If you’re a geeky kid who spends his childhood watching Godzilla movie after Godzilla movie, and you know that one day you want to make movies, and when you finally get the chance, you start writing and/or directing science fiction movies and horror movies, and your middle name happens to be the Vietnamese word for dragon ... it’s not a big stretch to guess that you’ll eventually come around to make a Godzilla movie.
That’s the Michael Dougherty story. He’s written “X2: X-Men United” and “Superman Returns,” and he’s written and directed “Krampus” as well as the new sequel to the 2014 reboot “Godzilla,” this one more regally titled “Godzilla: King of the Monsters.” Dougherty, 44, spoke about the thrill of getting the gig earlier this week in Hollywood.
Q: You’ve said before that you were a big fan of Gareth Edwards’ 2014 “Godzilla.” How did you go about ensuring that fans who loved that one would also love yours but still make it your own?
A: I loved what Gareth Edwards did in that film. It felt like the most realistic, grounded Godzilla film that I always wanted to see. As a kid I always fantasized about Godzilla showing up to destroy my school or about Godzilla ripping off the roof of my church while I was sitting there, bored. So, I had a habit of imagining Godzilla entering the real world, and that’s what Gareth’s film felt like. At the same time, I realized there was still room to grow it from there. What if you threw King Ghidorah into it, or Rodan? What would the most grounded, realistic version of those creatures be like? You know, once you get to three-headed dragons and giant moths, you have to embrace some of the more fantastical qualities of it. It stops being pure science fiction and starts to become more science fantasy. Gareth’s template was the perfect springboard for that, so I just dove right in.
Q: This film is really jam-packed with monsters. One of the scientist characters mentions that there are 17 Titans roaming the Earth, and we see a lot of them. But why did you only focus on four of them?
A: Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah were the original kaju (Japanese movie monster) team-up. They were the first ones that you saw cross paths in the ’60s movies, and they kept crossing paths ever since then. I think that alliance was embraced by Godzilla fans but also by people who aren’t Godzilla fans. They don’t always know the names or the details, but they recognize those creatures. So, it made sense that those four would be the ones to bring to life in this film.
Q: I think it’s OK to reveal that King Ghidorah is the big villain in this one. Why him?
A: Well, King Ghidorah is the Joker to Godzilla’s Batman. What I love about them in the old films is that you sense the rivalry. They look like two monsters that would absolutely hate each other. There’s bad blood between them and you feel it so it made sense that King Ghidorah, the three-headed dragon, would be the one here. And I’m a huge fan of dragons, especially Eastern dragons. My middle name actually means dragon in Vietnamese. Patrick is my white middle name, and my parents had a debate about that. My mother, who is Vietnamese, insisted on Long, which means dragon. So, it’s Michael Patrick Long Dougherty.
Q: In your story, the monsters are wreaking havoc everywhere, but there’s a point in the film where certain events take place in Boston. Why Boston over any other city?
A: My writing partner Zach Shields and I chose Boston because I think getting destroyed in a Godzilla movie is a badge of honor; it means that your city matters enough to get destroyed in a Godzilla movie. We’ve seen New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, all those other places get destroyed so many times. Why not Boston?
Q: There are direct references to the early Japanese films cleverly scattered throughout yours. Did you re-watch the old Toho movies before doing this one?
A: Sure. The fun part for me was putting the old movies on in the background while writing this one. The idea that I could sit at home and work on the script, with a Godzilla movie playing in the background and think, “I’m being paid for this! This is my job!” - that was pretty stunning. Even at the production office we had the old movies playing in the lobby, on a loop. It was fun to see different crew members stopping and watching them. It was a joy to share that with everyone involved in the project. I also had the old posters hung up on the walls of the production office. Anything we could to sort of embrace the legacy.
“Godzilla: King of the Monsters” opens on May 31.
Ed Symkus writes about movies for More Content Now. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.