Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire
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Godzilla X Kong: The New Empire

"Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire" was released in theaters worldwide on March 29.

It was indisputable which actors appeared in "Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire." None of the humans, including Rebecca Hall, Brian Tyree Henry, and Dan Stevens, were present. Since the inception of cinema, actors have recognized that the celebrity is the individual whose name appears in the title, notwithstanding the fact that, technically speaking, they were not present on set.

"They play the lead roles in the film," Hall stated to The Associated Press. "We constitute the scale."

The film, which will be released worldwide on March 29, is a continuation of "Godzilla vs. Kong," the 2021 confrontation between Kong, who is 337 feet tall, and Godzilla, who is 393 feet tall. Additionally, it is a continuation of the Monsterverse started by Legendary in 2014 with "Godzilla" and continued through 2017 with "Kong: Skull Island." If "where do you go after the versus?" appears to be an inherent dilemma with high stakes, then filmmaker Adam Wingard perceived the path as unambiguous. He heard the shouts and applause in the theater when the titans battled Mechagodzilla together: For the sequel, he knew they needed to team up.

“The last film on the surface looks like an everything in the kitchen sink type movie: We battle all over the world, we do all these crazy things. But there’s still so much left to do,” Wingard said. “These movies can hold up with the Titans, the monsters, as the point of view.”

“Godzilla x Kong” contains lengthy sequences of dialogue-free storytelling concentrated only on the creatures — particularly Kong, who has found his home in Hollow Earth but is a little lonely. He also introduces several new titans, including Skar King (318 feet tall), and a diminutive Kong named Suko (149 feet tall).

For Wingard, it felt both innovative to do on a film of this magnitude and also like a lifetime fantasy come true. It is, he said, the movie he wished to see at age 10, when he first fell for Godzilla films.

“The whole drive I had for myself as a filmmaker in making this movie was trying to appeal to the inner 10-year-old in me,” Wingard said. “Because that was my initiation into the whole thing I think I’m still sort of aiming towards that kid, trying to show him a good time.”

The Human Factor

Godzilla x Kong The New Empire' Gets Stunning Cavity Colors Collection

Loving Godzilla movies and making one is a different proposition entirely. Just ask the actors.

“The first movie I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know how large the movie actually was,” said Kaylee Hottle, who is deaf, through an interpreter. “And at the end I thought to myself, oh, that was cool.”

She was only 10 during the first movie and 15 while filming the second, working most closely with Hall, who portrays her adoptive mother.

“There was a very steep learning curve that she completely scaled in no time at all,” Hall said. “In this one she was that much older and wiser and smart to the whole thing.”

Hall was also thrilled to finally share some sequences (and dialogue) with Henry, back as the monstrous fanboy/conspiracy blogger Bernie Hayes.

“I remember on the first one I was quite sad that Brian and I only had one day of filming together for the end scene,” Hall recalled.

Henry agreed, saying “there was a lot of play that we wanted to have on this one" and they knew they were in safe hands with Wingard, who is a “kid at heart.” On Halloween, he arrived to set costumed as 1930s director.

The newcomer was Stevens, who starred in Wingard’s 2014 thriller “The Guest." His character, Trapper, is a Titan veterinary in a Hawaiian shirt.

“I think his pitch to me was a particular scene where my character gets to fly this crazy spaceship through electrical buzzing creatures, saying cool lines,” Stevens said. “I was like, ‘that sounds great.’”

Henry said the character was a bit like Patrick Swayze’s in “Road House.”

Stevens added: “With a sprinkling of Ace Ventura in there.”

Filming With(Out) Monsters

They kept one another sane on the green or blue screen days of filming with a man with a foam finger or a tennis ball on a pole to help get their eyes gazing in the correct place. All concur that “Kong neck” (having your neck at the correct angle to gaze upon the colossus for protracted periods of time) can be a genuine struggle.

And just as actors don’t quite explicitly train for “Kong neck,” directors also don’t get instructions on just how to create a movie like this. Wingard said by the end of the first, he’d just begun to feel comfortable.

“You can read every back issue of Cinefex Magazine that exists, but until you’re actually making one of these things and learning how to frame eyelines for characters looking up at 300-foot-tall monsters and trying to get emotional reactions out of that? There’s only so many methods to create these creatures too,” he said. “Almost half of it is fully animated sequences. It’s like you’re making an animated film, it’s just hyper realistic.”

Kong Catches a Ride on Godzilla in 'The New Empire' Teaser

That’s part of the reason why he made sure to take his actors and personnel to actual locations every opportunity they got, including the Daintree Rainforest in Australia. There were enormous anacondas and cassowaries around, but the greatest anxiety was doing any damage to the environment. Many meetings were had about not handling anything, which is especially hilarious for a Godzilla movie. But it was all worth it.

“It’s so easy to shoot everything in front of a green screen,” he said. “But at the end of the day there’s an artificiality to that.”

Hall and the other actors noted how essential the sets and locations were to the experience — particularly with two no-show stars who had to be added later.

“Kong and Godzilla wouldn’t show up to set, so you had to make believe,” Hall said.

“Stayed in their trailer all day,” Stevens quipped.

No Competing Godzillas

If it seems like there’s a lot of “Godzilla” in theaters lately, it’s true. “ Godzilla Minus One,” the first Toho Godzilla film since 2016’s “Shin Godzilla,” just claimed the Oscar for best visual effects. It also performed well in U.S. theaters in December and January, but had to make a graceful departure by February because of the licensing agreement with Legendary.

That doesn’t imply there’s ill will between the productions. “Godzilla Minus One” director Takashi Yamazaki and Wingard have geeked out together about Kaiju and how their pets inspired their Godzillas. But it could also take some time before “Godzilla Minus One” receives a streaming release stateside, at least until the dust settles from “Godzilla x Kong.”

Warner Bros., which has released several successes in recent months including “ Wonka ” and “ Dune: Part Two,” is bringing “Godzilla x Kong” out nationwide and exclusively in theaters. Like the first “Dune,” “Godzilla vs. Kong” was part of the company’s 2021 day-and-date release strategy. And yet it still did business, both in theaters and on streaming where it was for a time the streamer's greatest success.

Wingard enjoyed being part of that period when theater proprietors were reassured that audiences still wanted to come to the cinemas. But he’s thrilled to just get a routine release this time, without the pandemic caveat. Both Godzilla and Kong are some of the eldest cinema icons still in action, after all.

“It’s so massive in scale. It’s so grand,” Henry said. “This is the kind of movie you go to the theaters for because you don’t want to be the only one Kong necking.”