‘Godzilla x Kong’ Director Adam Wingard on ‘Making a Film That the 10-Year-Old Version of Myself Dreamed About’

The monster mash is in theaters now

Adam Wingard Godzilla x Kong
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“Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” director Adam Wingard knew he’d be back for a follow-up after making 2021’s “Godzilla vs. Kong,” one of the rare blockbusters of the pandemic era (even with a simultaneous release on what was then known as HBO Max). He was nearing the end of production on the earlier film; they only had 30 or 40 shots left to complete. “I just figured out how to make a giant monster movie,” Wingard told TheWrap. “And here I was at the end of the journey.”

He thought about something Quentin Tarantino said about following “Django Unchained” up with another western, “The Hateful Eight”: that he wanted to make another western right away because at the end of “Django Unchained” he had just figured out how to make one.

“I really felt like there was a lot of unfulfilled potential that I knew now how to approach, and I was excited right out the gate into jumping back in because I felt like, having made ‘Godzilla vs. Kong,’ I had this newfound sense of confidence in terms of how to approach the monsters as fully realized characters and how to tell a movie from their point of view,” Wingard said. “It really excited me, the idea of being able to do a film that was very visuals-driven. We have large sections without dialogue and that was my big drive, making a film that the 10-year-old version of myself dreamed about.”

When he was a child watching Godzilla terrorize cities, Wingard always wanted as much Godzilla (or the other monsters) as possible. “That’s what I tried to lean towards,” he said.

And that’s exactly what he did with his film. “Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire,” which just opened and made a whopping $200 million worldwide (in its opening weekend!), is the oops, all monsters of the MonsterVerse. When a threat from Hollow Earth emerges, Godzilla and Kong have to put their differences aside to deal with this new menace. Godzilla powers himself up and has new glowing pink spines; Kong has a mechanical glove to go along with his magic ax. It’s deeply insane and hugely enjoyable.

On the human side of things Rebecca Hall and Brian Tyree Henry return from “Godzilla vs. Kong” and are joined by Dan Stevens, who Wingard worked with before on the cult hit “The Guest.” Stevens’ Trapper, a veterinarian for the kaiju, is an absolute hoot, easily the most enjoyable human character in the entire MonsterVerse.

“I’ve always been looking for another movie to work with Dan on and there wasn’t a project that had a character that he fit in,” Wingard said. Simon Barrett, who wrote “The Guest,” was working on “Godzilla x Kong” and together they decided to write a part for Stevens to play, instead of trying to fit him into some already established architecture. “That’s where Trapper came from,” he said. “We wrote him knowing that he could be your handsome, charming, charismatic leading man, but he’s also excited about all the quirks that go along with that and leaning into the real character actor-y kind of stuff. We knew we could have our cake and eat it too with Dan.”

Early in the production, Trapper was saddled with a monologue that revealed his backstory; Wingard remembers it being about him being stuck alone with hyenas in Africa. It was a moment that provided a ton of information about the character in a fairly condensed amount of time. But Wingard also really wanted to introduce Trapper along with the Greenflow song “I Got’Cha” from 1977, whose lyrics are also the name of the song. They played the song on set and Stevens sang along to it. “When we got an editorial, it was like ‘you can have Dan tell a monologue for two hours about his past’,” Wingard said. “And you’re not going to understand his character better than just having him sing ‘I Got’Cha’ for 15 seconds of the movie, because that just says everything you need to know about him.”

When designing the story, Wingard and his writers (Barrett, Terry Rossio and Jeremy Slater) were guided by a single principle: Simplicity is key. “And that’s not just about the human stories, but about the monster story, too. We wanted there to be a simplicity of the actual plot and how many characters that there were so that you could get more intimate with them.”

