Watching the evolution of Adam Wingard’s career over the years has been a lot of fun for this writer, as he’s navigated the waters of low-budget/high-ambition genre projects like Pop Skull and Home Sick to his work on notable indie horror fare like A Horrible Way to Die as well as the first two V/H/S films to other fan favorites like You’re Next and The Guest, and he even had the chutzpah to take on Blair Witch back in 2016 as well (a film that I rewatch every Halloween season and still adore). And while Wingard has never been a filmmaker to shy away from a challenge, his latest project—Godzilla vs. Kong—is easily his most ambitious effort to date.
During the recent GvK press day, Daily Dead had the opportunity to speak with (geek out might be a more appropriate description, though) Wingard about taking on the characters of Godzilla and King Kong for this latest entry in the Monsterverse, the challenges he faced on the film, how ’80s and ’90s action cinema served as some of his inspiration for Godzilla vs. Kong, and more.
Godzilla vs. Kong will be stomping its way into theaters and on HBO Max here in the States this Wednesday, March 31st.
Great to speak with you today, Adam. I think you guys pulled off something miraculous here, so congratulations. Coming into this, I can only imagine the amount of challenges that come with taking these two characters, making them feel seamless in each other’s worlds, bringing all these other characters together, and finding a way to make all these elements work together. From your perspective, what was the biggest challenge for you coming into Godzilla vs. Kong?
Adam Wingard: Well, for me, first and foremost, my number one goal when I was even humoring the idea of doing this movie is I thought there absolutely has to be a winner. I think that’s the thing that would kill this movie is if we didn’t take a stance one way or the other. I knew how I wanted them to win, and I knew how I would pull it off. Weirdly enough, that was the easiest part for me to figure out. But it was also one of those things where I was the most nervous about, because I just felt like the thing I was most afraid of is that we would all agree on this and we would go down this road and then, at the last minute, the studio would lose their nerve and be like, “Oh, we can’t let one of them win over the other because of the fans,” or this or that.
That’s the worst thing that you can possibly do in a film like this, is just do a middle-of-the-road kind of thing. You’re going to turn people off more that way than you would if you have the one that people are rooting for lose. So that was my biggest fear going in, but that ended up never being a problem. But there are so many challenges in a movie like this; it’s really hard to boil it down to one. The script was always a big challenge to get it right, because not necessarily for the reasons you would expect, but for logistical reasons, like, “How do we keep this densely entertaining and also get all the pieces where we need them to be?” That was always a huge challenge.
I wanted to talk about the characterizations of Kong and Godzilla in this movie, because, first, and I mean no disrespect to Mike Dougherty and the other previous filmmakers from the series, but I feel like this is the most fully realized we’ve ever seen Godzilla in these modern movies. And the character of Kong to me feels just so lifelike in such an endearing way here. There’s just some really great characterization that goes on with both of these characters. Can you talk a little bit about finding these character beats for them in this story and giving them a little bit of edge, too? I feel like once we get to the battles, you kind of need that swagger they both have to bring to it and make it feel a little more alive.
Adam Wingard: It’s funny you used the word “swagger” because that was exactly how I always described Godzilla. When in doubt, the source of Godzilla’s personality was always through swagger. That’s where he starts. He’s a badass and that’s what we always tried to instill him with. So everything starts there and goes outwards. Whereas Kong, he’s the heart of the movie, so you have to really empathize with him. There’s a vulnerability to Kong. Those were the things that were really most important for me, because that’s how I always perceived Kong as a character classically. He’s a monster, he’s a beast, he’ll rip a monster’s head off if it’s fucking with him. He’ll stomp on a human if he’s shooting at him or whatever, and he won’t think twice or care. But at the end of the day, there’s a purity to him and an innocence, and I think that’s the heart of his character. No matter what’s going on, he can turn on his animal side, but at the end of the day, he’s a sweetheart. So those were the main ways I would break them down and what I tried to constantly think about and instill in both of their characters.
There are so many really great homages in this, too, where this feels genuinely like part of this Monsterverse, with what we’ve seen visually sort of established with King of the Monsters, and also with Kong: Skull Island. So there’s a modernity to this, but I also feel like there are moments here, especially in the final battle sequence, where this feels like a throwback to the Toho days and things like that. And also, if I’m not mistaken, was there a little Lethal Weapon II in there, too?
Adam Wingard: Oh yeah, absolutely. There are a lot of ’80s and ’90s action hero moments and references within the movie, and the Lethal Weapon II was one of my favorites. There used to be more Lethal Weapon II movie references, if you can imagine, in the film, but we ended up cutting those. [Alexander] Skarsgård used to actually be wearing a Japanese Lethal Weapon II t-shirt in one scene that was cut from the film. His character actually had a monologue about Lethal Weapon II, too, but as you can imagine, that was a step too far [laughs].
There were also these little bucket list things that a movie like this allows you as a filmmaker to do, where you get a chance to shoot crowds of people running away from Godzilla. That’s like one of those movie cliche moments that gets spoofed all the time, and to be able to do that, that’s one of those surreal moments where you’re like, “We’re not just shooting a scene where we’re pretending people are running from Godzilla, we’re making a Godzilla movie right now and people are actually running away from Godzilla.” That’s a really amazing thing to do. So yeah, it’s really special to be able to put my stamp on those type of moments that are so synonymous with film history.
I know we’re getting close on time, but I wanted to discuss your approach to the visuals in Godzilla vs. Kong. It feels like you could freeze this movie at any second and have a portrait you could put on your wall. In particular, the Hollow Earth stuff was incredible. The Hong Kong sequences were just absolutely gorgeous as well.
Adam Wingard: Some of my first inspirations going into this film were I wanted to see Godzilla and King Kong and this neon-soaked, futuristic city, and I wanted to know what all these different colors of neon would look like reflecting off of Godzilla’s scales and Kong’s fur. That was always very exciting to me. In terms of Hollow Earth, that was almost like one of the most daunting aspects of it. Even though I’m a huge sci-fi fan, when you read the script for this film and it says they’re going into Hollow Earth and it doesn’t really describe what that is, it was like a total blank slate, you’re thinking, “Oh God, we’re making a ‘journey to the center of the Earth’ movie.” But I’ve never seen a “journey to the center of the Earth” movie that I thought was particularly great. There’s always a lot of potential, but the problem I have is that these movies usually just ended up being like big mushrooms or you’re going into a cave. Maybe there’s like a weird light in the distance, but usually it’s pretty standard stuff. I always liked how, in the other Monsterverse movies, they’re always talking about Hollow Earth, so my imagination was always like, “When we see that one day, that’s going to be really cool.” And I ultimately lucked out, because I got to be the one to do it.
My approach was always not making this a “journey to the center of the Earth” movie. I always approached it as though we were going to completely another planet. That this was a totally different almost reality that they were going to. So whenever I started trying to conceptualize how to make this uniquely interesting in this world, I started thinking about how gravity works. We’re sucked to the surface of the planet, but when you’re in the middle of the planet, what happens to the gravity? So then I started thinking about how the concepts of being able to stand on the ceiling and look down and a waterfall below you or above you, and being able to flip those types of things around. That’s when I started getting really excited about the potential of Hollow Earth, because I realized that we could do some things that you’d never seen before, and we were unlimited in terms of where we could go with it.
In case you missed it, go HERE to read our review of Godzilla vs. Kong!
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Author: Heather Wixson