In the blistering cold Antarctic, a group of scientists huddle in the back of a futuristic jet while anxious soldiers pace about.
One of the scientists, an older man, consults with a colleague about the viability of some genetic samples. The tension is palpable. Everyone on board knows that something is very wrong.
Eventually, the soldier’s leader decides to take charge of the situation and with grim determination, he thumbs a keypad and opens the plane’s hatch door. It screams open with a bellow, like some ancient prehistoric beast opening its mouth for the first time in millennia.
With one last look at the scientists, the soldier leads his heavily armed team into the ferocious polar winds to an uncertain fate.
Suddenly a man’s voice screams out ‘cut’ and the tension immediately melts. The soldiers begin laughing with the scientists before making their way back on board the plane as a mob of makeup artists, stylists, and film crew flock around them to reset the scene for another take.
‘It’s called an Osprey. It’s the vehicle that the G-Teams use to respond to the Titan’s attacks’, my guide tells me while gesticulating in the direction of the plane, because I’m not really in the Antarctic. I’m in Atlanta.
To be specific I’m on a super secret sound-stage just outside of Atlanta on the set of a very big film, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, and trust me when I say big is the most appropriate word to use when describing this film.
A sequel to Gareth Edwards’ underrated 2014 monster movie Godzilla, which reintroduced Western audiences to everyone’s favourite prehistoric radioactive reptile of the same name, King of the Monsters sees the newest incarnation of Godzilla face off against rebooted versions of his three most fearsome foes; Mothra, Rodan and his biggest rival for the monster throne King Ghidorah.
Each of these creatures (officially called Titans rather than the traditional kaiju) poses a threat so grave to humanity that they’re described less as animals and more like walking extinction events, and are so tough that even Godzilla himself may struggle to take them down.
Thankfully the crypto-zoological organisation Monarch and their militarised G-Teams, who both prevent monster attacks and offer damage control when they emerge, are backing up Godzilla in his battle against the newly awoken Titans.
And, as you’d expect for a film about a 400-foot fire breathing lizard, the production behind King of the Monsters is immense in its scale, almost as big as Godzilla himself in fact.
Think of the biggest thing you’ve ever seen, then multiply that by something even bigger, and you’re probably only half way as big as how big this production is.
The filming is taking place in a sound-stage outside of Atlanta, which my guide reliably informs me is roughly 21 warehouses ‘glued together’ to serve as sets, offices and even living space for the cast and crew while they work on the film.
From where I’m sat at the side of the stage, I can’t actually see where the warehouse ends (I’d later learn that the bathrooms were located on the other side of the building and were a 20-minute golf cart ride away) I can see the aforementioned Osprey.
The Osprey is, as far as practical sets go, incredibly detailed, the production designers seem to have somehow travelled to the future to borrow an actual plane, and sat on board are some of King of the Monsters stars who are running through lines.
Bradley Whitford, Sally Hawkins, O’Shea Jackson Jr and Ken Watanabe (who’s returned for the sequel after his memorable performance as Dr. Serizawa) are all there discussing their plan to infiltrate the Antarctic Monarch base.
Interestingly enough it’s clear just from observing the cast and their discussion in this one scene that King of the Monsters has learned the lesson of its predecessor.
Godzilla (2014) while widely praised for how it handled the monster at the centre of the film was criticised by some for wasting its human cast, perhaps most disappointingly Bryan Cranston, who fans hoped would be central to the Monsterverse moving forward, but ended up popping his clogs before the end of the first act.
Perhaps to make up for unceremoniously pulling the rug from under Breaking Bad and Malcolm in the Middle fans across the land then those working on the film have worked hard to put together an A-list cast.
Aside from the aforementioned Monarch agents and G-Team aboard the Osprey, the cast is rounded out by Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown, The Conjuring’s Vera Farmiga, and someone who’s no stranger to powerful rivals fighting for a crown, Charles Dance, who’s playing the film’s human villain.
It’s clear that the filmmakers behind the sequel won’t be making the mistake of wasting their human cast again, which is why they’ve recruited such a stellar cast as well as the director Michael Dougherty.
Dougherty is, of course, best known for his work on cult classics like Trick R’ Treat and Krampus, where he expertly balanced characterisation and scares, skills which should serve him well on a film about monsters smashing the shit out of each other.
Dougherty would later go on to explain to Satoshi Nakamura from Tamashii Nations, one of Japan’s leading toy companies, that this was a challenge he was aware of when he came on board the film.
I think one of the biggest challenges was crafting a modern Godzilla film that balances the desire to see more of these creatures and all of that spectacle, while still creating a story with human characters that we care about.
Interestingly Dougherty also worked as a screenwriter on X2 a film that helped to kickstart the superhero film and arguably started a genre that’s dominated the Hollywood landscape for the last decade like a colossal monster.
Perhaps it’s unsurprising then that he’s been brought on board King of the Monsters, not just as a director, but also as a screenwriter (along with Zach Shields) as Warner Bros. are clearly hoping that this film will be the start of a new cinematic universe.
It’s Millie Bobby Brown who makes this clearest to me when she wanders over to the journalist pen (there were snacks) for her interview. She’s playing Madison Russell the fourteen-year-old daughter of Dr. Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler) and Dr. Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) who both work for Monarch.
Madison was born into this world of monsters, where creatures like Godzilla are real, so she has a different attitude to the Titans than we might.
