Some thoughts on the next shared monster universe, from Godzilla 2 to the inevitable Godzilla vs. Kong.
This article contains spoilers for Kong: Skull Island and Godzilla.
When the long-awaited reboot of Godzilla arrived in theaters in May 2014, fans breathed a cautious sigh of relief. Director Gareth Edwards had made a film that, while flawed, was respectful of and faithful to many of the elements that made the 1954 original — as well as a number of later sequels — such a longstanding and iconic monster movie: the seriousness of intent even with a premise so outlandish, the sense of awe and mythic power surrounding Godzilla himself, and the epic clashes between gigantic, nightmarish beasts that have always been at the heart of the kaiju genre.
It was not long after that — at that July’s Comic-Con, in fact — that Legendary Pictures president Thomas Tull created a sensation when he announced during Legendary’s panel presentation that not only was Godzilla 2 in the works (it’s arriving on March 22, 2019, and might be retitled Godzilla: King of the Monsters), but that Toho was pleased enough with the first film to agree to license its other major kaiju — namely Rodan, Mothra, and Godzilla’s three-headed arch-nemesis, King Ghidorah — to the American studio for use in future movies.
Then, of course, it was revealed that Legendary had also nabbed the rights to King Kong. The resulting film, Kong: Skull Island, roared into theaters this past March to generally good reviews (77% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes) and decent if not spectacular box office (as of this writing it has earned $157 million in the U.S. and $379 million internationally, for a worldwide total of around $535 million against a budget of $180 million). With the reboot of Kong and the planned continuation of the Godzilla series, Legendary made it clear that a confrontation between the two was inevitable, with Godzilla vs. Kong now penciled in for May 29, 2020.
So with a suddenly bigger kaiju playground to romp and smash around in, the groundwork has been laid for a cinematic “monsterverse” of giant, city-leveling creatures that will essentialy update and modernize the classic galaxy of films produced by Japan’s Toho Studios over the past six decades. The mythology established in 2014’s Godzilla hinted at the idea of vast creatures existing well before humankind ever set foot on the planet, and Kong: Skull Island made that explicit, with the character played by John Goodman explaining that the secretive MONARCH organization — also introduced in Godzilla — has been tracking these beasts, which have largely remained hidden deep under the Earth’s crust but have showing signs of re-emerging. That would no doubt have catastrophic consequences for the seven billion puny humans scurrying around on the surface.
If Goodman’s explanation didn’t make it abundantly clear, the bonus scene at the end of Kong: Skull Island sealed the deal, with the survivors of the Skull Island expedition — Tom Hiddleston and Brie Larson — being shown cave paintings matching the shape of Godzilla, Rodan, Mothra and Ghidorah, with the paintings seemingly foretelling an epic clash between Godzilla and Ghidorah as well. Will Godzilla: King of the Monsters focus on this battle, while also working Rodan and Mothra into the storyline?
Ghidorah has usually been sent by aliens to raze the Earth and wipe out its monster guardians, so my initial thought was that the first Godzilla sequel could be more “grounded” in the sense that it would involve the big green beast battling earthbound menaces like Rodan (who bears somewhat of a resemblance to the 2014 movie’s non-specific MUTOs), while the introduction of King Ghidorah in a third film could bring space and extraterrestrial races into the mix. But with Godzilla vs. Kong now on track for 2020, I’m guessing that Godzilla: King of the Monsters will pile all four kaiju into one film, perhaps in a scenario where smaller (relatively speaking for 400-foot-tall monsters!) clashes between Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra — the latter pair just two of the creatures making their way out of the Earth, according to MONARCH — eventually give way to a team-up to defeat Ghidorah, with Kong showing up either at the end or in a bonus scene to set the table for Godzilla vs. Kong the following year.
After that battle royale, what happens then? The original Toho movie King Kong vs. Godzilla ended in a sort of tie, with Kong winning in the U.S. version and Godzilla defeating the titanic ape in the international cut. If at least one of them survives the upcoming film, the sky is really the limit, depending on how many more monsters Toho is willing to license to Legendary and how well both King of the Monsters and Godzilla vs. Kong do at the box office. If Legendary truly want to create a new “Monsterverse” patterned off the Toho properties, the possibilities are endless — popular Godzilla antagonists like Biollante, Destoroyah, and even Megaguirus could all get their chance in the ring opposite either one of the Kings — Kong or Godzilla.
Could Rodan and Mothra also spin off into their own films, if the response to their debut in King of the Monsters is positive? I think a Rodan standalone film is less likely — I kind of imagine the giant winged reptile as Godzilla’s sidekick in the new series — but a Mothra movie could conceivably be developed as something a little less dark and frightening that could appeal to younger viewers. Don’t forget, the original Mothra movies, with their singing fairy twins and more poetic monster, were aimed a little more squarely at the children’s market – a direction all the Japanese kaiju films followed in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
No matter how it turns out, it’s now certain that there are more MONARCH “declassified” files – and more monsters – to come.