When Godzilla stomped back onto cinema screens in 2014, his return spearheaded a new shared cinematic universe – a MonsterVerse – which reaches its apogee this month with a royal rumble between the Japanese King of the Monsters and the legendary King Kong, in Godzilla vs. Kong.
Get up to speed with the MonsterVerse ahead of this titanic clash between two of cinema’s most iconic monsters:
1. GODZILLA (2014)
Japan’s monstrous national treasure had never fared well in the hands of Hollywood, until British filmmaker Gareth Edwards returned Godzilla to his roots and the hero status he enjoyed in many of the Toho productions, as well as capturing the tone of the original 1954 film.
“The original 1954 version is a very serious film.” says Edwards. “People maybe think it’s a B-movie, but when you watch it again, it’s really an analogy and a metaphor for things like Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It’s a very serious take on a monster movie.”
That’s not to say there isn’t a lot of fun to be had in Edwards’ update. There are mosquito-like adversaries for Godzilla to fight, Bryan Cranston as a twitchy scientist who suspects something monstrous is stirring, Godzilla’s dorsal fins slicing through the sea, and his trademark radioactive exhale. The MonsterVerse is born!
2. KONG SKULL ISLAND (2017)
Kong: Skull Island is the first film to be set entirely on Kong’s home turf – a jungle hell teeming with giant spiders and slithering Skullcrawlers – upon which John Goodman, Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson foolishly trespass. Backed by a strong military contingent, they quickly discover that all the firepower at their disposal is no match for the primal force that is Kong.
“Kong is film history; Kong is where special effects came from and when genre went mainstream,” says director Jordan Vogt-Roberts. “It’s an enormous responsibility and also an enormous honour to tell a new story within that mythology.”
Capturing the adventurous spirit of yesteryear monster movies like Valley of Gwangi and Mysterious Island, with a liberal dose of Vietnam War gung-ho, Kong: Skull Island strengthened the foundations of the MonsterVerse, including a post-credits scene teasing a future face-off between Kong and Godzilla.
3. GODZILLA II: KING OF THE MONSTERS (2019)
The modern Godzilla movie fans had been waiting to see, this direct sequel to the 2014 reboot features the highly anticipated appearance of three of the big lizard’s iconic adversaries. Mothra, Rodan and the three-headed King Ghidorah – given glorious CGI makeovers – join the growing screen MonsterVerse, with stars Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown and Kyle Chandler caught up in an epic clash of the titans.
It also reveals more about the top secret organisation known as Monarch, dedicated to locating these “massive unidentified terrestrial organisms” (MUTOs) and discovering the truth about their connection to our world.
Mythology plays a major part in the story, with the monsters now referred to as ‘titans’. “I felt that was the appropriate name for them, because titans were the first gods,” explains director Michael Dougherty. “If we did discover giant monsters hibernating in the bowels of the earth, it would be like that. There’s an automatic mystery to that term.”
4. GODZILLA VS. KONG (2021)
The last time these two clashed was way back in 1962 in the Japanese production King Kong vs. Godzilla, albeit as actors in rubber suits stomping on a miniature Tokyo set – a spectacle far removed from today’s digital wizardry, which endows both monsters with more personality and nuance.
The title doubles as a synopsis, but for the record the film opens with Kong contained by Monarch on Skull Island for his own protection from Godzilla, who wants to revive their ancient rivalry. The titans are all about keeping the world in balance, and since two alphas upset this balance, a fight to the death is inevitable…
Part of the MonsterVerse’s success is having filmmakers at the helm who are fanboys at heart, with solid genre credentials, and Adam Wingard (You’re Next) brings a fresh perspective to the series, most notably injecting more humour and some creative editing to the numerous battles, which echo the shooting style of Guillermo del Toro on Pacific Rim.
While the MonsterVerse was originally intended to culminate with Godzilla vs. Kong, Legendary Entertainment CEO Josh Rode recently hinted that further films could be in the pipeline, with Adam Wingard tipped to helm another bout.