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Thursday, March 4, 2021

Clash of the Titans: A ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ MonsterVerse Primer

“One will fall.”

In what’s shaping up to be a battle for the ages between two iconic movie monsters, the poster promises that the brawl between Godzilla and King Kong won’t end in a draw. That’s something that director Adam Wingard reinforced in an interview with Entertainment Weekly, stating, “I do want there to be a winner. The original film was very fun, but you feel a little let down that the movie doesn’t take a definitive stance. People are still debating now who won in that original movie, you know. So, I do want people to walk away from this film feeling like, okay, there is a winner.”

Godzilla vs. Kong is set to release on March 31 in theaters and HBO Max. While we’ll have to wait to discover the outcome of this epic brawl, first we need to look back on the three films in Legendary’s MonsterVerse so far. Whether you need clues for what’s ahead or a general reminder of the events that have transpired- including the secret government agency Monarch’s role in the chaos- consider this your primer.

Godzilla (2014)

Directed by Gareth Edwards (MonstersRogue One: A Star Wars Story), this reboot gave a quick setup to the prehistoric predator in 1954. Cut to 1999, where Monarch scientists Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) investigating the remains of a giant monster in a Philippines’ cavern. Along with the remains are two spores, one of them hatched with a trail that leads into the sea.

Around the same time, the Janjira Nuclear Power Plant experiences catastrophic seismic anomalies that cause a breach in the reactor. It results in many deaths as the reactor is sealed closed, including lead engineer Joe Brody’s (Bryan Cranston) wife.

Fifteen years later, Joe’s son, Ford Brody (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), has grown up and created a family his own, while Joe still desperately searches for answers behind the plant’s downfall. With Ford in tow, Joe sneaks back into the long-condemned Janjira quarantine zone for clues. They’re captured by Monarch’s team and discover that they’re performing tests on a gigantic chrysalis that’s fed off the nuclear reactor since its closure. A giant winged creature, referred to as a MUTO (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organism), emerges and destroys the facility in its escape. That MUTO and a second wingless MUTO that emerges from underground near Las Vegas begin a path of destruction in their quest to feed off of nuclear energy and mate.

Enter Godzilla, who arrives from the sea to defeat the MUTOs before they decimate humanity. San Francisco provides the final battleground. The apex predator takes a significant beating but ultimately proves successful in taking out both the male and female kaiju. Dubbed “King of the Monsters” by the media, Godzilla gets an assist by humans; Ford leads the charge in destroying the MUTO eggs.

Key Takeaways: Godzilla establishes the eponymous monster as a guardian figure that keeps other monsters in line while paying respects to the original 1954 film. Edwards frames this Kaiju story through the lens of a young soldier trying to make his way back home to his family, keeping Godzilla just out of reach until a thrilling finale. Look for Easter eggs throughout, including nods to Mothra as well as the character name Ishiro Serizawa (a mashup of the original film’s director, Ishrio Honda, and that movie’s lead character Dr. Daisuke Serizawa). Perhaps more importantly, Godzilla establishes Project Monarch. This agency acts as the franchise’s throughline, connecting each entry. 

Kong: Skull Island (2017)

Much like Godzilla, director Jordan Vogt-Roberts‘s Kong: Skull Island opens with a past sequence. In 1944, two opposing fighter pilots of World War II parachuted onto an island and continued their dogfight on land until they were interrupted by a preternaturally massive ape. Cut to 1973, where Monarch senior officer Bill Randa (John Goodman) convinces a government official to give him the funding to assemble a team to investigate the recently discovered Skull Island.

Led by helicopter squadron leader Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson), that team flew over Skull Island and immediately got grounded and separated by an angry Kong. The various groups of survivors run afoul of oversized creatures that naturally inhabit the area and a tribe of natives that revere Kong as a god. Through one of the surviving soldiers from the opening, Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly), it’s revealed that Kong is still very young and the last of his species. Kong’s family were destroyed by the “Skull Crawlers,” underground creatures that surfaced after strange seismic activity. Kong, named by Marlow, takes out the small ones as quickly as possible before they grow too large and dangerous.