One of the things Wingard learned on “Godzilla vs. Kong” was there were just too many characters, which not only led to some tough choices during the editing phase of the movie — a character played by Jessica Henwick was eliminated completely and performances from Lance Reddick and Eiza González’s were dramatically reduced — but gave the movie a structure that left little time to get to know any of the actual characters, and this includes the monsters. “Because there was so much going on there’s only the little moments where you really got to get super intimate with the monsters,” Wingard said. Here, the number of characters was reduced and parallel narrative paths were forged that feed into one another instead of competing with each other.

Of course, “Godzilla x Kong” is opening immediately after “Godzilla Minus One,” which takes a very different approach to the King of the Monsters, and became an unexpected box office hit and an even-more-unexpected Oscar winner. (This marked the first time any Godzilla movie had ever won an Academy Award). The Godzilla in “Godzilla x Kong” has a very different look and feel, one that original rightsholder Toho was surprisingly okay with.

“We didn’t do anything that was so out of left field that they would balk at, because ultimately, the changes to Godzilla are relatively subtle,” Wingard said. “There’s some proportional changes or some extra spikes. Obviously there’s the pink, which is the biggest thing.”

For Wingard, it was important that the Godzilla in “Godzilla vs. Kong” retained continuity from “Godzilla: King of the Monsters” (2019) because “King Kong vs. Godzilla” had always annoyed Wingard. In particular, the fact that King Kong went from a stop-motion wonder to a guy in a fairly cheesy suit, felt jarring to the young Wingard. “When it came to this film, as a fan, I love all the different iterations of Godzilla over the years. I like that each era is defined by different looks and I was eager to do my own spin on it,” Wingard said. It was important for them to update Godzilla not “for the fuck sake of it,” in Wingard’s words. “I wanted the evolution of his design to be a propulsive point for the story,” Wingard said.

There’s a moment, in particular, that really stands out: when Godzilla decides to take a nap in the Roman Colosseum, inspired by Wingard’s own cat Mischief. (There are some pictures of her in the Hollow Earth base.) “We were trying to figure out where to put Godzilla to hibernate in the film and we started talking about the Colosseum, and there was my cat just in her little cat nest all curled up with her tail hanging out the side and we took some pictures of her,” Wingard said. He later found out that Takashi Yamazaki, director of “Godzilla Minus One,” also took inspiration from his cat. “The cats are really riding high in these current iterations of Godzilla. I don’t know why,” Wingard said.

Beyond his own cat, we were curious as to what the influences for “Godzilla x Kong” were. Re-watching “Godzilla vs. Kong,” the opening, which has Kong wake in Skull Island, take a bath and tromp around the island, is nearly shot-for-shot the way Mel Gibson is introduced in the first “Lethal Weapon” (all to the tune of Bobby Vinton’s “Over the Mountain Across the Sea”). Wingard said, generally, he was inspired by buddy movies of the 1980’s, especially in the “dysfunctional friendship” between Kong and Godzilla.

John Carpenter’s 1988 “They Live,” which Wingard says is his favorite movie, was also a huge influence. The sequence in “They Live” where Rowdy Roddy Piper and Keith David are fighting over whether or not David will wear a pair of magical sunglasses, served as the perfect template. “The best sequence in that movie is it’s not a hero fighting a villain. It’s two heroes fighting with each other over a misunderstanding, and I knew right out of the gate that that was going to be the inspiration for the rematch between Godzilla and Kong,” Wingard said. “It’s not just a straightforward like, who can win. It’s more complicated than that.”

As for whether or not there will be a third Wingard-directed MonsterVerse movie, he hasn’t shut the door (and that $200 million opening weekend probably kicks said door wide open). “I’ve done two movies now and there’s definitely a draw of the idea of making it a trilogy, but we’ll have to wait and see,” Wingard said. “I definitely have some ideas. We do a lot of easter eggs and hinting at where the series would go. There’s a definitive idea of the direction and the potential monsters that could be appearing in the next one.”

Hopefully whatever monsters show up, Dan Stevens is ready.

“Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire” is in theaters now.

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