She went on to explain that in the Monsterverse some there are ‘divergent philosophies’ concerning these huge creatures. When pushed on what this meant she remained tight-lipped but a later chat with Bradley Whitford and Charle Dance provided some insight on these competing philosophies.
Exuberant and charming as you’d expect from a man who’d just starred in one of the best-reviewed films of 2017, Whitford explained he was playing Dr Stanton, a Rick Sanchez, of Rick and Morty fame, inspired scientist who, in his words, was considered ‘crazy’ by his peers for believing the Earth was hollow.
When Stanton is proven right by the events of Godzilla he’s ecstatic to be vindicated but still a little off or as he put it ‘drugged out with a problematic demeanour’.
Whitford elaborated that unlike Ken Watanabe’s character, who sees Godzilla and the Titan’s battles as a natural process like the body’s immune system battling an illness, Stanton is against the Titans fighting.
The Titan’s fights it’s not a healthy aspect of the planet.
Finally, then we have the philosophy of Jonah Alan, Charles Dances’ character, who Dance describes as a former MI6 operative who’s become a ‘misguided environmentalist’, since leaving the army.
In classic Charles Dance-style, he refuses to accept he’s playing a villain (he said he prefers to use the word ‘misguided’). Instead he insists his character just has a different philosophy than the other characters, believing that the Titans should be awoken as mankind has damaged the planet and that only these colossal creatures can restore the balance.
For those wondering, Dance’s character is the reason that the G-Teams are having to infiltrate their own Antarctic base, as he and his terrorist group have taken Madison (Millie Bobby Brown) and Emma (Vera Farmiga) hostage in hopes of releasing Monster Zero, aka King Ghidorah.
“Fun fact when I jokingly suggested to Charles that taking people hostage was the work of a villain he shot me down with his best Tywin Lannister-esque glance and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t thrilled by that.”
The monsters, Mothra, Rodan and Gidorah, as you might expect considering their size loom large over the film with each and every cast member describing them in awed terms.
It’s O’Shea Jackson Jr, who’s playing Chief Warrant Officer Barnes who talks most excitingly about the trio of dangerous beasts.
Jackson explains with giddy enthusiasm his love for Japanese culture, (he mentioned Dragon Ball Z at one point and I fell in love with him a bit), Godzilla, and how incredibly happy he is to be in a film with Ghidorah in it.
While he can’t tell us too much about the specifics (the visual effects are yet to be completed) he’s most hyped for audiences to see Godzilla face off against his three-headed nemesis.
His one regret about the film? The lack of Gigan, who’s been his most ‘feared monster’ ever since he watched Godzilla vs. Gigan as a kid and saw the cyborg monster nearly kill Godzilla.
Not that Mothra, Rodan and Ghidorah are slouches when it comes to battling the King of the Monsters.
In the original Toho Godzilla films Rodan, who resembles a phoenix crossed with a pterodactyl, has battled Godzilla several times only narrowly being defeated each time.
Without spoiling too much it’s clear that Rodan has been upgraded for this film though, in concept art the creature is seen to be similar in size to Godzilla and can control fire and lava.
The most telling sign that Rodan will be a huge threat to Godzilla and our human heroes, however, is when we wander away from the Osprey and onto the next stage where my guide introduces us to the Argo.
The Argo is best described as a 1980’s submarine meets Marvel helicarrier, it dwarfs the Osprey in every conceivable way and my guide helpfully lets me know ‘it’s one of several Monarch bases, this is kind of like their sky base’.
As we wander around the partially deconstructed ship (there are carpenters taking it apart as we walk the corridors) and on to the bridge it’s obvious the Argo has seen better days. Panels and screens flicker and flash as though it’s taken a pounding.
Our production guide remains interestingly quiet on what exactly did the damage to the massive floating fortress but a painting in the production office shows Rodan approaching the Argo… so I’m willing to bet the Phoenix is responsible for the scorch marks I spotted.
As for the other monsters, well Mothra needs no introduction as one of Toho’s most popular monsters, second only to Godzilla in its total number of film appearances.
Even better, unlike Rodan, the giant moth has actually scored a win against Godzilla in Mothra vs. Godzilla (1964). Similar to Rodan the concept art (and a kick-ass statue) suggest that Mothra’s got a new look for the new millenium.
Gone are the fuzzy thorax and carapace, the new Mothra combines the slimmed down body of a hornet, the mandibles of a praying mantis and huge moth-like wings.
If the statue’s anything to go by Mothra might be even more intimidating than Rodan, although there are hints the mega moth might be on the side of angels.
Finally, we have Ghidorah a winged three-headed dragon who’s best described as a nightmare combined with a hurricane and is so large that he makes Godzilla tiny.
Ghidorah, or to give him his proper title King Ghidorah is infamous of course for, like Mothra, defeating Godzilla in his first appearance. Unlike Mothra though Ghidorah has remained a constant thorn in Godzilla’s side eventually being recognised as the only real threat to the King of the Monsters.
The first time he appeared, in the aptly named Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster, it took the combined efforts of Godzilla, Rodan and Mothra to defeat the great three-headed beast.
Can Godzilla defeat him this time? Well with the hint that it’s Ghidorah who’s the real ‘King of the Monsters’ in the Monsterverse, not Godzilla, and that the other two Titans may not want to ‘team up’ against the dragon this time who knows.
Don’t worry too much about Godzilla though, as O’Shea Jackson reminds us ‘Godzilla isn’t a fan of all these monsters showing up’, which suggests Ghidorah might be forced to abdicate the throne sooner than he likes.
Did someone say regicide?