Exclusive Interview: Writer Max Borenstein Talks Godzilla Vs. Kong And The MonsterVerse

Godzilla vs. Kong

It’s been a long time coming, but Godzilla vs. Kong is almost here. The latest chapter in the MonsterVerse has been riding a serious wave of momentum ever since the debut of its record-breaking first trailer, and the early reactions to the epic clash of the Titans have been hugely enthusiastic.

Director Adam Wingard seems to have knocked this one straight out of the park, with Godzilla vs. Kong looking to single-handedly revive a stagnant box office. Writer Max Borenstein, meanwhile, has been the architect of the entire franchise, having previously been involved in Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla, Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ Kong: Skull Island and Michael Dougherty’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters, cementing himself as one of the main creative driving forces behind Legendary and Warner Bros.’ shared mythology.

To mark the impending release of Godzilla vs. Kong in theaters and HBO Max this coming Wednesday, We Got This Covered had the chance to speak to Borenstein in an exclusive interview where he tells us all about the process behind developing the MonsterVerse, what makes it stand apart from other brands like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, where the franchise goes from here, and the possibility of a Pacific Rim crossover, which you can check out below.

Godzilla vs. Kong

How are you feeling now that Godzilla vs. Kong is just about to release after everything that’s happened in the last year?

Max Borenstein: Yeah, my god, everything about it is surreal. The fact that it coincides with this moment where things are at least starting to become better and more normal [is nice]. It was a shame when we realized we wouldn’t be opening in movie theaters and watching it on the big screen, but on the other hand, it’s sort of amazing to offer this dose of escapism and fun for a world that’s been through so much.

People are definitely crying out for escapism after everything we’ve had to put up with over the last twelve months, and two giant monsters beating each other up is pretty much the perfect way to do it.

Max Borenstein: I think it is. Thematically, unbeknownst to us, we actually hit on something that feels kind of prescient, too, because you’ve got these two monsters of such scale that anything they do and any fight they have touches everyone in the world, they’re just too big and we’re too small. And over the course of the last year we’ve been dealing with a very similar circumstance, where it’s been impossible to deny how small we are in comparison to the pandemic, and how connected we all are in that we can’t build buildings big enough or strong enough to avoid that, you know? The monsters are a metaphor for that, so part of it touches a bit of a nerve, I think.

It’s sort of become accidentally prescient in terms of your writing process, but how far has the story of Godzilla vs. Kong been planned? Was it always the end goal, or was it a case of just taking it one movie at a time and seeing how it all ties together in the end?

Max Borenstein: Well, I think it’s no accident in the sense that obviously, one could never have foreseen what was going to happen with the pandemic, but it’s of a piece with the kind of traumatic, destructive events that have been happening over the last decade as the world has become more and more globalized. And climate change has inescapably become a factor that’s just started creeping in. It was easy to ignore for a while, but then impossible to actually escape, those things are becoming more and more common. There’s a philosopher who’s brilliant, who writes about what he calls hyperobjects as it pertains to climate change, which is the idea that something so big, like a hyperobject that’s so big that it touches literally everyone on Earth, and you might not even know if you live in proximity to it. But everything you do, as is the pandemic, is part of it like you can’t have a conversation about, ‘How are you doing?’. You can’t say the most benign thing without it actually also being about this other unspoken elephant in the room.

So that idea has always been a part of our version of the reinvention of the Godzilla narrative from back in 2014 when we were doing the first Godzilla with Gareth Edwards. It was trying to find a way for Godzilla to become a vessel for all sorts of fears and anxieties over the course of decades. It started with kind of nuclear fears to, ‘How do we connect that to today?’. And the thing we found was essentially the idea that Godzilla is a metaphor for the kind of disasters and traumatic, destructive events that emerge from a civilization that’s grown so large and so global that we built ourselves a lot of technology and a lot of security, but in reality we’re all interdependent and we’re all on this tiny little spinning rock, and as much as we might like to ignore that fact, sometimes it rears its head. And in these movies, it rears its head in the form of Godzilla and other creatures of his size.

