Godzilla vs Kong Director Adam Wingard on Avoiding a Batman v Superman Problem

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In March 2019, a group of journalists and I got to visit the set of Godzilla vs. Kong. In the climactic battle of Legendary and Warner Bros’ “Monsterverse”, the two titans go head-to-head with the fate of the planet on the line as the organization Monarch works to restore balance against the evil corporation Apex. Check out our set visit coverage to find out what we learned about the upcoming film.

While director Adam Wingard was too busy directing this multimillion dollar blockbuster to speak to us (the nerve of some people), we did get to speak to him on a Zoom call about the film last week. During our conversation, we talked about how he approached the action scenes, a mistake Batman v Superman made in not properly introducing a new Batman whereas we’ll already know Godzilla and Kong from the Monsterverse franchise, how his past directing experience with the horror genre prepared him for a PG-13 action movie, why he loves sequels, and more.

Before you started making this film, did you have a favorite between Godzilla or Kong?

ADAM WINGARD: You know, “favorite” is a strong word, but I will say that I definitely knew who I wanted to win right off the bat. I remember in second grade there was a friend of mine who had a definitive idea of who he thought would win in a fight, Godzilla or King Kong, and I remember being on the playground and arguing with him about it, and I felt like he was totally wrong by the way. And so in a, in a weird roundabout way, this movie is like the most like ridiculous way of winning a fight with a friend of yours in second grade. But now I finally have the last word. And he can’t argue okay.

A lot of us visited the site going on two years ago, but when we did a theme that just kept coming up with sort of this duality of the primordial and the technological. So I wanted you to weigh in on that and talk a little bit about why that was something that was important to you and talk a little bit about the elements between apex verse sort of the primordial of hollow earth.

WINGARD: Yeah, well this movie is a really an exploration of… especially when it comes to these godlike creatures, you know, the monsters past and the monsters future and the movie itself also is split into two kind of concurrent storylines, you know, which you could kind of organize in a team Godzilla team Kong, you know, team Godzilla’s being sort of led by Millie Bobby Brown and Brian Tyree Henry.

Whereas team Kong is on the other side of the world being led by Alexander Skarsgard and Rebecca Hall. And… so each one of the human’s stories kind of really punches up what the monsters are going through and gives us more emphasis and that kind of thing. And without going into too many details like I said, it’s an exploration of the future and the past, but, you know… and you see a little bit of that in the trailer, you know, with the neon lights, and putting Godzilla in that kind of setting, and obviously there’s other explanations that we did going into the past, but it’s kind of hard to talk about a lot of that stuff without giving anything away. And I feel like with a movie like this, especially it’s important that people go in kind of not knowing too much, you know, like you just don’t want to spoil too many things. Like, I don’t even think that they should really release any more trailer stuff, to be honest, because it’s like, I… You know, even though like we’ve only showed just like the tip of the iceberg, when it comes to what there is in the movie, it’s like, you still want all these like great surprises and these great moments to hit in the most effective way possible.

It’s my understanding that you watched every single Godzilla movie before this process. And as you know, the series started off very grim, very sober, and then kind of got more outlandish and more, you know, bold as it went on. And this new series started off very grim, sober, and I feel like the trailer gave us a hint that maybe this one’s headed in a more sort of fun direction. Can you talk about sort of shifting the tone a little bit?

WINGARD: Yeah. I mean, the thing I think that attracted me to doing the… like the monster verse version of Godzilla and Kong is just 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 kind of put their sort of unique stamp on these different films, and each movie feels like that directors film, and that was always the main attraction to do this series to me is that I wanted to be able to make, not just the Adam Wingard version of Godzilla and Kong, but I wanted it to also be the most Adam Wingard movie that I can make, you know, so I wanted to get everything that I felt like represented me as a filmmaker into this, and all the things that made me excited about doing a monster movie in general.

And part of that is just a tone thing. I mean, 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 violence and had lots of swearing and stuff. So that was kind of a unique experience, but not really 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, even though I would say a lot of them were rated R films, but they’re still made for kids. Like, for instance, I would say to me, Terminator 2 is sort of like a gateway horror film, you know, it’s like, it’s really made for kids sensibilities, but it’s rated R, it’s very violent, but not so much so that you can’t watch it as a kid. And so for me that was sort like… sci-fi was actually my way into getting into the Terminator, Aliens, and all those things. Those were the movies that kind of gatewayed me into horror, and this movie is kind of returning to that roots where the whole sci-fi thing and all that, that really kind of originally sucked me into wanting to become a filmmaker in the first place.

Godzilla vs. Kong

Image via Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures

Is there anything you feel like translated well from your work working on horror movies and all those R rated movies into something so wildly different compared to what you’ve done before with this and all the spectacle and all the action?

