One of the biggest movie stars on the planet returns to theaters this summer. And by biggest, we mean in terms of physical size. Everyone’s favorite kaiju creature will be back in the eponymously titled Godzilla: King of the Monsters, which is a sequel to the 2014 Godzilla reboot and the third installment of the franchise that also includes 2017's Kong: Skull Island.
This time, Godzilla is not alone. The king of the monsters will be joined on screen by a few of his most iconic co-stars from past movies, namely the creatures called Mothra, Rodan and King Ghidorah. There will also be some human characters in this one, too, including those played by Millie Bobby Brown, Vera Famiga, Kyle Chandler and O’Shea Jackson.
We visited the Atlanta set of Godzilla: King of the Monsters back in the summer of 2017 and learned quite a bit about the follow-up, and we’re now ready to share ahead of its May 31 release. Below is a list of need-to-know information on the sequel, courtesy of Chandler, Jackson and co-writer/director Michael Dougherty as well as our own observations.
1) Godzilla is the hero we need
He may be the king of the monsters, and he might step on a few homes on his way to battle other creatures, but there’s no mistaking Godzilla for a threat to mankind or otherwise an enemy of the people of Earth. He’s the hero that we need, a protector of the planet against even more destructive entities like Mothra, Rodan, and especially King Ghidorah.
“Speaking as a Godzilla fan, I always hated those humans who acted like didn’t Godzilla didn’t just save their ass,” Jackson recognized of the monster’s long history as a heroic figure. On Godzilla’s status this time, the actor added, “What happened in San Francisco in 2014 [in the previous movie], from what I can see, he holds down the Pacific, so California seems safe. So I’m down with that.”
Not all the humans in Godzilla: King of the Monsters agree with Jackson or his character on the titular creature, however. Chandler plays a scientist specializing in animal behavior who is not a fan of any of the monsters. “Because they're mean, ugly, dangerous, and they've caused havoc with my family,” the actor explained, alluding to his character’s wife (Farmiga) and daughter (Brown) being missing as a result of the creatures’ presence. “My daughter being the most important thing in my life, that’s what drives me through this story.”
2) Scientists are also given their due
While Godzilla is the main hero of his own movies, on the human side of the story, the characters with the most significance and honor as superstars of this story are the scientists. Sure, the title character is big and mighty and has atomic breath, but there’s still a place for people to have a part in saving the world, with their brains.
“I felt there was an opportunity to sort of craft Monarch as a group of humanists,” Dougherty told us. “Unlike a lot of top secret government agencies where they have their own nefarious mission statements, Monarch has a very positive outlook on what these creatures are and what they represent. And the idea of a team of heroes who are scientists really appealed to me. This isn’t a Marvel film where you people in mech suits or with superpowers getting into endless fist fights. These are just very intelligent, capable people, who are up against impossible odds.”
Jackson gave some props to the scientists, too, clarifying that this movie doesn’t pit the brains versus the brawn with regards to them against his military leader character and his G-Team of soldiers. “If the mission is called for to get some DNA samples, I might risk my life sure,” he said of his character’s call to duty, “but as I now know, it’s all about saving the world at the end of the day. And if we can’t agree on that, what the heck.”
3) Godzilla: King of the Monsters takes place in the present but is steeped in the past
The previous installment of the MonsterVerse franchise, Kong: Skull Island, is a prequel set in the 1970s. Godzilla: King of the Monsters returns the action to the present, by which we mean this very year. Even though it’s been five years since the release of the last Godzilla movie, the sequel is not set directly after the events of the original.
“This film roughly takes place in real time. So we are placing that first film in 2014 and we are saying this film takes place roughly five years after, so in 2019,” Dougherty explained. “It’s not like the monsters are suddenly popping out of nowhere, they’ve always been here. They were here before we were. So the concept we’re running with is that this world belonged to them. If anything, we’re the invasive species, and we’ve simply rediscovered something that’s always been there and that they are in some ways, the old gods. The first gods.”
