For decades, cinematic titans Godzilla and Kong have been following their own, separate theatrical journeys…until now. Legends collide in Godzilla vs. Kong as these mythic adversaries meet in a spectacular battle for the ages. This rivalry fuels an epic adventure that spans the globe to bring these two forces of nature, both more powerful than ever before, face to face and fist to fist on land and at sea in a battle to restore balance to the Earth.
“Godzilla and Kong have an incredible legacy in film,” says director Adam Wingard who directed from a screenplay by Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein, story by Terry Rossio and Michael Dougherty & Zach Shields, based on the character “Godzilla” owned and created by TOHO CO., LTD.
It is the fourth film in Legendary’s MonsterVerse. The film is also the 36th film in the Godzilla franchise, the 12th film in the King Kong franchise, and the fourth Godzilla film to be completely produced by a Hollywood studio.
Adam Wingard got his start in feature filmmaking at 19, with his directorial debut Home Sick, a slasher horror film. However, it was his second effort, at 24 years old with the film Pop Skull, that made him a talent to watch. Made for a budget of around $2,000 dollars, he managed to capture the attention of French Distribution company The Wild Bunch. The film went on to premiere at the prestigious Rome Film Festival and the American Film Institute Film Festival. His dark and sometimes abrasive directing/editing style has been compared to directors such as David Lynch, Darren Aronofsky, and Shinya Tsukamoto.
“Originally you could look at them almost as monsters from the East and West, Godzilla storming Tokyo and Kong being brought by man to New York. But however you perceive them, they are movie icons that excite audiences all across the globe.”
And audiences of all ages. “I remember as a kid having arguments on the playground with my friends about who would win in a fight, Kong or Godzilla,” Wingard laughs.
“In reality, directing this film started as the perfect excuse to go revisit all the Godzilla and Kong films in sequential order; that was the first thing I did when I began talking to Legendary about the possibility. And that really became a huge influence in terms of my approach to this film in general. For starters, Godzilla went from being a bad guy to a good guy to a bad guy again, and I think that’s what’s cool about the evolution of both Godzilla and Kong, and what keeps the stories we tell about them new and fresh.”
Producer Mary Parent acknowledges that this story is the pairing fans have been waiting for and that will absolutely thrill audiences, whether they’ve seen the recent movies or not.
“We’ve had both Godzilla and Kong battling to survive and thrive in their own spheres, so bringing them together as the surviving heavyweight champions at last is the natural next step.” But, she adds, “This is also a story that stands on its own, independent of the previous films. Both of these larger-than-life creatures have intelligent and empathetic human characters fighting for them in ways that render them relatable and heroic. Because of that it’s not necessary to have followed their earlier stories to be thoroughly engrossed by them in this newest adventure.” And whether you root for Kong or for Godzilla, she says, “It’s all about getting your popcorn and enjoying an incredible ride.”
The film not only promises intense battles between these two behemoths, but emotion, laughs, and even a mystery. Wingard elaborates, “The story starts in a place where humanity has accepted Godzilla as a savior, or a protector, and we’re flipping that and showing that something weird is going on with him—he’s on the attack and acting recklessly, and no one knows why.”
And he’s heading straight for Kong, who’s been liberated from Skull Island after its been proven that the isolated locale can no longer contain him.
Alex Garcia, who also produced the film along with Parent, Eric McLeod, Jon Jashni, Thomas Tull and Brian Rogers, states, “For all of the Monsterverse films we’ve sought filmmakers who have a deep appreciation and understanding of these creatures and their legacies. Storytellers who understand why both Kong and Godzilla have lived in audiences’ hearts and minds for as long as they have, but who are equally excited to do something new with them. Adam has a really distinctive visual style, and what he and the writers have done with this film, both story-wise and aesthetically, is very dynamic.”
Legends collide as these mythic adversaries meet in a spectacular battle for the ages, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance. Kong and his protectors undertake a perilous journey to find his true home, and with them is Jia, a young orphaned girl with whom he has formed a unique and powerful bond. But they unexpectedly find themselves in the path of an enraged Godzilla, cutting a swath of destruction across the globe. The epic clash between the two titans—instigated by unseen forces—is only the beginning of the mystery that lies deep within the core of the Earth.
Crafting the Screenplay
The screenplay was written by Eric Pearson and Max Borenstein, based on a story by Terry Rossio, Michael Dougherty and Zach Shields.
Eric Pearson began his professional career at Marvel Studios in their writers program. Along with several screenplays, he wrote a majority of the short films from the Marvel “One Shot” series, including “Agent Carter, »which went on to become a TV series of the same name on ABC. Pearson wrote on both seasons of the series. Continuing his relationship with Marvel Studios, Pearson contributed pre-production and/or post-production writing on Ant Man, Spiderman: Homecoming, Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame. Marvel Studios brought him on to write Thor: Ragnarok at the end of 2015 and then sent him to Australia to continue his work on the script throughout production. At the beginning of 2019, Marvel Studios brought Pearson on to write Black Widow, and then sent him to London (as well as other locations) to continue his work on the script throughout production. Pearson graduated from New York University, where he studied screenwriting at the Dramatic Writing Department in their Tisch School for the Arts.