Thanks to Packard’s vendetta, he tasks his surviving team with detonating bombs to trap and destroy Kong. Instead, it awakens the largest Skull Crawler of all. Kong, the island’s protector, goes toe to toe with the creature and manages to destroy it with some assistance from the humans. The giant watches as the survivors meet their rendezvous point and evacuate. Leads Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) and Weaver (Brie Larson) get detained by Monarch, where they’re informed that Kong is hardly the only monstrous king in the world. 

Key Takeaways: Like GodzillaSkull Island establishes its eponymous beast as a benevolent protector of the Earth or restorer of balance. Marlow comments explicitly on the ape’s still-growing status, laying the groundwork for a more level playing field in Godzilla vs. KongSkull Island gives a peek into an earlier Project Monarch era that teases upcoming introductions to Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah. 

Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019)

Set five years after the events of Godzilla, Monarch has been hard at work tracking and studying the MUTOs, now reclassified as Titans. Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) and her daughter Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) witness the larval birth of Titan Mothra from an underground facility in China. Dr. Russell uses the opportunity to test out her device Orca, which emits frequencies to communicate with the giant monsters. Their calm moment gets interrupted when eco-terrorists, led by former British Army Colonel Alan Jonah (Charles Dance), slaughter Monarch employees and kidnap the Russells.

Monarch scientists Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) team up with Emma’s ex-husband Mark (Kyle Chandler) to track them down, though Mark bears a grudge against Godzilla for the death of his son in San Francisco’s destruction.

Emma has gone rogue, aiding Jonah in his quest to revive monsters King Ghidorah and Rodan. Attempts to stop them by Godzilla and Monarch fail, resulting in the awakening of dormant Titans and destructive battles. With Mothra and Monarch’s aid, Godzilla prevails against King Ghidorah and earns the submission of the remaining Titans as the King of the Monsters. Those Titans help heal the planet, and cave paintings tease a prophetic battle between Godzilla and King Kong. A post-credits scene reveals the possibility of King Ghidorah’s future resurrection.

Key Takeaways: Director Michael Dougherty (Trick ‘r TreatKrampus) unites some of the most popular Kaiju on screen for a big-budget monster spectacle. It serves as the introduction to favorites Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah, but it also establishes a Titan hierarchy. Earth’s Titans are shown to follow the Apex; they destroy under King Ghidorah’s lead yet restore nature under Godzilla’s resumed leadership. Monarch continues to flesh out the mythology as the audience proxy.

Godzilla vs. Kong (2021) – What We Know So Far

Per the synopsis, King Kong will undertake a journey to find his real home. Joining that quest is a mysterious young girl named Jia (Kaylee Hottle), who shares a unique bond with the giant ape. They find themselves in the path of an enraged Godzilla, sparking an epic clash between the giants that’s instigated by unseen forces. 

Returning players include Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) and Dr. Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) from Godzilla: King of the Monsters, but expect several new human characters as well. That includes Shun Oguri’s Ren Serizawa, a probable relative of Monarch’s Ishiro Serizawa. 

With Mechagodzilla speculated to appear, based on the teaser and a possible leaked toyline, it seems a safe bet to blame humans as a primary instigator in the grudge match between Godzilla and King Kong. While the mechanized Kaiju’s origin changes a bit, Mechagodzilla is often depicted as a human-made weapon meant to defend against Godzilla. Another supporting clue that humanity plays a pivotal role in this battle is an early interview with director Adam Wingard from Birth.Movies.Death, where the filmmaker stated an emphasis on character development in conjunction with the monster mayhem. With the previous films establishing a slew of Titans, from Skull Crawlers to allies like Mothra, it wouldn’t be surprising if at least one or two other Kaijus made an appearance, too. 

In 1962’s King Kong vs. Godzilla, it was Kong that emerged victorious. Or at least, emerged at all. The two juggernauts battled underwater, and only Kong surfaced. However, it was speculated that Godzilla could have survived, leading to a decades long debate which Titan won. If we’re going strictly by an even score and recent teasers, it’s entirely possible that Godzilla vs. Kong will give Godzilla the edge. The atomic beast is, after all, the King of the Monsters. 

We only have to wait until March 31 to find out!


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