The Inverse Interview

Adam Wingard, Master of the MonsterVerse

The director of Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire reveals the secrets to helming the titan-sized franchise — and what comes next.

Lais Borges/Inverse; Warner Bros; Getty
The Inverse Interview

When Adam Wingard needs to come up with a new kaiju (the Japanese term for giant monsters like Godzilla), the first thing he does is imagine himself as a kid walking through Walmart’s toy section in 1980s America.

“I loved the way the designs of toys kind of jumped off the shelf,” Wingard tells Inverse. “And so, even though I should preface that I do not make any money off of Godzilla toys and have never created anything specifically to be a toy, I do actually take a lot of influence, strangely enough, from the idea of designing toys.”

Speaking to me over Zoom, the 41-year-old director has the look of a wizened dark wizard. The boyish face I remember from our last interview back in 2021 is now eclipsed by a tangled salt-and-pepper beard that hangs far below his chin and framed by long, dark black hair. But after just a few minutes of conversation, it’s clear that underneath the surface he’s still that kid staring up at Walmart’s gleaming toy shelves with a sense of childhood wonder.

“When I was imagining Skar King and Shimo, I kind of pictured what it would look like in the '80s on a toy shelf.”

Eric Charbonneau/Getty Images Entertainment

In Wingard’s latest movie, Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, that inspiration is crystal clear. The movie’s primary villain, a foil to King Kong named Skar King, is a lanky, red primate wielding a whip made of monster bones. The same goes for Godzilla’s new rival, Shimo, a primordial dinosaur with snow-white skin and icy breath. The Saturday morning action-figure commercials practically write themselves.

“When I was imagining Skar King and Shimo, I kind of pictured what it would look like in the '80s on a toy shelf,” Wingard says. “That the inspiration for Skar King being this kind of devilish looking cherry-red ape, something that really stands out and is splashy design-wise. Similarly with Shimo, they have a strong silhouette. Aesthetically, that was very important.”

Having squashed their beef in 2021’s Godzilla vs. Kong, the duo are now teaming up to take on this new pair of titans. This showdown sets the stage for some epic kaiju battles in Wingard’s second consecutive entry in the MonsterVerse, the Marvel-esque branding for Legendary Pictures’ take on the historic IP. While plenty of directors have contributed to the series (starting with Gareth Edwards in 2014’s Godzilla reboot and leading up to Matt Shakman in the Apple TV+ spinoff show Monarch: Legacy of Monsters), arguably no one has had as much influence on this franchise as Wingard.

Skar King is a new character invented as a foil to King Kong.

Warner Bros. Discovery

After getting his start as the twisted mind behind mumblecore horror hits like You’re Next and The Guest (and a couple of questionable adaptations we won’t bother to mention here), Wingard eventually found himself behind the wheel of the MonsterVerse. Since then, he’s proven to be surprisingly adept at steering the titan-sized franchise while finding increasingly creative ways to make Godzilla, King Kong, and various other kaiju smash into each other as puny humans flee underfoot.

But what sets Wingard’s take on the genre apart might just come down to that ‘80s action figure aesthetic: simple yet memorable character designs that cut a striking figure against some truly stunning backdrops. This approach becomes particularly obvious when you compare the MonsterVerse to another kaiju franchise: Pacific Rim.

“I think they [Toho] have a little bit of PTSD from 1998 Godzilla.”

“Guillermo Del Toro's take on the monsters is really cool and fresh because he's going in that very Lovecraft direction where if you try to picture a lot of those monsters in your head, you close your eyes, you can't really picture them,” Wingard says. “That's by design because there's so many crazy elements put together in that Lovecraft way. Whereas I want the opposite with our monsters. I want them to have this kind of simplicity of silhouette and color that draws you in and makes you imprint on them.”

And yet, at the risk of repeating myself, there’s more to Wingard’s MonsterVerse than just two-hour toy commercials. With Godzilla x Kong, the director reveals a surprisingly nuanced take on the franchise, striking a delicate balance between the epic action fans demand and a more nuanced take on these iconic characters. Here’s how he pulled it off — and what he might do next if given the chance to complete his Godzilla/Kong trilogy.

A Godzilla Movie About Vibes

Adam Wingard with MonsterVerse stars Rebecca Hall and Dan Stevens.

Warner Bros. Discovery

2024 is already a historic year for Godzilla. In early March, Toho (the Japanese studio that created Godzilla back in 1954) won a visual effects Oscar for Godzilla: Minus One, the first time the oversized lizard has taken home an Academy Award in 70 years. While Toho’s interaction with the MonsterVerse movies is minimal, there may be some loose connections between Godzilla: Minus One and Godzilla x Kong.

“I wasn't even really that aware of Minus One's existence until the trailer dropped that everybody else saw,” Wingard says. “But I was inspired by it right away.”

“Let them cook.”