Borenstein reflects, “When I started work on the first Legendary-Warner Bros. ‘Godzilla’ film 10 years ago, and on ‘Kong: Skull Island’ only a few years after that, the Monsterverse was just a glimmer in the eye. Four films and a decade later, getting to bring our Titans together for a showdown that gives new scale to the word epic has felt like watching our children graduate from Mayhem University.”
Max Borenstein (Screenplay) is a screenwriter, show-runner and producer in film and television. Borenstein wrote the screenplays for Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island, and the story for Godzilla: King of the Monsters, all epic, contemporary reinventions of iconic franchises that have earned nearly $1.5 billion in global box office. His follow up film, as writer and producer, was Worth.
In television, Borenstein created and served as showrunner on Steven Spielberg’s television adaptation of his hit film “Minority Report” for the FOX network. He conceived and co-created the second season of AMC’s acclaimed horror anthology “The Terror” and is developing a new spinoff of the “Game of Thrones” franchise for HBO.
Rossio offers, “It was an honor to be entrusted with two iconic characters of world cinema and design a film to bring them together. So much cinema history collides when these two giants of our collective consciousness face off against each other. We always knew there would be spectacle, but kudos to the executives and producers at Legendary, who took the time in developing the story, working with a number of writers, to ensure that the film featured intimate character relationships, universal themes and genuine heart.”
Terry Rossio (Story) is a writer known for Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003), Aladdin (1992) and Shrek (2001). Additional credits for Rossio include Deja Vu, G-Force, Lovestruck, The Long Ranger and Pirates of The Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. Rossio was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan. After graduating from Saddleback High School in Santa Ana, California, he went on to study at California State University Fullerton, where he received his Bachelor of Arts in Communications, with an emphasis in radio, television and film.
Michael Dougherty (Story) is a writer, director and producer, best known for the cult horror comedies Trick ‘r Treat (2009), Krampus (2015) and Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Beginning his career as an animator and illustrator, Dougherty’s early work was featured on MTV, Nickelodeon and a line of twisted greeting cards published by Nobleworks. Dougherty then became a screenwriter on the blockbuster X-Men films before making his directorial debut with Trick ‘r Treat.
Zach Shields (Story) is a writer, director, producer, and musician who lives in Los Angeles. Born in Rochester, New York, Shields studied film and theater at the University of Toronto before moving to LA, where he co-founded the music project Dead Man’s Bones with Ryan Gosling in 2007. When he’s not making weird art or big budget block buster films, he enjoys modern dance classes, boxing for money and adding to his collection of 40 homemade tattoos. In 2015, Shields co-wrote and executive-produced the Dougherty-directed Christmas horror-comedy, Krampus, followed by 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters.
Godzilla (ゴジラ, Gojira), known as the King of the Monsters, is a giant, prehistoric monster (origins may vary) who is the star of the popular Godzilla franchise of films produced by Toho Company, Ltd. Since his introduction in 1954, Godzilla has become a worldwide pop-culture icon and to this date has starred in 34 films, the most recent being the 2019 film, Godzilla: King of the Monsters. Godzilla did have a Crossover movie with King Kong, King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) and the upcoming Godzilla vs. Kong (2021).
Godzilla, a towering apex predator awakened by humankind’s use of elemental weapons of war, has come to be a ferocious protector of the natural world and of Earth. His devasting breath and thunderous roar, paired with his brute strength on land and under water, have allowed him to survive battles with powerful predators, such as his canonical arch nemesis, the three-headed Ghidorah.
But in Godzilla vs. Kong, Godzilla has begun uncharacteristically attacking cities, seemingly at random—and soon Kong finds himself in Godzilla’s crosshairs.
“The film picks up close to the last one, so in a lot of ways we’re picking up with Godzilla where we left off,” Wingard says. “But he’s suddenly behaving differently, and the scientists at Monarch—the government’s crypto-zoological agency dedicated to studying the Titans—as well as Madison Russell and a few others, are trying to figure out why he’s seemingly turned his back on humankind. Face it, it’s great if Godzilla’s on your side, but the second he turns against you, you’re in really big trouble.”
King Kong is a film monster, resembling an enormous gorilla, that has appeared in various media since 1933. He has been dubbed The Eighth Wonder of the World, a phrase commonly used within the films. The character first appeared in the novelization of the 1933 film King Kong from RKO Pictures. The character of King Kong has become one of the world’s most famous movie icons, having inspired a number of sequels, remakes, spin-offs, imitators, parodies, cartoons, books, comics, video games, theme park rides, and a stage play. His role in the different narratives varies, ranging from a rampaging monster to a tragic antihero.
