[INTERVIEW] Michael Dougherty creates his dream giant monster movie with ‘GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS’

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Courtney Howard // Film Critic

Michael Dougherty is the perfect person to have been given the job of co-writing and directing GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS. With a career steeped in genre filmmaking, he is experienced in cinematically realizing the satisfactory thrills from both a creative and audience perspective. And he delivers exactly what fans of kaiju movies have always loved seeing: giant monsters battle it out on the big screen.

In his sequel to Gareth Edwards’ 2014 film GODZILLA, the titular titan is back to help defend Earth from the newly awakened destructive forces of sleeping giants, Rodan, King Ghidorah and a few others.

At the film’s recent press day, I spoke with the talented director about everything from the look of the film, to the fun Easter Eggs scattered throughout, to what could possibly on tap for GODZILLA VS. KONG.

Was one of your directives with the look of the giant monster battles, “Make this more metal?”

I wanted to go Biblical. I wanted this to feel like the end of days, like the Seven Plagues, you name it. To me, it had to be more than just giant monsters smashing things. It had to feel like the entire climate of the planet was shifting by their mere existence – almost borderline magical.

Did you find that there was more freedom to compose your these shots than say if you were using the classic man-in-suit technique? I know you did a little performance capture here.

The performance capture was only done for specific scenes. It wasn’t done throughout with the giant creatures. The bulk of the giant monster performances were done by our visual effects animators and then we brought in performance capture to sweeten particular moments where we wanted a little more emotion, a little more human body language between them. The technology allows you to do anything with them, which is both good and bad. We weren’t constrained or limited in the same way the original Toho films were.

The 2014 Godzilla left a lot of iconic things out that you chose to use in your sequel. I’d imagine that’s the fun of creating something like this.

If you’re going to throw me into the Godzilla sandbox, I’m going to go for it. I’m going to embrace every wish list I made as a kid and finally create the GODZILLA film I always personally wanted to see. I thought Gareth’s chapter was a really great start to it. I think you had to reintroduce Godzilla in the way he did back then because it sorta mirrors the way Godzilla was introduced in 1954. It was very grounded, very real – even grim, at times. And then as the series evolved and the audience demanded more, and fell in love with Godzilla, then he got more screen time. The movies became a little more colorful and fantastical and started to evolve from pure science-fiction, more into science-fantasy – especially when you’re introducing a colorful moth and a three-headed dragon.

You also get to create new traits for existing characters. Were there limits on what Toho would let you add?

We all understood as a team that we had to balance embracing the past and the lore and the fandom and the elements fans would want to see, to satisfy that. And like any good sequel, you had to introduce new ideas to keep it all refreshed. That means new creatures, new abilities. Obviously, we are depicting these creatures in a way they’ve never been realized before. It was fun honestly to do both – tip the hat and also put on new hats.

I can only assume there other Easter Eggs in here. I spotted a “Destroy All Monsters” protestor sign.

There are a lot. There are layers upon layers of Easter Eggs. No one that I’ve spoken to has caught them all. But this movie rewards you for paying attention. It might take multiple viewings to catch all of them. There is definitely a set of Easter Eggs towards the end of the film that would require buying the blu-ray, or on demand version and hitting the pause button very quickly.

SPOILERS AHEAD

King Ghidorah in GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS. Courtesy of Legendary and Warner Brothers Pictures.

Did you think about using any of the other monsters for some of the 17 you were going to show here? You show a MUTO and Behemoth (a mammoth from mythology). Was that spider Kumonga?

I love Kumonga. He’s an old favorite. He’s so terrifying and unnerving and an absolute dick, if I’m being honest. He goes after Godzilla’s kid. But that was not him. I’d like to think that was a sort of distant cousin of his. That was Scylla and she’s based on another Greek myth. It’s another female kaiju. And she will throw down.

I know you wrote GODZILLA VS. KONG and I’m curious, SKULL ISLAND positions Kong as a kindred, benevolent spirit to Godzilla, so what is there for the two to fight about?

I think the first mistake is labelling him benevolent. I think that’s a better word to describe Mothra. She’s nurturing and is here to protect all life and ecosystems. Whereas Kong and Godzilla are dudes and that’s working against them. They’re highly temperamental monsters, very territorial. I feel like when you have that much ego attached, there will be clashes.

I mean, obviously there’s the older GODZILLA VS. KONG too. There will be something to fight about.

Exactly. I had three dogs at one point and two of them would fight randomly at the drop of the hat, for reasons I can’t ever explain. They were total lap dogs and babies, but every now and then they set each other off. With animals, anything is possible.

Did you shoot the end tag? Could the severed Ghidorah head become Mecha King Ghidorah?

I think anything is possible with Ghidorah. I think he’s extremely dangerous, even when he’s dead and it’s questionable whether or not he is dead. He’s not something that subscribes to our laws of nature. He has very mysterious origins. Anything can happen with any aspect of his biology.

GODZILLA: KING OF THE MONSTERS is now playing.

About author

Courtney Howard

Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.