movie has even more scope beyond the “central bout” of Godzilla and Kong.

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In a separate interview with Wingard, conducted via Zoom this February, the director — who watched every single Godzilla movie as preparation — described the film as an exploration of monsters past and future, with two concurrent storylines organized into Team Godzilla and Team Kong.

director Adam Wingard on the set of Godzilla vs. Kong

Setting the Stage

Set roughly five years after the events of Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the world is changed. The genie is out of the bottle, and mankind knows monsters exist. Life goes on, despite it being an uneasy existence. But the balance that existed before 2014’s Godzilla is re-established. Godzilla himself has been reinstated as the alpha predator, and the other monsters, aka “Titans,” have remained largely dormant.

“There are creatures who are on the surface,” says Garcia. “They aren’t roaming around, destroying things, but they exist; there are occasional landings, issues, and bouts of destruction.”

Responding to this new reality, humanity enacts safeguards and defense mechanisms. And there has been much rebuilding thanks to Apex, which Garcia describes as a “megalithic, technological conglomerate — think the extreme version of an Amazon or Apple.”

To complicate matters, Godzilla has been acting a little erratically, attacking certain cities and facilities, seemingly at random. That drives the Titan-focused organization Monarch to undertake its first mission into the Hollow Earth via its base camp on Skull Island, where the movie begins.

“They’re going to take a device, the ORCA-Z, into the center of the earth to draw the creatures slowly back into the center of the planet, and they’ll seal it,” Garcia says of the adventure led by Nathan Lind, played by Skarsgård.

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Since this is the beginning of the film, it’s not a spoiler to reveal that the mission goes “catastrophically wrong,” according to Garcia, and the world is left in even greater disarray.

Return to Skull Island

Skull Island has changed quite a bit in 40 years (since audiences last saw it in 2017’s Kong: Skull Island), and so has its boss, Kong. He was only an adolescent in the previous film, but is now a much bigger boy of about 350-feet tall, compared to Godzilla’s 400 feet, and has seen some action in the ensuing decades.

“It is a tough existence on Skull Island,” says Garcia. “So he’s a little weathered … he has some battle scars.”

Kong has also gained a friend in a young Skull Island native Jia (Kaylee Hottle), with whom Kong can directly communicate via a “spiritual bond,” according to Wingard. And he has learned some new skills. Garcia promises he remains the Kong audiences know (“he doesn’t breathe fire”) but has a few tricks up his sleeve by virtue of being in a modern world. That may include the Thor-worthy battle axe he wields in the trailer.

Godzilla approaches the ship King Kong stands on in Godzilla vs. Kong

The First Battle

Garcia calls the large-scale action sequence behind that first Godzilla and Kong battle at sea one of the first ideas Wingard pitched when he boarded the project in 2017, nearly two years after the project was announced, and after Legendary moved it from Universal to Warner Bros.

The fight is the first of at least two meetings of the main monsters. Another is the “massive third act battle” set in a slightly futuristic Hong Kong, says Garcia, where Kong parkours through the city on skyscrapers, a definite step up from merely scaling the Empire State Building.

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As for who comes out on top in the end, that remains to be seen, but at least the first one is expected to end in a draw.

Journey to the Center of Hollow Earth 

The Monarch will explore the setting of Hollow Earth, aided by sci-fi anti-gravity vehicles called HEAVs (Hollow Earth Aerial Vehicles). Garcia says Hollow Earth is 10 times the scope of what we’ve seen on Skull Island, with “rich varied ecosystems” filled with life and a diversity of terrain. Aesthetically, it takes inspiration from Hawaii’s lava fields, as well as the greenery of Waimea on the island. And it’s in Hollow Earth where we see those hints of other Titans that were first glimpsed in the trailer.

“[They] find, in the center of the earth, an ancient site that suggests eons ago, there was a balance between humans and creatures, and a kind of reverence … a greater connection” he adds. “With Kong, he is the last of his kind, and in Hollow Earth, there is hope he will find another; he discovers these environments and ancient evidence of other Kongs, but there aren’t any.”

Production designer Owen Patterson says Wingard and Garcia discussed with him the notion that the Iwi tribe seen in Kong: Skull Island may have made their way into Hollow Earth thousands of years in the past, and remnants of that culture may exist. As hinted at in the mid-credits scene in King of the Monsters — which featured cave paintings of Kong and Godzilla species fighting one another — he said Kong’s species and Godzilla had once lived in the same environment before something occurred that led to a destructive battle, and the latter ultimately went to sleep until the events of the 2014 film.

Production Designer Tom Hammock says they also drew inspiration for Hollow Earth from ancient human civilizations, such as Göbekli Tepe in Turkey, and the Assyrians of Mesopotamia. Architecturally, he adds they went for a look where the buildings are carved into stone, like the early peoples did in India and Ethiopia.

“We carried those looks with the idea that ancient humans all over the world were interacting with these creatures, and forming that bit of civilization with Kong in Hollow Earth.”