Has that always been important to you to make those connections when writing the scripts? Because even dating back to the 1933 King Kong and the 1954 Godzilla, there’s always been plenty of subtext in the stories as well as the spectacle.

Max Borenstein: Yeah, for me that was the key. I was the first sort of writer to come in when Gareth came in on that first movie, and the way I kind of hook into stories has been thinking about it in those terms. Like, ‘What is it about this story that’s going to feel urgent right now?’. Not just taking a piece of IP and doing it because it’s fun, that’s all great, but if there’s not something underneath it I think it’s missing something. And yes, for me it was watching that original Godzilla, the 1954 version, which I had never seen before. I’d seen the Americanized version with Raymond Burr, but the original is like, you know, it was made nine years after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and was absolutely in the shadow of those events and the trauma of that in Japan. There’s obviously footage in the movie that feels, and it is, intentionally in a documentary style, taken of people with radiation burns from those bombs.

So, you know, they were closer to those bombings than we are now to something like 9/11, and so you can only imagine how traumatic that was. And that produced this thing that ultimately over the course of decades became basically divorced from the hysteria in the minds of everyone to become this pop culture icon. But what made it resonant was that, because it came from that and was really like a vampire or like Frankenstein’s Monster, a really apt metaphor for one thing that was kind of a universal part of the human experience. Godzilla then became a vessel for all sorts of similar evolving traumas or fears over the next 60 years. If you’re going to reinvent that and do justice to that character, that’s something you have to start with. You have to have an idea of how and why doing it now is going to be as relevant as it ever was.

It’s a shared universe, but all of the MonsterVerse movies work perfectly fine as standalone films, which is the ideal way to approach it when a lot of shared universe pics end up focusing too much on what’s coming instead of what’s actually happening in the present. Was it a deliberate move to avoid the tropes and formulas with the franchise?

Max Borenstein: I’ll take as much credit as I can for it, but the truth is Legendary has had a really strong hand in guiding the MonsterVerse in a really brilliant way. I think, I guess I’m the only writer who’s been involved since the very beginning on and off on each of the projects, and differently in each one, but the other people who have been involved and extremely hands-on the entire time are the producers at Legendary. Mary Parent and Alex Garcia, and before them Thomas Tull, who founded the company and who’s baby and brainchild it was, who loves Godzilla and loves King Kong.

When we were in post-production on Godzilla, he approached me about writing a script for a Kong movie with the idea that one day that was going to become a franchise and allow us to bring those two characters together in a Godzilla vs. Kong movie. That was his brainchild from that moment. They could have taken it into the extremely sort of highly planned approach, the way Marvel does, in terms of what you’re kind of talking about I think where they do it better than anyone, but you could almost watch the entire Marvel universe as a really expensive production value television show where they’re really brilliant at telling a singular story over time. There are spinoffs and so forth, but they weave it all together stylistically and tonally, and they do it better than anyone.

So what I think Legendary did, partly by design and partly be discovery, was they handed the keys over to different filmmakers for each film. In Godzilla it was Gareth and they supported him in his vision, and that was kind of my role, too, discovering that and working on that with him. And then when Skull Island came in they gave the keys to Jordan Vogt-Roberts and said, ‘Hey, how do you imagine this?’. And I was there to sort of help facilitate that as well, but his one was a completely different tone and it was his vision. And the same has gone for Mike Dougherty, who did Godzilla 2, and for Adam who’s just done Godzilla vs. Kong beautifully, and each very differently. I think Legendary in that way has been less like a sort of grandmaster showrunner like Kevin Feige at Marvel has brilliantly done, and instead they’ve almost been like patrons of the arts. Like, they love these movies, they love these characters, they’re the stewards of that. They’re trying to make sure the films are interconnected enough to serve the franchise and serve one another, while at the same time giving enough leeway and latitude to each of the filmmakers and the creative teams on each project to try and sort of reinvent it every time a little bit, and put their own spin on it in a way. People are going to like some more than others, but it’s actually a pretty bold approach that I think is unique, and I think a lot of folks are appreciating.