WINGARD: Yeah. Even the horror movies that I’ve done always have sort of an action movie kind of feel to it. I mean, You’re Next, especially you look at, I mean, I remember whenever I was doing You’re Next, the DP I had on that film, he was not… he was a really artsy kind of guy, and that’s why I brought him on it, but he was kind of a movie snob, and so he kind of didn’t really watch a lot of like crazy action movies and stuff, and so the first movie I ended up showing him on You’re Next, it wasn’t actually a horror film. I actually showed him Face/Off, which is coincidental, you know, cause all that stuff is coming out about the sequel now. But you know, Face/Off is the first movie I showed him because of the approach, the action, the slow motion, and the stylization of it and those kinds of things.

So, the movies that I’ve done over the years have really allowed me to kind of touch all these different kind of elements of movie-making, and ultimately… even Death Note was something that really helped me because that was the first time I had done really any VFX, because up until then everything I’d done was so low budget that I was just terrified of having bad VFX in the movie so I just avoided them altogether. So everything was always practically done, but, you know, so that gave me at least a little bit more of a heads up in terms of what I was going to be getting in here, but at the end of the day you can’t practically create a 300 foot monster fight on the ocean or in Hong Kong and… you just can’t do that practically. So you have to be able to just let go, but, fortunately, it’s at a point where I’m working with the best VFX studios on the planet, WITA, Scanline, NPC. So at least shooting it and coming up with all these different scenes and ideas I had the assurance that if anybody’s going to get it right it’s going to be these guys, so I can just kind of jump in with full imagination and go for it.

We learned a little bit on set about sort of the emotional journeys that Kong and Godzilla are going on themselves as characters. What are the challenges of kind of conveying something like that when you’re using CGI characters, and how maybe do you use the human characters to kind of aid in that?

WINGARD: Yeah, I mean, for me that was 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, or, you know, they’re just big monsters. It’s like they have personalities and they have definitive things that they will and won’t do, and so it was always trying to bring that out first and foremost, and unfortunately for us the kind of the evolution of these films has come to a point where I kind of reap the benefits of all the prior directors work, because I’m able now to use… Like, basically Kong for instance, as almost like a human conduit, like we can actually cut to Kong in this movie without having to cut back to the human characters for relatively large chunks of the film, because we can experience things through him.

He’s emotive and all these kinds of things like his eyes, and the way he experiences things is relatable, and so it allows us to be able to just treat him just like any other character, and the humans are always going to back that up. I mean, we have like our team Godzilla team Kong storylines that are going, like I said, and with Kong, for instance, like we have a character in Jia who can directly communicate with him, and has sort of a spiritual bond with him, and that’s a really interesting thing to be able to play with that these movies haven’t done, but it’s still sort of a… It’s almost a trope, you know, like the little girl that can communicate, or child that can communicate with this larger force and being able to play with them.

godzilla-vs-kong-warner-bros-hbo-max-38

Image via Warner Bros.

You’re setting up to make what you think is the most Adam Wingard movie you’ve ever made, even though it’s a PG-13 movie, but you’re also sort of in this position where you have to connect with Godzilla: King of the Monsters and the plot that came before. Besides any of the plot details, was there any specific element that you wanted to reconnect with in your vision, and was there anything that you wanted to sort of distance yourself from in your execution?

WINGARD: Well, you know, like I really love sequels, I think one of my favorite films like I said is Terminator 2 and Aliens. And so I love sequels where they can take something somebody else has done and then do their own spin on it and expand and all those kinds of things. When it came to my approach to this film coming directly after King of Monsters, I guess there’s like a couple of ways I can approach that question. I mean, one is that this film is directly taking place after King of Monsters, but it’s also like about, you know, like it’s way in the future from Skull Island, which took place in the seventies.

And so for me, like one of the most important things was, is that this feels like a legitimate sequel to those movies, that this feels like a legitimate match up between Godzilla vs Kong, that even though Kong is a little bit different in this film, it’s only because he’s aged from the time of the last movie. So he’s a little more grizzled and all those kinds of things, but I guess what I’m trying to get at is that 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 sort of a new King Kong. This was the first Toho version of King Kong. He looks a little weird, and if I have to be honest, and he’s not stop motion either, you know?

So he feels like a totally new character. It’s a totally new interpretation. And 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. So it’s the best we got,” You know? And you flash forward in time, and I look at, for instance Batman versus Superman to use it as an example, and this is just my opinion, but my issue with that movie is really that it’s a new Batman. It’s Ben Affleck is Batman, and it’s… And up until then Christian Bale was the definitive Batman, and so it felt like, okay, now that we’re doing Batman versus Superman, we’re also restarting Batman. So this feels like a different universe, which it is, and so this is a different Batman.

So it doesn’t have that kind of like, this is 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, and so, you know, normally like the legendary would allow the directors to put their spin on Godzilla and I could’ve changed them. I like how Dougherty kind of updated them with the classic maple leafs on his back. But for me, it was, I wanted this to feel like the Godzilla that 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. So that was one of the main things going into it, and, you know, yeah, that would be one of my absolute sticking points is 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, this is the legendary Godzilla, and… let’s see how he matches up with King Kong. Let’s not try to like, change it up and do something different.” I love your cat.

