With the success of Kong: Skull Island, Legendary and Warner Bros.’ MonsterVerse is officially in full swing. Coming off of 2014’s Godzilla from director Gareth Edwards, both Godzilla and King Kong have now had their respective origin films, between them providing the requisite world-building for all the other kaiju action besides. The stage is now set for their first “phase” ending on a double-whammy with the second Godzilla film, Godzilla : King of the Monsters, due 2019 and Godzilla Vs. Kong coming a year later in 2020.
The monster cous-de-gras, Godzilla Vs. Kong is the instalment many are waiting for as the two cinematic behemoths battle it out on the big screen for the first time in over 50 years. It’s expected to be quite the big screen event and with five decades of anticipation, whomever takes on the director’s chair has a lot to live up to.
It’s a relief, then, that indie horror director Adam Wingard has been tapped for directorial duties for the monstrous blockbuster. Keeping with the ongoing industry-wide trend of filmmakers who hit it big on the indie circuit getting these massive cinematic universe gigs, Wingard himself is the fourth such creator Warner Bros. have used their MonsterVerse to elevate to the big leagues. And like fellow MonsterVerse alum, King of the Monsters director Michael Dougherty, the second horror-specific one, too.
Wingard’s appointment is of particular note, though, because the work that got him noticed isn’t conventional. You’re Next and The Guest, both made with Simon Barrett, who regularly writes the work Wingard directs, are, while quite heavily lauded, very challenging of the typical expectations of their genre. You’re Next is a slasher that plays close to parody in its cartoon-ish sadism, and The Guest merges a cross-section of different influences into a chiller that’s always bending against expectation. A major common thread between them is that they’re both designed to really get under the audience’s skin – You’re Next plays into the goading of horror audiences for excessive violence, making the watcher almost feel like an accessory, while The Guest‘s unwinding mystery is so unnerving and tense, the viewer is almost being tested for how much they can take.
They’re films that are smart, clever, intricate and the exact kind of fare that does well on the film festival circuit but can struggle to find its place upon release. You’re Next did very well, easily marketed as a big budget slash-a-thon that kept people talking afterwards, The Guest on the other hand failed to make bank at the box office. They more than prove Wingard’s competence, but they also demonstrate his work is volatile to return on investment because of that same distinctive approach.
This riskiness is what makes him an ideal candidate to handle Godzilla Vs. Kong. A strange, murky reality of the film industry in the next five years is that we’ll be seeing if cinematic universe fatigue is actually possible. DC, Marvel, Monsters, Universal Monsters, Spider-Man: film-goers are already expected to see a new franchise installment every other week, advertising is only going to get more intense as they each run-up to their biggest crossovers. Box office returns have been in decline recently, thanks in no small part to these conveyor-belt blockbusters, and logic dictates that at some point the bubble has to burst for one of these nebulous franchises.
A director like Wingard who likes to play with genre and how the audience is interacting with his film is a strong way to make sure the movie stands out from the crowd. It’s easy to say now that Kong Vs. Godzilla just needs to be a lot of destruction between the two gargantuans to work, but city-wide ruination has practically been made a meme thanks to all the superhero films that use it as a prerequisite for their last act. By the time this stomps into cinemas, it’ll be one of several “events” promising two-or-more iconic characters clashing with a whole bunch of regular people caught in the crossfire. Sure, there’s always a built-in audience for these things, but productions of this scale need a wide appeal in order to be profitable.
Wingard is practiced in what it would take to make Godzilla Vs. Kong something more. Something that sticks in the mind of the audience after with how it portrays the creatures and the Lovecraftian chaos that surrounds them. He understands how to manipulate and circumvent perception to say something that can linger in his audience’s mind after the credits have finished rolling. It may not be something as profound as how the original Gojira shows the horror of nuclear war, but any opportunity for fans and critics alike to really digest a film in positive regard afterwards is to be cherished.
Wingard has also proven himself capable of following a studio brief already with Blair Witch. There’s no argument that film was anything better than average. But that it was average was still a victory – a dormant franchise getting a needless sequel that aped what made the original so special, Blair Witch had no business being anything other than bad. Yet it bears some merit, albeit within the parameters of jump-scare-laden found-footage horror, and credit for that belongs to Wingard and his writer cohort Barrett who somehow dragged something worthwhile out of nothing. Heck, Blair Witch‘s promotion was largely built around a misdirect from The Woods, an alias the film publicly went by for months, touted as another original production from Wingard with no relation to an existing IP that was eventually revealed to be Blair Witch.
There’s little chance Godzilla Vs. Kong won’t at least be fun. Big monsters will never go out of fashion as each improvement in technology and special effects presents cooler ways to bring them to the big screen. With Adam Wingard at the helm there’s legitimate opportunity for the picture to have the kind of pathos and psychology that made classic kaiju films so enduring within cinema. It can go beyond being just another blockbuster into an actual “event,” as another round in the greatest battle of cinema history should be.