Godzilla x Kong The New Empire: 7 Things We Learned Visiting the Set

Godzilla x Kong The New Empire: 7 Things We Learned Visiting the Set

Two titans of the film world had the showdown of the century back in 2021 when Godzilla x Kong hit the screen. It was the kind of escapist popcorn movie the world needed when the pandemic was keeping us secluded in our homes and cinemas were struggling. Now, in 2024, Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire is out to prove that this kind of action deserves to be seen on the biggest screen possible.

Gizmodo Australia was invited, along with a small handful of journalists, onto the Australian set of Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire in 2022 (yes, two years ago), where we quickly learned that things are bigger, bolder and wilder than ever on the titan-smackdown sequel. Here are some behind-the-scenes facts we learned from speaking with the cast and crew.

Why Adam Wingard returned for Round 2

Image: Daniel McFadden via Warner Bros Pictures.

Legendary’s existing MonsterVerse has spanned four movies now (one Kong, two Godzilla’s and one crossover), each with a different director at the helm. But Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire saw director Adam Wingard (Godzilla x Kong) return for a second round.

In a break between takes, the director explained why he was instantly all-in on another monster movie.

“It’s such a learning curve when you’re making a big monster movie because it’s like nothing else…” Wingard said “I read this interview once with Quentin Tarantino, where he was talking about the reason he made The Hateful Eight. For him, it was like he had done Django Unchained and he felt like by the end of it, that he had just learned how to make a Western. I was like, this is exactly the same! I just figured out how to make a monster movie – I’m not ready to move on yet!”

Godzilla x Kong: What’s different this time?

godzilla kong the new empire
Image: Warner Bros Pictures

Kong and Godzilla have already faced off once in a city-ending brawl, so what difference could the titans simply not put behind them that needed to be worked out in a sequel? As it turns out Godzilla x Kong has an enemies to friends arc, as the duo team up to fight an even greater threat.

Where Godzilla x Kong saw a conjoining of the two titans via the storylines of their human counterparts, The New Empire is different in that it puts the beasts at the forefront.

“From the very beginning we’ve built this story, more than we’ve ever done before, around the monsters as the heroes,” Wingard explained. “Last time we had two storylines going at once, we had two humans storylines, basically, and the monsters on either end of it. What I realised with the last one was, well, we can still do two storylines, but one of them’s human, one of them is monsters and they intercede, and the human storyline has to always be very deeply connected to the monster storyline.”

The director continued saying that he wanted to let the monsters guide the perspective, “I almost want to make parts in this movie an experimental film, to the extent that there’s large sections where there’s no dialogue because you’re just with monster.”

New cast member Dan Stevens agreed, saying “What I really appreciated about the last movie, which is going to be expanded on in this one, is how much character Adam was able to bring to some of the CGI creations.

“There’s a good chunk of this movie that is really a silent film starring creatures. We’re just the sideshow, really,” he added.

Godzilla Minus One recently proved the worth that the human storyline can have in a monster film, but from MonsterVerse regular, Brian Tyree Henry’s point of view, it’s the actor’s job to bring “normalcy” to the human side of the equation.

“It really is about the audience seeing characters reflected back to them. It’s about bringing the normalcy to these people in these universes because there’s lots of pyrotechnics and fire and destruction but at the same time, we want there to be a heart to it as well,” he said.

Who else is back for Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire?

godzilla kong the new empire
Image: Warner Bros Pictures

Wingard’s return to the director’s chair wasn’t the only thing that was familiar for Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire. Production returned to Village Roadshow Studios on the Gold Coast in Queensland and many of the same cast and crew who had worked on the previous film boarded the project.

“It’s a very nice group of people and it makes for a very, very pleasant work environment,” Rebecca Hall told Gizmodo Australia, when asked about reprising her role as Dr Irene Andrews.