So given that this appears to kind of bring all the origins, we get these big reveals. Are you approaching this as kind of the culmination or the final chapter of everything that’s come before? Or is this the beginning of something new, the birth of a new story?

WINGARD: I’d love it to be the birth of something new, but I guess it just depends on just how the movie’s received and all those kinds of things that are out of my hands, but like I know where we could go potentially with future films, but to a certain degree, like the monster verse was kind of created with the idea in mind that there was going to be always a… You know, these films were leading towards Godzilla versus Kong, and so I’m kind of lucky in the sense that I was able to step in and be the guy to get the chance to do the ultimate version of these movies.

godzilla-vs-kong-warner-bros-hbo-max-37

Image via Warner Bros.

The trailer chases some pretty epic battles between Godzilla and Kong. Can you talk about how you approach those big action sequences? What makes a good brawl, and how did you take the terrain into consideration?

WINGARD: Well, I think actually taking the terrain into to consideration is what makes a good brawl, you know what I mean? Because when you’re facing monsters off against each other you really have to have set rules of what are the strengths and weaknesses of these monsters, and the fight has to be legitimate in that sense, and so the terrain itself is going to dictate sort of some of the memorable things you’re going to be doing, and, for instance, like the ocean battle in the film, that was always on the outline. When I came on, there was like a couple page outline that Terry Rossio had done, and that was always kind of like one of the big set pieces. And I just love that one because it just instantly dictated what you were going to do with it anyways, but also what the danger was, because obviously Kong at a severe disadvantage on the ocean, and so instead of it just being the choreography of how are they going to fight each other?

It’s so much more fun to put these obstacles in their way and, you know, make that part of what’s fun about the battle, and I think it makes it more memorable because you can only have the monsters bashing into each other so many times before it just kind of all runs together in your head, but… when you see King Kong punching Godzilla on an aircraft carrier in the middle of the ocean, it’s like, that’s an image that really just like jumps out and becomes sort of iconic just because of what it is, and so we tried to approach a lot of the action scenes in that kind of way, you know, in a way that would be the most memorable and get the most out of the monsters and what their strengths and weaknesses are.

So you were in a situation where you were making a sequel to a movie and you didn’t know how it was going to do, how it was going to perform, how it was going to be perceived and all this stuff, and I’m wondering did you have any discussions about like, sort of course correcting or like switching things up after King of the Monsters came out and, you know, was there any kind of reaction either on the studio level or just for you as a filmmaker?

WINGARD: Well, I mean, one of the reasons why they brought me on is I think a follow up to King of Monsters is because I am so different than Michael Dougherty as a director, I mean he definitely leans more into the kind of horror realm, and his approach to Godzilla is really kind of 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, and I think I was kind of chosen ultimately because my take was always going to be very tonally very fun, and, colorful and all those kinds of things, and so fortunately it didn’t really affect us too much in a literal way. Like there wasn’t like 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 kind of already doing our own thing and it just sort of matched up with what it felt like people had kind of been wanting anyways, you know, like, I mean, obviously I’m aware of like the… You know, some of the stuff where, you know, people felt like the movie was like too dark in places, or there was too many particle effects and stuff.

And, you know, but ultimately that didn’t totally factor in because my version was always kind of what you see right now. It was, you know, the ocean battle was going to be kind of this like magic hour sunset kind of looking scene. I knew I always wanted… Like my very first image I even had of the movie was always King Kong and Godzilla fighting in a neon futuristic synth wave city, and so that in itself just already has lighting built into it cause that’s what the whole sequence is, and so those kind of things didn’t really get affected thankfully. But who knows what people are talking about behind the scenes, you know, at different levels.

When we were on set we obviously saw this very large skull that was wired into a control station, and through interviews with Shun Oguri, he revealed that he plays the son of Ken Watanabi’s character, and that skull was also referred to as a Ghidorah skull. So I wanted to see if you could comment on that and tell us about… And obviously based on the trailer, there’s a lot of talk about mecha things in this movie, so can you talk a little bit about where mecha comes in, and the role that Ghidorah plays in the film?

WINGARD: Yeah, I mean, I think in a subtle way, Ghidorah kind of haunts this movie, you know, like… that’s the most recent event, and even though in terms of the monster world, cause this film takes place a relatively short period afterwards, but specifics is just one of those things where, you know, yeah. I can’t really talk about it too much cause I just, you know, as much as possible I just want people to have as pure of an experience as they can, and it’s just… If you’re reading about it it’s just going to be less exciting than actually seeing it, so it’s hard for me to really talk too much in detail about some of that stuff, but yeah.

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About The Author

Matt Goldberg
(14849 Articles Published)

Matt Goldberg has been an editor with Collider since 2007. As the site’s Chief Film Critic, he has authored hundreds of reviews and covered major film festivals including the Toronto International Film Festival and the Sundance Film Festival. He resides in Atlanta with his wife and their dog Jack.

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