But while Toho’s recent Godzilla movies have sought to portray the character as a ruthless monster and a symbol of Japan’s own socio-political issues, the MonsterVerse draws more inspiration from the late period of Showa Era movies, a run of 15 films released between 1954 and 1975 during which time Godzilla transformed from a humanity’s doom to humanity’s protector, fighting off other kaiju like King Ghidora and Mechagodzilla. Similarly in the MonsterVerse, Godzilla is largely portrayed as Earth’s primordial protector — even if he sometimes smashes a few skyscrapers along the way.

The Showa Era movies can also get very weird. Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972) famously used speech bubbles to give the kaiju dialogue. Godzilla x Kong doesn’t go quite that far, but it does make some fascinating visual choices.

“I just love the vibe and the psychedelic kind of feel of those movies,” Wingard says.

Much of Godzilla x Kong takes place in a secret location hidden inside the Earth and powered by magic crystals.

Warner Bros. Discovery

But while the director’s take on Godzilla may be rooted in the past, his portrayal of King Kong is unlike anything we’ve seen before. Not only has Kong never had his own archenemy (“Unless you count humans,” Wingard notes), but the new movie also offers up a surprisingly deep take on the giant ape.

Godzilla x Kong opens on a day in the life of King Kong. He hunts for his dinner, looks for other monkeys, and even heads up to the surface for some dental work (yes, this is really a thing that happens in the movie).

“The thing I was really excited about with this film was the moments between the fighting, being able to just be with the monsters as characters,” Wingard says. “It's more interesting to see Kong vibing out than it is him fighting.”

Later on, Kong uncovers an entire ape civilization living in hidden isolation, which is where he meets the evil Skar King along with Suko, a smaller but still very large ape who takes on a sidekick role. A decent chunk of the movie’s middle act is devoted to Kong’s interactions with these other apes, all played out wordlessly through grunts, shrieks, gestures, and facial expressions.

Suko, another new creation in Godzilla x Kong, acts as sidekick to the iconic ape.

Warner Bros. Discovery

Wingard credits Weta Workshop, the special effects studio originally created for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, with bringing Kong and his new friends to life.

“Nobody knows apes like Weta,” he says. “They've been doing it for 20 years now basically on different movies, and some literal King Kong movies. They're the masters at it. They just seem to really understand Kong's personality.”

“You're working with the best people in the industry,” he adds. “So what's the phrase? Let them cook.”

What’s Next for the MonsterVerse?

Adam Wingard at the world premiere of Godzilla x Kong.

Michael Buckner/Variety/Getty Images

Working on a Godzilla movie is, by its very definition, a collaborative affair. From the special effects to the storyboards (drawn up by industry veteran Richard Bennett), it takes a village to make a MonsterVerse. And while you might expect the folks at Toho to feel precious about how Hollywood is treating their prized kaiju, Wingard says the Japanese studio is surprisingly hands-off — with one exception.

“I think they have a little bit of PTSD from 1998 Godzilla, if I'm reading between the lines,” the director hints. “Nobody said that to me directly, but that's my own assumption.”

When I push for an example of a time that Toho did push back, the answer reveals just how much the studio cares about protecting its IP.

“We had slightly tweaked the color of Godzilla's scales,” Wingard says. “I know that was one thing that they pushed back against, and they were 100% correct.”

Wingard references storyboards created by industry veteran Richard Bennett while directing the movie.

Warner Bros. Discovery

The sprawling nature of the MonsterVerse also means keeping an eye on continuity between the various movies and spinoffs. In 2023, Legendary launched its first Godzilla show with Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, which featured multiple timelines and a plotline involving time distortion. To avoid any issues, Wingard invited the Monarch team to visit the Godzilla x Kong writers room and check out early concept art.

“I gave them a tour of everything we were doing,” Wingard says. “But we knew we weren't really overlapping time frames or anything like that. And we didn't really talk a lot about the whole time distortion thing.”

“I'd be very interested in turning it into a trilogy.”

As for what comes next, while there’s little doubt that Godzilla will keep crushing buildings and fighting monsters until the end of the universe (and maybe even after that, too), the story of the MonsterVerse is being written one chapter at a time. Despite its Marvel Cinematic Universe-inspired title, this is not a franchise that gets planned out in multi-year phases. Each new movie depends on the success of the last one, meaning we won’t know what’s next until Godzilla x Kong has a chance to trample a theater near you.

But just in case, Wingard says he’s planted a few clues as to where the saga could go from here, and given the opportunity, he’d be happy to return for at least more Godzilla/Kong smackdown.

“Within Godzilla x Kong we really actually laid in some Easter eggs of some potential directions that we would go with a sequel,” he says. “I'd be very interested in turning it into a trilogy, but time will tell and we'll just have to see how this one does ultimately. I know that's a shitty answer, but it’s true.”

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