Hall was excited to return, particularly because the role allowed her to expand on her knowledge of sign language, which Dr. Andrews uses to communicate with her adopted daughter, Jia (played by deaf actress Kaylee Hottle). The duo’s relationship remains one of the core aspects of the Godzilla x Kong sequel, with Andrews agreeing to lead an expedition into Hollow Earth for Jia’s benefit.

“There’s investment to doing the work and trying to unlock these mysteries for the sake of her passing on some history to her own daughter,” Hall said.

Hall and Hottle are two of three returning cast members to the franchise, the third being Brian Tyree Henry as loveable Titan conspiracy theorist, Bernie, a character who Henry confessed “reflects a lot more of me than I care to admit.”

“As we saw in the last movie, [Bernie] was right about everything. He has the most knowledge of Godzilla and what he was going through, but now that he’s teamed up with Team Kong he’s still learning new things as well,” Henry explained.

With his podcast still chugging away, Bernie’s commitment to all things monsters scores him the trip of a lifetime, a voyage to Kong’s domain in Hollow Earth.

“He teams up with Dr. Andrews on this quest to figure out how to bring the Titans to another level, by finding out where they came from, where they started, which I think fans are gonna love because this is the part that I always wanted to know – where did these damn Titans start? They couldn’t have just appeared here out of nowhere. So I think this movie is going to dive into that,” he continued.

There are new friends

godzilla x kong the new empire
Image: Warner Bros Pictures

The MonsterVerse has seen an array of Hollywood A-listers star opposite its CGI leads, from Millie Bobby Brown and Elizabeth Olsen, to Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Alexander Skarsgaard. This time around, Dan Stevens is the new hero on the block.

At the time of the set visit, very little was known about Stevens’ new character, Trapper, and the actor could reveal very little apart from the fact that he is an “extreme veterinarian”.

“He studied cryptozoology in school and has been dealing with creatures like this. Dr Andrews calls on him for a very specific task,” Stevens explained.

Earlier in the day, Gizmodo Australia got a peek at a stunt the team were preparing for Stevens, which would involve him dropping vertically almost 40 feet on a crane hook.

“He’s like the maddest vet in the world,” Stevens added.

Stevens was excited about the prospect of joining the Godzilla x Kong world as it meant reuniting with some close friends of his. The actor had worked with Wingard before on their thriller film, The Guest, and Stevens and Hall had been friends for years.

However, Hall was hesitant to reveal what the relationship between their characters were.

“Dan is, funnily enough, one of my oldest friends. We were at university together. I’m godmother to one of his kids and we are really old, good friends at this point. Some of that has been woven into the story,” she hinted.

Another new face audiences will be introduced to is Fala Chen’s Iwi queen. Upon arriving in Hollow Earth, the human group encounters the Iwis, an ancient civilisation that Jia also hails from.

“I am the queen of the Iwi kingdom,” Chen explained. “It was mentioned in the previous movie that the Iwis were stranded on Skull Island, but now we’re in this new space [exploring] where the Iwis are coming from.”

With her costume hidden under a cloak, there’s an air of secrecy to Chen’s role, but having worked on franchise projects like Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, secrecy was nothing new to the actress.

“This set is a little bit less rigid than the Marvel one, but [in] some aspects we’re also [trying] keep the story under wraps,” she said.

Pop culture influences in Godzilla x Kong 2

godzilla x kong the new empire
Image: Warner Bros Pictures

Kong and particularly Godzilla are two pop culture mainstays, but for this monster movie, Wingard wanted to infuse their aesthetic with 80s references, citing Megadeath and Judas Priest album artwork and He-Man as some inspirations.

“Some of my main influences really come from the colourful aspects of 80s pop culture,” Wingard explained. “…there’s like these loud colours and neon aesthetics and that kind of vibe and I wanted to bring that to this film.”

Some of these inspirations are already clear from the film’s marketing – such as Godzilla’s new pink highlights. But the neon aesthetic permeates in other ways too, right down to the intricate details on the sets housed in the massive Gold Coast soundstages.

