How Godzilla vs. Kong could save the Monsterverse
In a recent Deadline article, it was reported that Warner Bros. were considering delaying the release of next year’s Monsterverse (ugh, so dumb) installment Godzilla vs. Kong, with studio head Toby Emmerich suggesting that “it might come out later in the year, so we can deliver an A+ movie.”
And for anyone who has seen Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Emmerich’s concerns are very understandable. Sloppy, poorly paced, and just plain dull, King of the Monsters misunderstood pretty much everything that has made Godzilla such an iconic character. So how can Godzilla vs. Kong bounce back and return us to the glory days?
Emphasise the scale of Godzilla and crew
Witnessing 400 foot monsters rampaging through cities and battling each other is a pretty exciting prospect on paper. But, through a series of major missteps, King of the Monsters managed to turn the battle between Godzilla, Gidora, Rhodan etc. into a Transformers-esque slog that sapped the film of literally any excitement or tension.
So how can Godzilla vs. Kong re-inject the wow factor back into its title characters?
Arguably most important is how to shoot Godzilla and co. In Gareth Edward’s 2014 Godzilla (the first film in this “cinematic universe,” a term that seems inescapable these days) and Jordan Vogt-Robert’s 2017 Kong: Skull Island, the size and power of the monsters was emphasised by mostly positioning the camera either on the ground looking up or from a distance.
Along with keeping the camera tethered in certain positions, preventing it from constantly flying around and cutting to a different shot every 1.5 seconds in typical Michael Bay style (which would risk losing any sense of realism or continuity), this meant that we were consistently viewing Godzilla and Kong from the position of the human characters, meaning that the 108 metres tall Godzilla really did feel 108 metres tall. This really was immersion at its finest.
For example, check out this scene from the 2014 film:
This is a perfect example of the lessons that Godzilla vs. Kong should take from its successful predecessors (obviously excluding King of the Monsters). The way that we witness most of the action from inside the monorail car and the airport terminal positions us firmly amongst the humans, serving to increase the terror of the scene tenfold. This, coupled with the use of superb sound design when Godzilla enters the scene and the camera gradually panning up his body, is how these monsters should be depicted.
Now compare this to King of the Monsters. The camera is unrestrained here, constantly cutting between close-ups and long shots on the monsters and thus shattering any sense as to the scale or power of these titans, all the while shattering any attempt at realism or immersion.
Corridor Digital described this issue best in a recent video comparing Pacific Rim with its sequel, which suffered from a similar problem (start at 5:28):
As they explain, Pacific Rim Uprising abandoned the realistic camera usage from the first film in favour of an “ethereal camera” that moves “without any sort of relation to real space,” the exact same problem that contributed to Godzilla: King of the Monsters being such a slog.
So, Adam Wingard (director of Godzilla vs. Kong) and Warner Bros, take note (and listen to this dumb internet blogger)! To properly honour the lead characters of your film, the positioning of the camera is absolutely crucial; sticking to realistic shots and abandoning awful techniques like digital zooms is key. These ingredients, after all, are what made other “big scary monster” films like Cloverfield (see below) and the imaginatively named Monsters (Gareth Edward’s previous film) so memorable.
Make the human characters interesting (or at least tolerable)
Both Gareth Edwards and Jordan Vogt-Roberts understood that writing interesting human characters was almost equally as important as how the monsters were depicted, with both directors having previous experience in crafting well-rounded characters (Vogt-Roberts’ debut Kings of Summer is superb in this regard). Mike Dougherty (director of Godzilla: King of the Monsters) did not. Speaking in an interview with Polygon, Dougherty explained that he had used “T2 [Terminator 2], and Aliens as really good references of second chapters that built upon what was established in the first film to create a sequel that ideally is considered just as good, if not better.”
Except, what Mike forgot is that T2 and Aliens both have compelling and well remembered characters like Ripley and Sarah Connor, alongside their game-changing action setpieces, flawless camerawork etc. etc. For example, everyone remembers their iconic lines like “Get away from her, you bitch!” and “There is no fate but what we make for ourselves." Good job James Cameron (roll on Avatar 3: The Seed Bearer).
Now try and imagine any of the characters from King of the Monsters being similarly well remembered in years to come. Imagine people quoting the purely expositional dialogue that Vera Farmiga, Kyle Chandler and Charles Dance are forced to deliver. And if Millie Bobby Brown’s character Madison, who spends the whole film either screaming or crying, becomes an iconic figure, then all hope is lost.
So for Godzilla vs. Kong, the human characters can’t just be used as vehicles for exposition. Providing them with more of a background and allowing them at least some depth beyond “I’m a really good scientist” or “I’m a concerned dad” would be a big step. “ 2014’s Godzilla drew significant criticism for not featuring its central character enough but personally, I felt the balance between the monster set pieces and the human characters was handled perfectly, and that was largely down to the writing and the time spent building these characters and giving them interesting backgrounds.
No more eco-terrorists
What more is there to say? An utterly ridiculous King of the Monsters plotline that was the biggest waste of Charles Dance you’ll ever see. No more of that thanks!
Ultimately, I am cautiously excited for Godzilla vs. Kong. Adam Wingard has proven his skills (besides that awful Blair Witch remake) and if the same care is taken regarding the depiction of both the monsters and humans that Godzilla and Skull Island exhibited, then we may be looking at a huge success. Fingers crossed that the Monsterverse (so so dumb) can get back on track next year.
Thanks for reading! Let me know what you thought of King of the Monsters (or the Monsterverse in general) down in the comments.