Of course, while the action takes place now, there’s a lot of back story informing what we’re seeing in the present. “That’s something we’re also trying to bring to this film for a more mythological, almost biblical, backdrop to the creatures,” Dougherty added, regarding the history of the monsters. “These creatures were once worshipped by some ancient civilization. I really love that about the old movies that Mothra was this deity. It really opened up the mythology."
Respecting what was done in the past movies as well as what what was in the past as far as these creatures, Dougherty continued: “So if Mothra existed thousands of years ago, and Godzilla existed thousands of years ago, and Mothra was worshipped by some ancient civilization, as was Kong, that would make sense that the other creatures probably had some contact with human beings at some point too. As a kid it always bummed me out that dinosaurs never actually crossed paths [with humans]. After years of Harryhausen films, that was such a heartbreaking truth to discover. So I’m saying f**k that. At some point, ancient humans we have forgotten about somehow did interact with these ancient beasts.”
3) This is the Aliens of Godzilla movies
The 2014 Godzilla grossed more than $500 million worldwide while offering a rather slow-burn reveal of the titular monster and the extent of his powers. For the sequel, Dougherty and company had to not just go bigger in terms of looping in additional creatures and with the scope of the story but also to put more of a spotlight on Godzilla as the centerpiece of the action.
"I would call it the Aliens to Gareth [Edwards’] Alien,” Dougherty said of how his sequel compares to the previous Godzilla movie. “We definitely see the creatures a lot more in this.”
King of the Monsters also parallels with Aliens as an expansion of its predecessor in other ways. “It’s a bit more of an ensemble film,” Dougherty noted. “Whereas the first movie was really about Brody’s character kind of weaving his way through that adventure and Monarch kind of was the backdrop for that. Here Monarch is the focus, because I find that concept really fascinating.”
However, tonally, the Godzilla sequel doesn’t go quite so far with the levity as Aliens does. “What I appreciate about Gareth’s film is that it took things seriously,” Dougherty acknowledged. “I think there’s a fine line between the two. This is not like a knee slapping comedy by any means. But again, it’s like if you compare Alien, which is a very straight science fiction film with not a lot of yucks, compared to Aliens which sort of had a bit more fun, tongue-in-cheek moments, we’re somewhere in the middle there.”
4) The monsters haven’t changed too much
When tasked with a modern-day reinterpretation of movies that go back more than 60 years, there’s definitely a desire by some people to change a lot of the elements of even the most recognizably iconic figures. But Dougherty assured us that his movie wanted to cater enough to fans of the old Godzilla movies in terms of the creature designs.
“To me, it’s really important that the silhouette of the creatures are the originals,” he said. “Like, that’s always the basis of any good creature design, is the silhouette. You need to be able to look at the silhouette of the monster, whether it’s the alien (from Alien), Godzilla or whatever and be able to identify it. So we started with silhouettes. Just to make sure we get their very distinct shapes.
And while the new additions for King of the Monsters aren’t as well-known as the titular creature, they weren’t any more flexible with that silhouette idea. “You can’t have Ghidorah without the two tails and the three heads,” Dougherty recognized. “It’s got to have the right amount of horns, and then the wings are a very distinct shape. They’re not traditional Western dragons. So those were marching orders from the beginning, to make sure that Ghidorah look more like an Eastern dragon versus a Western. You know, we don’t want it to look like Game of Thrones’ dragons.”
The same thing for Rodan, he said: “Two horns, very distinct wings, the armor chest plate. And the good news is Toho has very specific requirements. All of which I completely agree with.”
As for Mothra, however, that was a bigger challenge, according to the filmmaker. "How do you take a giant moth and make it look cool? It can’t be a moth magnified big,” he explained. “The beauty of it is, I had to go down a rabbit hole and really research moths, and it turns out moths are very different from butterflies. They are super cool insects. And there are so many different species of moths. Some of which almost look predatory. Some are much more sleek and a little scary looking than the typical Mothra design.”
