Director Adam Wingard Talks ‘They Live,’ Colorful Toys & Other ‘Godzilla x Kong’ Inspirations

Director Adam Wingard spoke about the influence Showa-era Godzilla films, Carpenter's They Live, colorful toys, and other fun reference points had on Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire.

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire director, Adam Wingard

While we’ve seen various box office successes in recent years showing us “movies are back,” it was 2021’s Godzilla vs. Kong that delivered the first real impression that people were ready and willing to head back to theaters to see enormous spectacle on the big screen again. Fortunately, it was also not the last time we’d see the Super Monster Bros. on screen together.

This past week, I was invited to a Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire press event, where I was able to preview the film at IMAX HQ in Playa Vista, CA (review coming next week), and hear from and speak with director Adam Wingard about the inspirations for and the making of the film. While the lobby area was filled with costumes featured in the movie and a look at the new toy line, a separate “war room” area allowed us to see a series of boards featuring concept art, old Godzilla movie posters, and images of various toys, hair metal bands, and more that would all serve as an understanding for what Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire was aiming for.

See Also: 21 Fun Facts About the Godzilla Franchise

Foes Now Friends?

As for how to approach the latest entry in Legendary Pictures’ MonsterVerse, as Wingard explained, “I remember even as we were completing the last movie, that was the thing in the back of my mind. ‘Where do you go from here? The characters—now that they’ve fought together, they’ve been in movies together—it’s pretty hard to imagine doing another movie without them. Once you put Godzilla and Kong together, you can’t take them apart, but they’re never gonna get along really all that well. They both have too big of egos and so what’s fun about them is that even when they do team-up, there’s always gonna be this sort of uneasy truce to it all.”

To better detail what it meant to bring these two back together for a team-up, Wingard specifically referenced John Carpenter’s 1988 cult favorite, They Live, as a reference point. That film features a legendary brawl between stars Roddy Piper and Keith David, as it lasts multiple minutes and is less about one trying to kill the other and more based around a misunderstanding and trying to get the other guy to listen. Now, just imagine what it will have to be like to see two kaiju having a similar issue, and…well, you’ll see how that plays out.

Godzilla Makeover

When it came to finding ways to fit this film into an established cinematic universe while exploring new versions of these characters, audiences have already noted the pink glow-up Godzilla has received. According to Wingard, “In Godzilla vs. Kong, it was really important to me to make sure that there was continuity between the other movies—that Godzilla felt like the Godzilla that we had established in the MonsterVerse, and Kong also felt like the same character.”

Wingard continued, “For me, I was looking forward to having my opportunity to update the character and give him a new look, but I didn’t want it to just be something that was just a random thing. I wanted it to be driven by the story. So, I knew even during the early development phases, I wanted to give Godzilla a new look. Still, I wanted to make sure that it was also motivated by something going on in the movie and that we would actually see the evolution happen within the film.”

Without delving into details, the film certainly has its reasoning for why Godzilla is taking a new look. Similarly, Kong is a reflection of what’s occurred in the previous movie, just looking at the scars from his last battle with Godzilla while also showing off his own new upgrades. Based on just the trailers and posters, the character now has what I would describe as the biggest Nintendo Power Glove I’ve ever seen, and the movie provides ample explanation for why that is, along with any other modifications that may occur.

Let Them Be Bright

While 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters proved to be more divisive, some praise for Godzilla vs. Kong came from its appealing use of colors and neon lighting to underscore the action. The intentions remained similar for Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire. As Wingard notes, “I wanted to make not just another MonsterVerse film, but a thrill ride like you’ve never seen before. I wanted it to be a mic drop moment for monster movies. Whatever kind of movies I make in the future, as far as monsters go, I want this to say everything. I want to be able to walk away knowing that we did everything… and the kitchen sink!”

Referring to the “war room” set up at IMAX HQ, the mood board we were shown indicated that a variety of reference points were being used to give a sense of the tone, atmosphere, and color pallet of the film’s look. This included Showa-era Godzilla films such as 1965’s Invasion of Astro-Monster and 1971’s Godzilla vs. Hedorah.

More notably, as Wingard described, so much of his childhood could be defined by going to the toy aisles of department stores and seeing the colorful boxes, figures, and playsets that would build a sense of wonder for a kid. Seeing various images of toys and things like a Castle Grayskull playset, it’s clear how Wingard is looking to bring out a unique sense of excitement for watching these giant monsters in action.

Skarred For Life

After putting Godzilla and Kong in a film where they’d face off against each other, one may wonder where you go next as far as presenting a significant challenge. Wingard also knew this was the case, explaining, “When you have a movie called Godzilla x Kong, you can’t just have another run-of-the-mill kind of situation for them to be in. You have to come up with something that is going to require a team to take it down.”

This is presented in the form of the film’s new villain, the Skar King, who is intended to shake things up for the duo. Without getting too far into detail, given that Godzilla already has a long rogue’s gallery list, this new threat easily positions itself as a real nemesis for Kong.

Wigard adds, “Because of the humanity within Kong’s character, we were able to come up with a villain like the Skar King—it opened the door where we could tell that same ‘evil side of humanity’ story, but from the monster perspective, and that means creating an even bigger threat that the Skar King is in control of. In the way that humans have armies and weapons of mass destruction, the Skar King’s got his version of that, and it’s going to take all the hero monsters in the world to band together to be able to stop him.”

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire opens in theaters on March 29, 2024.

Written by
Aaron Neuwirth is a movie fanatic and Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic from Orange County, California. He’s a member of the African American Film Critics Association, the Hollywood Critics Association, the Online Film Critics Society, and the Black Film Critics Circle. As an outgoing person who is always thrilled to discuss movies, he’s also a podcaster who has put far too many hours into published audio content associated with film and television. His work has been published at Variety, We Live Entertainment, Why So Blu, The Young Folks, Firstshowing.net, Screen Rant, and Hi-Def Ninja.

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