The Hollow Earth scenes are definitely a standout of Godzilla vs. Kong. Was that how you imagined the world visually when writing the script, or did it come together more during production?

Max Borenstein: That was very much Adam. When I was writing it, it was close to what I imagined, but the reason I was writing it is because Adam had a very specific vision for what he wanted that world to look and feel like. Over the course of the show, this is a film where unlike Godzilla, where I was kind of the first writer in and I came on and off a couple of times, but I was in there over the course of a long marathon. On this film, I was the guy who got brought in a little bit later to help put together some of the pieces for production in that role. I came in, and they knew that they were going to go to Hollow Earth, which was something that we’d kind of set up as a concept in Skull Island as part of our mythology, but I think the most powerful part that we leaned into was the fact than rather than it being a plot-driven journey, there is a sense of reason they go down there. Obviously, there’s a MacGuffin and the human characters are kind of pulling the strings to some extent, but at the end of the day the only reason Kong goes is because the human characters manipulate him in a very complex way I think, given the kind of movie we’re talking about.

To go down, believing he’s maybe gonna find others like him in his ancestral home, his family, you know? So that core kind of idea, which was something that we brought into the script, was when we were trying to sort of piece together some of the logical reasons why they’re doing the things they’re doing that allows us to drive the spectacle. I think it also became this very emotional idea when Adam, more and more over the course of production and even in post-production, had to kind of strip away more of the kind of human… let’s call it bullsh*t, that goes down in the Hollow Earth and instead really focus in as much as possible on Kong’s journey, like Kong as being the protagonist leading us there, having this existential moment of discovery of his kind of roots, which is something I’ve never seen before from the perspective of a character like Kong, and I think it’s one of the most special parts of the movie. Apart from, obviously, the great monster action.

There’s no post-credits scene, and the ending ties things up nicely but still leaves the door open for the future. Was that a case of tempering expectations, given that fans almost expect a stinger on their blockbusters these days?

Max Borenstein: Yeah, it’s funny, I think there had been post-credits scenes toyed with, and even as we had cuts I had seen in post. So when I saw the final cut I was the same as everyone else, it was a while ago, but when I saw it it was like, ‘Oh wow, you guys decided to cut the post-credits scene!’. And I suspect, I haven’t had a long conversation with anyone about it, but I suspect it’s got something to do with the fact that, you know, this was the sort of the agenda of this first, maybe only, but I suspect hopefully the first because I think they pulled it off really well, but you know this first iteration, chapter, whatever, of the MonsterVerse. And having done that, I think it’s nice sometimes to take a breath and say, ‘Okay, that was your Avengers‘, or whatever you want.  And now, if there’s going to be a new iteration, I think let it organically emerge. Let’s not kind of like, force the issue, just because that’s kind of what’s done now in terms of franchises. Why not allow the next film, whatever it may be, to be a surprise?

Godzilla vs. Kong doesn’t feature a whole lot of kaiju outside of the big two. Were there any monsters you really wanted to include but couldn’t find a way to get them into the story and have it make sense?

Max Borenstein: For me, that’s an easy answer because the monster I had written into my draft of Godzilla 2 before I left, that’s the one I had kind of the least involvement in, but I’d written Mechagodzilla into that movie and I was pretty committed to that idea, and thought it was a great sort of thing to explore. So when I then came back and discovered that’s what they were planning to do in Godzilla vs. Kong, I was thrilled and happy to have a hand in bringing that to life. So, I kind of got what I wanted.

Would you be happy to stick around the MonsterVerse a little longer?

Max Borenstein: We’ll see, I’m certainly eager to see what they do next, and if I could be involved that would be fun.

Stephen DeKnight recently revealed he had plans for Pacific Rim 3 to tie into the MonsterVerse. Is that something you were aware of, or you’d be interested in seeing happen?

Max Borenstein: I saw that. I saw what he said, and I think if he has the vision for it, that would be dope. You know, he’s a really talented storyteller so I would certainly be eager to see it.

That concludes our interview with Max Borenstein. Godzilla vs. Kong is coming to theaters and HBO Max Wednesday, March 31st.