Adam Wingard left it all on the field.
Despite the challenges of setting up an epic fight between two of the most famous monsters in movie history, the “Godzilla vs. Kong” director insists that there isn’t some four-hour long, Snyder Cut version just waiting to be released. So sorry kaiju fans, the film that will premiere in theaters and on HBO Max on March 31 is the director’s cut. That’s because Wingard is a big believer in keeping his movies clocking in at an efficient two hours instead of larding them up with exposition.
“Godzilla vs. Kong” represented a major step forward for Wingard, who previously helmed low-budget horror films and thrillers such as “Blair Witch” and “The Guest.” But it was also a chance for him to tap into his inner-child, giving him the opportunity to stage a fight to the death between two primordial beasts, a clash of the titans that will tie the various threads of Legendary Pictures’ four-film MonsterVerse together.
Was it hard to tell a story that gave equal weight to both King Kong and Godzilla?
Not at all. It gave me a clear pathway for how to focus this story. It allows you to bounce around in interesting ways. A lot happens in this film — we go all over the world, we go into the Earth, we go everywhere. The details of how you get from one place to another are less interesting than the big moments and this film is all about creating totally dense entertainment. Because we had these two characters to follow, it allowed us to just stay focused on the most interesting moments. Would there be an interesting sequence about how do you get a 300-foot gorilla on a boat? Maybe, but that’s going to take awhile and you might be better served going to the next big sequence. We don’t want to waste anyone’s time, so we had these big movie throws where you have a line and then you’re off to the next thing. It’s a movie for kids, too, so I put myself in the mindset of when I was a kid and remember the attention span that I had then.
Did you struggle to keep the film’s running time at two hours?
A lot of the fans online were all asking me is this going to be a three-hour film? When it was announced that it was a little under two hours they immediately thought — when is the director’s cut coming out? I like movies under two hours. I think if you do a movie over two hours, you better have a damn good reason for it to be that long. At the end of the day, if you’re going to make this movie into three hours, you’re not going to get an extra hour of monsters fighting. You’re going to get an extra hour of people talking about monsters.
So there won’t be a Snyder Cut of “Godzilla vs. Kong”?
No Snyder Cut for me. This is it.
This is the biggest film you’ve ever made. Was it daunting to move from indies and lower-budgeted horror movies to a big-budget franchise?
You have to know that you’re not bigger than the franchise and you have to be able to tell the story you want to tell and put as much of yourself in it, but it has to work within the framework that you’ve been handed. When you’re doing low-budget indie films, you’re constantly saying, we can’t afford to do this, so we can’t even think about doing it. On a big-budget movie like this, it’s the opposite. For me, it was the first time as a filmmaker I was able to open myself up to unlimited imagination.
How did you approach the fight scenes?
We allow the topography of the battle locations to guide us. Some of the criticism leveled at monster movies is that it’s always just monsters smacking each other and rolling around. I wanted the action scenes to be more memorable. For our first major action scene, which is an ocean battle, we have Kong at a severe disadvantage. He can’t really swim that well. He can’t hold his breath. Godzilla swims really well. He’s on his turf and he already has an advantage because he’s a stronger monster.
Did you side more with Kong or Godzilla?
You can’t help but identify with Kong more. He’s more like us. I’ve always been a bigger Godzilla fan, but I found myself falling in love with Kong in a way that I wasn’t expecting to. I really worried about him. There are certain things in the scripts that came about and were supposed to happen to him and I nixed them. I felt too bad for him.
“Godzilla vs. Kong” was originally scheduled to open in theaters, but it will now debut simultaneously on HBO Max. How do you feel about that decision?
If you asked me that a couple months ago my answer would have been different. I made this movie for the theaters and to be the biggest spectacle of all time, but the world changed in the middle of making the film. So whenever the HBO Max announcement happened, I was devastated. I understood why they were doing it. But I felt it would still take away from the experience of people seeing it in the theaters, where it was meant to be seen. What healed me and put things in a different light was when the trailer was released. We had not put out any footage. No one knew what this movie looked like until the trailer dropped in January. I remember that day seeing these reaction videos and people went through the roof. They were responding to the pure pleasure of watching King Kong punch Godzilla in the mouth. It felt like people were reinvigorated with the feeling of mainstream, popcorn cinema again. It made me realize that at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter where people see this thing. We’ve got to get movies out there. We can all talk about the cinematic experience all we want and say we need to preserve that, but we’re not preserving that experience by pushing movies into next year. Movies have to start coming out again so a semblance of normalcy can return.
Your next movie, a reboot of “Face/Off,” is also about a major confrontation. Will you apply any lessons from “Godzilla vs. Kong” when you make the film?
They’re so different. “Godzilla vs. Kong” is about two icons pairing off against each other. The “Face/Off” story that I’m telling is much more of a family story. But I’m sure the experience of making this movie will make “Face/Off” more of an epic movie. I have the knowledge now of how to make a really big, thrilling movie, which will play into it.