The King Kong character was conceived and created by American filmmaker Merian C. Cooper who became fascinated by gorillas at the age of 6. In 1899, he was given a book from his uncle called Explorations and Adventures in Equatorial Africa. The book (written in 1861), chronicled the adventures of Paul Du Chaillu in Africa and his various encounters with the natives and wildlife there. Cooper became fascinated with the stories involving the gorillas, in particular, Du Chaillu’s depiction of a particular gorilla known for its “extraordinary size”, that the natives described as “invincible” and the “King of the African Forest”. When Du Chaillu and some natives encountered a gorilla later in the book he described it as a “hellish dream creature” that was “half man, half beast”. As an adult, Cooper became involved in the motion picture industry. While filming The Four Feathers in Africa, he came into contact with a family of baboons. This gave him the idea to make a picture about primates. A year later when he got to RKO, Cooper wanted to film a “terror gorilla picture”.
Kong has, for decades since his heroic and brutal rite of passage, lived—and been studied by scientists—on the uncharted Skull Island. He is no longer an adolescent but fully grown and bigger, bolder and more badass than ever.
The Kong seen in this film is by far the largest incarnation that has ever appeared on screen. And as always, Kong has an endearing bond with a human—this time it’s a young Skull Island orphan who is, like him, the last of her line, Jia.
“This movie is Kong’s exploration into his own history—his roots. It’s about discovery,” says Wingard, “and that opens a lot of doors to see what’s out there for the character.”
Because Kong and Godzilla are humanized not only by their own actions (and by the talented craftsmen and women who render them via spectacular visual effects), but also by the characters in the story who work so hard to ensure their survival and safety, whether they are heroes or villains is always in the eye of the beholder—the moviegoer.
Which is why, at its core, Wingard promises, “This is a massive monster movie with not one but two of the most iconic characters in all of movie history battling each other. And they’re both good guys. Or maybe not, depending on how you look at it. What’s going to be really fun is to see who the audience roots for and to see their reaction when they find out who comes out on top!”
Weaving the two Titans’ stories together
To help weave the two Titans’ stories together, the filmmakers cast a strong ensemble in roles that include franchise favorites and a mix of new characters, delivering the emotional layers and connections to both Godzilla, whom audiences have seen in contemporary battles, and Kong, who was last seen in the post-Vietnam War era. With the Monarch organization still entrenched in the welfare of both, and with outside forces at work as well, the story ensures the ancient rivals’ paths cross, at the same time upping the personal stakes.
Alexander Skarsgård portrays Lind as a mix of pseudo-action hero and science nerd who is tasked with convincing Kong’s on-site team to take him from the only home he’s ever known on a potentially deadly journey to what could be his ancestral home, where Titans like him may have originated.
One of the things that attracted Skarsgård to the role is that, he says, “It’s more nuanced than good versus evil, because Kong and Godzilla are not good or bad. They may be apex predators but really they’re animals and they do what animals do. One reason they go after each other is because they’re both alphas, and there can only be one alpha.”
Rebecca Hall stars as Dr. Andrews, Monarch’s Anthropological Linguist who is confronted with the harrowing choice to keep Kong on Skull Island and risk his extinction or use her expertise to help Lind uproot him—and still potentially risk his extinction if the plan fails.
“I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to film history, so I did a bit of a deep dive prior to starting, and it was really fun,” says Rebecca Hall. “One thing I found is that in a lot of the King Kong films, there’s a beautiful lady and he wants to save her; but what I found really interesting in this one was the person that Kong has the connection with is a child, a little deaf girl he can communicate with. And when I found out that Kaylee, who is Deaf, would be playing the part, I thought that was really interesting and valid. My character is connected to them both—she is Kaylee’s mother figure as well as a sort of Jane Goodall type of researcher.”
In the film, newcomer Hottle plays the one human with whom Kong has a bond—and the only one who doesn’t possess a healthy fear of the 300-foot ape. Little Jia is a member of the Iwi tribe of Skull Island, adopted by Andrews after her parents were killed by a Skullcrawler.
Much like Hall, Wingard says, “Traditionally, King Kong’s emotional relationship with the female protagonist is always something that really draws me in and helps me empathize with him, and we wanted to put our own spin on that in this story. We wanted a character to really have a unique bond with Kong, so the fact that Jia cannot hear anything and communicates with sign language felt like a new evolution of what we could do with Kong, who is always seen as a very intelligent character. So, because her parents died at an early age, Kong became this kind of almost like savior to Jia, and even though she sees Dr. Andrews as a mom, she loves Kong as her best friend and, as we learn, she’s obviously taught him to understand sign language and to communicate with her.”
Kyle Chandler also reprises his role from the prior films as Mark Russell. Once a Monarch skeptic and outsider, Dr. Russell has now taken on the mantle of Monarch Deputy Director of Special Projects in the uncharted new world left in the wake of recent events. In his new position, he grapples with the responsibility of helping to lead a global Titan defense organization while also being present for his rebellious teenage daughter. Despite his wishes, he knows Madison is passionately determined to venture into the dangerous world of superspecies study.
Chandler—who not only makes his second appearance in a film featuring Godzilla, but also Kong—was thrilled to return to the Legendary Monsterverse, stating, “It’s such an adventure for an actor. You step onto these incredible sets, crafted by the best in the business, and you also get a chance to create your own reality because there’s of course some green screen work as well.”