Normally when you cover movies and TV, you spend the bulk of your time at the keyboard or in front of a screen. But sometimes you find yourself dangling from a harness a few storeys up and hoping like hell that the stunt team are going to drop you onto the crash pad way down below.
Reader, I lived, but I won’t lie and say I didn’t scream (you can watch the footage below). This was a fun bit of business cooked up by the Godzilla Vs Kong stunt team for the press visiting Warner Brothers’ Gold Coast studios to get some insight into the struggle to bring these two titans together on the big screen for the first time since 1962’s King Kong Vs Godzilla. Which means dropping several dozen meters to what your nervous system believes is certain death was one of the less exciting events of the day.
Set after 2019’s Godzilla King of the Monsters (and shot before that movie was even released), Godzilla Vs Kong puts the world’s most famous giant lizard up against the giant ape we were introduced to in 2017’s Kong: Skull Island in a match up first hinted at in that very film. Supanova alumna Millie Bobby Brown returns as gutsy heroine Madison Russell who twigs that something is wrong with Godzilla, who is normally happy to beat on the other giant monsters that populate the series’ fantastical universe but has lately been endangering human cities as well.
Producer Alex Garcia explains. “When we first meet Madison, she is actively trying to figure out why Godzilla is acting the way he’s acting. We establish early on in the film that Godzilla’s on a hunt, he’s on a mission. We don’t quite know what it is, that continues during the film. And Madison tries to uncover what that is.”
All signs point to something rotten behind the scenes at mega-corporation Apex, headed by entrepreneur Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir of The Hateful Eight and Chaos Walking), so Madison recruits her friend Josh (Julian Dennison – Deadpool 2 and Hunt for the Wilderpeople) to her cause, along with paranoid conspiracy theorist and former Apex employee Bernie (Brian Tyree Henry – Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse and the upcoming Eternals).
In point of fact, the scene being shot today sees Madison and Josh breaking into an Apex facility, with Dennison ad-libbing a different one-liner every take. During a break in filming, he fields a few questions.
“My character, Josh, he’s kind of a nerd,” he tells us. “He doesn’t really have a lot of friends and Madison’s kind of his only friend and he’s always trailing behind her and she’s always very direct. He’s kind of the realist in the duo and he kind of brings it, ‘Oh, we shouldn’t do that because we’ll die.’ And she’s like, ‘No, it will be fine.’ So I think they play very well and they’re a very good mix of craziness.”
Directing all this craziness is horror specialist Adam Wingard, the man behind You’re Next, The Guest, and Blair Witch. Godzilla Vs Kong is easily the biggest film of his career as yet but Wingard, who came up in the indie realm before crossing over into franchise features, seems unperturbed, noting that while spectacle is key, at the end of the day all films are about character and drama.
“The most appealing thing to me is being able to empathise with these 300-foot monsters and have the characters do the same,” he tells us. “Because so much of what we’re going to feel about the monsters has to be related to what the characters are feeling and so we try to intermingle that as much as possible.”
But there’ll still be plenty of razzle dazzle on screen. Godzilla Vs Kong’s production office walls are plastered with concept art and pre-visualisations of the two giant monsters pounding on each other among the skyscrapers and bright lights of Hong Kong, a stunning feast for the eyes and a sequence that Wingard is audibly excited about.
“When I was in the early stages of talking to Legendary about doing this film one of the main things I wanted to do is I knew that I wanted a big fight scene between Kong and Godzilla in a neon city, something that was very colourful.” Hong Kong certainly fits the bill, and Wingard praises the city’s futuristic aesthetic as in keeping with the film’s overall themes and tone. “It epitomises the sort of thesis of the movie: the past meets the future, organics meet technology, and that’s one of the main themes of this movie where we’re constantly clashing the two worlds.”
Also on the walls are concept designs for the Hollow Earth, a part of the Godzilla/Kong mythology that has been growing in prominence over the course of the preceding films and now plays a major part in the new instalment. Based on a wide range of wonderfully loony theories, the idea is basically that a whole subterranean world exists beneath our feet, potentially populated by all sorts of creatures and even civilisations. Jules Verne wrote about it in Journey to the Centre of the Earth, DC Comics used it as the basis for their barbarian fantasy The Warlord, and now the heroes of Godzilla Vs Kong must contend with this lost world.
“There’s a line in the script that describes Skull Island as the Hollow Earth come to the surface,” says Garcia. “And we ran with that. Skull Island in that film has a myriad of environments and different creatures and different possibilities, all within this one location, and the Hollow Earth is the OG of that. So, you’re going to see a lot of different environments, several different creatures. It’s a huge, huge ecosystem.”
As it turns out, Legendary Entertainment, the production house behind the film, has an entire Mythology Department dedicated to researching and smoothing out the Monsterverse’s back story (we would very much like a job, please and thank you). “It’s pop science, obviously, or pseudoscience,” Garcia laughs, “But we’ve tried to, given the creatures that we’ve seen in the universe to date, extrapolate out a little bit. What could the things on Skull Island have evolved from? What could the things in Hollow Earth have evolved from? What could Godzilla and Kong have evolved from?”
Of course, when evolution falters, science takes a hand. The other scene being shot today is set in a high-tech laboratory, wherein sits a giant reptile skull that’s been fitted with all manner of electronics and mechanical appendages. Fans (and visiting journalists) will recognize it as the severed head of King Ghidora. In the cranial vault itself sits a pilot’s chair, and in that chair is Ren Serizawa (Shun Oguri – Lupin 3rd, Crows Zero), the son of Ken Watanabe’s character, Ishirō Serizawa, who died, like Ghidorah, in King of the Monsters.
Talking about his character, Oguri explains: “His father was very occupied solving world problems with Godzilla, and he did follow in his father’s footsteps, but he doesn’t believe he was heard by his father. He’s a character who wants to protect the Earth and that is his goal in general. I think the means to get to that goal is a little bit different from everyone else, and his father.”
Could that means be some kind of hybrid construction? A melding of monster and machine? Dare we say it, some manner of… MechaGodzilla? It looks like there’s more than just the title card fight heading our way when Godzilla Vs Kong lumbers into cinemas on March 25. We can’t wait.
Lead image courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures and Legendary Pictures