The idea for the new Mothra was to create something more “insectoid” in design and then also give it a bioluminescent quality. “I wanted to jump off of this idea that if you saw Mothra in the sky at night you would think you were looking at an angel. I don’t know if you guys are fans on Ancient Aliens, but I love it. There’s a certain approach there. It’s like, okay, primitive man saw these creatures, and you want to give them a presence that would make him drop to his knees and bow to this god.”
And, of course, they can’t look like each other or like anything else in the movies these days. “It can’t just look like big dinosaurs,” Dougherty stated. “Jurassic Park has that covered. They have to be distinct. They have to be their own thing. They’re Titans.”
5) Each of the monsters still has a distinct sound design
In addition to all of the creatures having their own look, Godzilla and the others had to have their own recognizable sounds, too, and they had to have some basis in their past incarnations. “You should be able to close your eyes and listen to the creatures and be able to identify them without any visual whatsoever,” Dougherty said. “Because the sounds of the creatures are so distinct. Like Ghidorah’s got that really cool trill shriek to it.”
Fans might even recognize the sounds of the creatures in King of the Monsters as being even closer to what they hear in the old movies. “I think they did a great job with Godzilla’s roar in the first movie,” the director noted of the title creature’s sound in the 2014 release. “I pushed them a little bit further to bring it even closer to the  original even more. All the other creatures will have some semblance to the original creatures.”
Dougherty explained that he provided a supercut of the creatures’ noises from those old original movies to the King of the Monsters sound designers for reference. “Start here,” he said to them, “and then start layering and playing, but they have to be as distinct as the originals.”
For filming, Dougherty’s sound mixer created a massive speaker system called “Behemoth” through which to play those monster noises on set. “So any scene that involves our cast running and screaming in terror, I’ve been playing creature noises,” he revealed. “And it really ups their performance. Something pops when they hear the noises. So, in some ways, the creatures have been on set with us.”
6) There’s a real-life monster in the movie that takes a beating
In addition to the fictional creatures dominating the screen in the Godzilla sequel, there’s one more iconic monster featured in the movie. And fans from Boston might not appreciate this one — or maybe they’ll get a big kick out of it. That’s right, the “Green Monster” from Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox, shows up. The destruction of the stadium can be briefly glimpsed in trailers for the movie, but we got to walk among its ruins and see some concept art focused on the famous left-field wall. It’s a nice touch.
7) There will be Easter eggs aplenty
Another set we saw while visiting the production was an Arctic or Antarctic base of some sort called Outpost 32, the name of which was confirmed to be an Easter egg paying homage to John Carpenter’s The Thing. “Yes, it’s one of my all-time favorite movies. “I like the idea that once Outpost 31 burned to the ground, they had to build another one.”
He also commented on the Easter egg from the previous Godzilla movie acknowledging the Shobijin, or fairies, from Mothra, hinting that we could see some more of them. “I love the fairies in the original films. I don’t know how big they’ll be in this movie. They might make an appearance…”
Jackson was also very excited about the Easter eggs we’ll be seeing in the movie. “Oh yeah, I’ve been nerding out really hard,” he told us. “There’s some I can’t really speak of, but you get that burn in the movie, and you’re going to go on the internet immediately after.”
7) Godzilla means something to pretty much everyone
Jackson was clearly very excited to be a part of this movie and to share his enthusiasm as a fan with other fans. When asked about his relationship to the creature and his long-running franchise in all its forms, the actor proved himself very worthy of being a part of its latest incarnation. He called his casting something he was destined for and told us, “Whether it’s the Hanna-Barbera cartoon or that weird “Ferris Bueller one” [i.e. the Matthew Broderick-led 1998 remake], I love all Godzillas.”
