Godzilla and Kong: Skull Island have laid the foundation for a new cinematic universe. If all goes according to plan at the box office with Skull Island, we’ll soon see a Godzilla sequel (due 2019) followed by a Godzilla vs. King Kong team-up (due 2020), and who knows where this monsterverse might go after that. Maybe WB and Legendary will make a Rodan movie. We don’t know. It could happen.
However, it’s worth pausing a moment to remember just how different Godzilla and Skull Island are. They are both monster movies, but they are not the same kind of monster movie. Godzilla is patient, draped in Spielbergian clothing and concerned more with fathers and sons than monsters; Skull Island is a bombastic, hold-nothing-back B-movie where you’re supposed to laugh when people die and roll your eyes at the A-list talent (a bored Tom Hiddleston, a far-too-amused Brie Larson and Samuel L. Jackson and John Goodman playing to the material) struggling to make something out of nothing. They are the products of wildly differing influences, Godzilla inspired by Jaws, Jurassic Park, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Alien, Skull Island more keyed off of video games, South Korean cinema, Apocalypse Now and Michael Bay.
Really, the difference between the two is most apparent in the following quotes from each film’s director.
First, here’s Godzilla’s Gareth Edwards explaining how his decision to hold back Godzilla’s first appearance in the film until the 58-minute market was modeled off of Spielberg’s work on Jaws [pictured above] and Jurassic Park:
Something they all have in common is that slow-burn build, where the audience is drip fed the imagery to get them on tenterhooks. I thought that style of filmmaking was really effective. It stayed with me the whole time I grew up, and those films stand the test of time.
Now, here’s Skull Island’s director Jordan Vogt-Roberts talking to SlashFilm about how his decision to introduce Kong at the 28-minute mark of his movie was a direct response to the “there’s not enough of the monster” complaints about Godzilla as well as the “there’s not enough of Batman” knock on Dark Knight Rises:
What was interesting to me was this idea of being like okay, this is more of a Kaiju film and more like a creature feature. And to me, if you’re gonna do that, you gotta go balls out. Every time one of these big movies comes out these days, they say, a week later… They’re like “There’s only 10 minutes of Batman in this movie.” Or here’s five minutes of this thing. Beyond me initially wanting to like put Kong in scene one, I just wanted to send a message that like this is not the movie that’s gonna string you along and hide it from you. As a nerd like you, I’m sure you wouldn’t be unreasonable for you to agree that generally less is more, with monsters, with villains, things like that.
But this was something where it was in your face. Here we go, this is the world. We’re not gonna be afraid of showing this thing. And the cat’s out of the bag in scene one. So we take our time and do our crazy stuff with our reveals and make sure those are cinematic and have weight and things like that. But like I think people wanna see these things fight.
Arguably, Vogt-Roberts was the more successful of the two because while his human characters leave a lot to be desired (John C. Reilly’s performance notwithstanding) he at least gives audiences the knock-down, drag-out Kong v. monsters fights they want from a movie like this.
Edwards’ Godzilla, on the other hand, delays and delays its title monster until the very end, devoting more of its time to the fractured father-son relationship between Bryan Cranston and Aaron Taylor-Johnson before segueing into Taylor-Johnson’s tortured journey home to his wife and child. It’s a strategy which could have worked had the script not killed off Cranston so early or if someone more compelling than Taylor-Johnson (who is hit and miss with his performances) had been cast to play the son. But that didn’t happen and as a result Godzilla held back its main attraction in favor of forcing a bland leading man down our throat.
Now, we are left wondering what exactly to expect from Godzilla 2 (officially titled Godzilla: King of Monsters) and Godzilla vs. King Kong. It seems most likely that Edwards’ patient, Spielbergian approach is a thing of the past with this monsterverse. For one thing, as was the case with The Lost World and Jaws 2 a Godzilla sequel was likely always destined to be more up front with its monsters, regardless of Skull Island, simply because you can’t play coy two movies in a row.
For another thing, Edwards made his movie in the wake of The Dark Knight Rises meaning he was still stuck in the Christopher Nolan mode of franchise building which had become so popular. Thus, Godzilla is but one of many gritty, grounded franchise movies from that era. In recent years, that Nolan model has fallen away in favor of fun and fluffy.
In that vein, Vogt-Roberts just wanted to make a dumb creature feature where nothing was too over the top, and that’s exactly what he did, delivering a movie which certainly knows what it is.
It seems strange then to think of Godzilla and Skull Island as existing in the same universe, but they do, noted mostly through the inclusion of a secret government agency called MONARCH in both movies. Plus, they both open with impeccably edited credits sequences ingeniously linking their stories to historical footage, WWII and the atomic age for Godzilla, the long road to ruin in Vietnam for Skull Island. However, as individual movies they could hardly be more different, but if the box office receipts are sufficient Skull Island will likely be the course-correcting, new tone-setter for the future of this not so little monsterverse.
Whether or not that’s a good thing likely just depends on your individual preferences. I personally admire Edwards’ approach as he sought to elevate the material and make an A-movie out of B-movie material as Spielberg first did with Jaws. Vogt-Roberts, like Colin Trevorrow with Jurassic World, saw no problem with simply making a straight-up B-movie where nothing matters, none of the characters stick in your mind afterward, but damn does it ever look cool when those monsters tear shit up. Give it a couple of years and there will probably be more monsters and more shit torn up, assuming Skull Island makes the killing in China in needs to.