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For his part, Garcia doesn’t explicitly say Kong and Godzilla have history together, but does acknowledge, “there are some ancient histories and discoveries in the Hollow Earth, and a deeper backstory to the characters.” 

Kong has an emotional journey in the film but Godzilla similarly has his reasons for behaving the way he does. Wingard said Kong is also a “human conduit,” that allows the audience to experience things through him.

“One of the most important things going into this film was treating Godzilla and King Kong like actual characters, that they’re not just these big props that are kind of in the background,” Wingard says. “It’s like they have personalities and they have definitive things that they will and won’t do.”

Millie Bobby Brown on the set of Godzilla vs. Kong

The Human Element

Following the events of King of the Monsters, and her mother’s belief the Titans are meant to heal the earth from mankind’s damage, Brown’s character Madison becomes an advocate for the creature and serves as the emotional proxy for him.

“Godzilla is the misunderstood hero fighting for us even though we are afraid of things greater than us, and we are constantly fighting against him,” says Garcia. “[Madison] believes he is not necessarily benevolent but what Godzilla wants is also good for mankind, and there must be some reason he’s doing this.”

Brown calls Madison “basically a badass” as the character has grown up since the last movie, and is following in the footsteps of her mother (a Monarch paleobiologist-turned-environmental extremist who believes Godzilla is a savior for the planet, played by Vera Farmiga). She wears her mother’s jacket everywhere she goes, and studies what makes Godzilla tick. 

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“It’s much more about the technical side of it, learning about the data of him as a Titan,” Brown says.

Madison’s father Mark (again played by Kyle Chandler) is a director at Monarch, and while he’s on the Kong mission, she comes to believe Apex is involved in a conspiracy behind Godzilla’s bizarre behavior.

Titanic monsters aside, if a tech conglomerate’s secret agenda and hollow earth theories sound like the YouTube videos shared on Facebook by an eccentric relative, that’s not a coincidence. Garcia says conspiracy theories are a through line in the movie as a way of exploring why people come up with these ideas, and how a theory speaks to the things we’re afraid of.

As Madison sets out to investigate, she is joined by her friend Josh (Julian Dennison) and Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry), a former Apex employee who lost his wife, and runs a podcast seeking to expose his former bosses. Together, the misfit trio tries to uncover the mystery at the center of Apex and the sci-fi environs of the company.

This includes a scene filmed on a soundstage set dominated by a 60-foot-long Ghidorah skull wired into a hi-tech control station. It is unclear whether it belongs to King Ghidorah, who lost one of his heads in King of the Monsters, but Wingard did confirm, “In a subtle way, Ghidorah kind of haunts this movie.”

The skull was connected with multicolored cables to a computer terminal — and an artificial brain. Along with signs reading “psionic output” and “biomech,” there was a command seat and headset on a platform accessible by a ramp leading up the kaiju’s mouth. In the scene, Madison leads Josh and Bernie into the mouth to infiltrate the station.

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On the set of Godzilla vs. Kong

Mecha-Godzilla?

Connected to this is Ren Serizawa (Shun Oguri) — the son of Ken Watanabe’s Monarch scientist character from the previous two Legendary Godzilla films. Seen in the trailer against a mech schematic, Oguri says Ren’s means of protecting the earth is very different from his pro-Titans father.

Based on other glimpses in the trailer of a suited-up Godzilla, and the toy images that leaked at the beginning of 2020, it seems a mech will arrive in the new movie. Although, it remains to be seen if it’s an Apex-controlled Mecha-Godzilla, Mecha-King Ghidorah, or something else entirely. Or perhaps all three are in play, and Godzilla and Kong will eventually have a reason to team up, and fight together.

According to the production designers on the film, another sci-fi inspired element, or perhaps something out of a James Bond film, will be present in Apex’s headquarters atop Hong Kong’s Victoria Peak with an installation built deep within, reaching down into the earth. As well as the mech control room, that base will be the setting for another monster showdown. Cotter explains “our heroes” arrive in Hong Kong via a shuttle transporting Skullcrawler eggs (belonging to the creature introduced in Kong: Skull Island) and end up in an arena confronted by one of Kong’s hometown foes.

This is only one of the ways Godzilla vs. Kong ties together elements from each of the MonsterVerse movies. Garcia also hints the film digs deep into the “mythic past” of Godzilla creator Toho studio, and speaks to new creatures and “other creatures” in the film. He also says both lead monsters are fighting for something, and neither is an antagonist in the movie, and that “there is a complexity” to their motivations.

Despite the potential nuance of the monster-on-monster violence, there does not appear to be a shortage of it in Godzilla vs. Kong, with Hammock saying the two main beasts meet several times. And it’s a good bet Godzilla will get a chance to return that sucker punch Kong delivers in the trailer when Godzilla vs. Kong premieres on HBO Max and streaming this March.

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