Actually, love might not even be a strong enough word when it comes to Jackson’s Godzilla fandom. You might be able to say he worships the king of the monsters. “Reporters constantly ask me to list my five heroes and Godzilla’s one of them,” he admitted. “So I’m loving it. I got to touch his skin the other day. It was a pretty big moment for me. That’s as close as I’ll ever get. So it’s been fun. Just having a ball on the biggest monster pay-per-view ever."
Dougherty also had a special back story on his love for Godzilla. “When I got the job, I went back and looked at an old childhood Bible, and I had drawn Godzilla in between the various Bible illustrations,” he confessed. “So there was a picture of like the fall of Jericho and I had added Godzilla. I figured that if I add Godzilla to anything, it’s better. So yeah, he’s been a good friend for a very long time.”
As for Chandler, his interest in the Godzilla franchise has been one of deep appreciation for its historical context and their subtext, with particular focus on the first three of the original movies, which he first watched as a kid. He found it fascinating “being able to see what Japan looked like nine years after World War II ended and the cultural differences, seeing Japanese wearing Western clothing, Western uniforms, using Western dialogue…”
He told us that two things about those original movies especially blew him away. “One, there's a scene on on a train where there's two gentlemen and a lady in between and she flippantly says, ‘First Nagasaki and now this.’ With the idea of Godzilla he had just attacked,” he described. “And thenGodzilla, when he vaporizes people, they're left as shadows. It shouldn't be lost how important this was to the filmmakers, what it was doing and saying, which is sort of hard to comprehend now. And obviously it's not lost to anyone that today is August 8th, between the days of those two droppings of the bombs. That's something that I find very interesting about this whole deal.”
9) Today’s Godzilla movies still pack on the subtext
While the original 1954 Godzilla indeed was a reaction to the atomic bombings of Japan during World War II, the new movies also have their own meaning in relation to the real world. The 2014 Godzilla reminded viewers of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster of 2011, for instance. King of the Monsters has a broader but still relevant subtext.
“There's a story that goes throughout the film that deals with obviously what goes on today as far as how to heal the planet,” Chandler revealed about some of that deeper meaning to the sequel. “I think you'll see that in the movie that's important to the director.”
That director himself also hinted at the significance of his take on this tradition for the franchise. “In a time when, in our current climate, where science is being constantly questioned and targeted, the idea of creating a film where scientists are heroes, I thought was really important,” Dougherty stated, calling back to his desire to put so much favorable focus on the scientist characters.
10) A cinematic universe comes full circle
Another part of the history and the tradition of the Godzilla movies is their crossover potential, which has been realized since almost the very beginning of the brand and Toho’s handling of it.
“Outside of the Universal classic monster movies, Toho is one of the first companies to pioneer the idea of a shared universe,” Dougherty recognized. “They were doing it long before Marvel was. Mothra was a completely separate film from Godzilla when it started. Same thing with Rodan. So it kind of feels like things are coming full circle.”
Could that mean these creatures will again branch out and get their own solo movies again? Perhaps. But there are also other monsters worthy of reentering the Godzilla movies through this new MonsterVerse mega-franchise. Not that King of the Monsters doesn’t feature the cream of the crop.
“I mean, it really doesn’t get much better than this,” Dougherty acknowledged. “There’s definitely a few others that I was hoping we’d sort of tip the hat to, but I mean these are the crown jewels of Toho as far as I’m concerned. Mothra, Rodan, Ghidorah and Godzilla, those are the ones that come to mind when you think of the Godzilla universe.”
Then again, we already know of one other creature who’ll be meeting Godzilla very soon, specifically in next year’s sequel Godzilla vs. Kong. But where is King Kong during the events of King of the Monsters?
“Yes. He’s out there,” Dougherty confessed before changing the course of discussion to how much he’s looking forward to what’s next. “I love the idea of the two creatures crossing paths Loved that idea since a kid, even in the original [1962 King Kong vs. Godzilla]. For as cheesy as it was, the concept was brilliant. Who wouldn’t want to see that smack down?”