“In this movie, you will see a lot of gigantic sets,” Chen said. “They’re built with materials you’ve never seen, colours you’ve never seen, and visually that’s fantastic.”

We were taken to see one such set, that being the Iwi pyramids in Hollow Earth. The stage was filled with patterned tiles, carefully carved backdrops and golden pyramid structures, all adorned with false leaves, vines and plants to maintain the feeling of being in the midst of an ancient jungle.

Also notable on set was a new vehicle: the HEAV. Short for Hollow Earth Aerial Vehicle, the 17-tonne HEAV was built to scale for the film (complete with working lights, buttons and a hydraulic door) and was transported in 17 parts around Queensland for shooting.

“I’m always fascinated how much is built versus how much then goes into CGI and where the parameters of that sort of exchange are,” Hall commented. “It’s interesting to watch that happen around me.”

Room to improvise

godzilla kong the new empire
Image: Daniel McFadden via Warner Bros Pictures

During the set visit, we were given the chance to watch the filming of a scene, where we witnessed the clear rapport and fondness that the cast members had spoken of earlier on full display – both during and between takes.

“We do this thing where we just go in and every day it’s truly just trying to figure out how to make [the others] break on camera,” Henry said earlier. “Like, how to make them look as unprofessional as possible by making them laugh… I feel like when you do things like that, it makes the characters and their landscape more vibrant.”

It’s not just the actors who are having a good time, the vibe emanating from the entire cast and crew throughout the day can only be described as fun.

“I definitely do my best work when it’s a playful environment, people having fun, so even if it’s something quite serious that’s going on in the scene, to have a bit of a sense of humour about it,” Stevens said. “Especially with films like this, it’s important to approach it with a sense of humour because I think that comes through the screen.”

One such scene we were treated to featured Hall, Chen and Henry running from an unseen threat until they are rescued by Stevens, who is piloting the HEAV. Wingard was open to diverging from the script, with the actors improvising their lines throughout the multiple takes.

In one iteration of this scene, Stevens greeted his companions during the heroic rescue with: “Welcome to Hollow Earth burger, may I take your order?” to which Henry responds “I’m going to kiss you on the mouth!”.

In another take, Stevens shakes it up, saying: “How’s that for a park job”, and Henry replies, “Why are you playing Boyz II Men?”.

Another iteration, Stevens says: “Your carriage awaits.”, and Henry retorts: “I’m still not giving you five stars.”

Which option makes it into the final cut? We’ll have to see the movie to find out.

The Australian MonsterVerse

godzilla kong the new empire
Image: Daniel McFadden via Warner Bros Pictures

Australia has become a hot filming location in recent years, with various major Hollywood productions setting sights down under, whether to use the rich natural landscapes the country offers or to have them double as other major world cities.

In Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire, the Daintree is transformed into Hollow Earth, Surfers Paradise becomes a beach in Rio and Brisbane is home to the Monarch base. But filming in the natural landscapes offers its challenges, particularly for those unfamiliar with our wildlife.

“It’s always fun when some sort of Australian nature invades the set,” Stevens said. “…There’s been a lot of awareness of Australia and its natural wonders. Brian is the most terrified.”

“I’m terrified of everything. I was like if I see a huntsman spider, I quit,” Henry joked (seriously).

The cast came into contact with their fair share of Australian natives. Stevens mentioned a time there was a spider on the roof of one of the sets and Henry spoke fondly of a time a Kookaburra nonchalantly chose to land on the pole of a boom mic during a scene.

“There was the time that a dinosaur crossed the road while I was driving a car and by that I mean a cassowary,” Hall recounted.

Well, they don’t call it the MonsterVerse for nothing.

Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire opens in cinemas in Australia on March 28. The author of this article travelled to the Gold Coast as a guest of Warner Bros.

Image: Warner Bros. Pictures

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