A Spoilery Talk With ‘Godzilla Vs. Kong’ Screenwriter Max Borenstein

Godzilla vs. Kong is the fourth movie in the “Monsterverse,” and at this point all four movies have had different directors and a slew of credited screenwriters. Only one name appears on all four movies and that is screenwriter Max Borenstein.

Ahead, Borenstein takes us through his thought process, and involvement, on the four movies and why, now, he realizes that the main characters are the monsters, not the humans. He also discusses Mechagodzilla, which a lot of people will be excited about, but will leave others asking, wait, what is that thing? Borenstein had wanted to use Mechagodzilla in the previous movie, but when that didn’t happen, well he’s very excited he got to use him in Godzilla vs. Kong.

So you’ve been involved in all four of these. What’s the level of involvement you had with all four? You’re the one constant.

On Godzilla, I was not the first writer in. There had been a couple of drafts prior to being involved, but I was the writer who came in when Gareth Edwards came on and we kind of rebuilt it from the ground up in terms of conceiving the tone and the whole of approach to Godzilla. And then in Skull Island, I wrote the first couple of drafts and worked a little bit with Jordan when he first came in. And then I did a television show and came back before production in the prep world and John Gatins had done a bunch of work. And then on Godzilla: King of the Monsters, I had just written the first draft of that and some basic story elements stayed in place, but I had pretty much no involvement in the film.

And then on this movie, it was sort of somewhere in the middle where I came in, I was the last writer in and once they were sort of in prep. They had a lot of bones and a lot of the basic DNA, some of which we’d been building for a long time. So for instance, Mechagodzilla, the character I had introduced in my draft of Godzilla II and then we didn’t end up using it, so I pulled it back in. They had, I was happy to discover, decided that now was the timing to use that character, so when I came back in, I was like, oh great. We can play with this.

You’re credited with different people each time, but you’re the one constant to the whole thing. Do you think there’s a reason for that?

I don’t know. I would flatter myself to think that I think that I have a great working relationship and a lot of respect for the team at Legendary and at this point I have worked on this thing with them for quite a while in different capacities. And so I think they know that, on some level, I’m part of the team and know generally what to look out for and have learned some of the lessons with them about do’s and don’ts and obviously [inaudible 00:06:50] kind of battle scars you would take over the course of doing a franchise like this.

You said you had the least involvement with King of the Monsters, which was the least well-received. Coming into this one did you look at what didn’t work in the last one?

I certainly didn’t focus on that. I thought that that movie did, I think, what it was trying to do really effectively and had a battle royale, kind of intentionally over the top vibe, which was what it was going for. But I think with this movie, it was already in development at that point and Adam [Wingard] had a vision for the film that was tonally different. And I think somewhere in the middle. And then the human characters. I think, and this is getting into the lesson I learned, they work best when they’re treated as supporting characters. As supporting roles and not trying to carry the movie, but rather lending pathos, lending humor, lending points of view. That, to me, it’s a big lesson that I have learned about how to handle movies with these giant creatures. The more you can let them be the stars of the show and the humans be personalities that are interesting and fun, rather than having to sort of pretend to be the leading man or leading lady, I think that really frees us up.

In King of the Monsters, the humans are still kind of the main thing of the movie, but there are so many characters in that movie and they’re all kind of just doing the same thing, just being on an airplane together and they don’t have different missions. And then when the monsters show up they fight at night and even in a blizzard where you can’t see anything.

No, all valid points. I think, without getting into any critiques of anything else, I think just what I’ve learned, just in this project: when you mentioned characters on different missions I think that’s really valid issue that, from a plot standpoint, you want to give these characters something to do that allows them to be active and not just witnesses. At the same time, from a screenwriting standpoint, the more active the human beings are, the less plausible. In the sense of it forces you to come up with fancy technology, for example, that allows them to interact at that scale. And that has its drawbacks. There are pluses and minuses, because of course it starts to strain credulity and become less bounded the more you invent even Mechagodzilla, right? So it’s all a balancing act.

So how did you come up with the idea of why Kong and Godzilla don’t see eye to eye without making one a complete villain?

Kong is an anthropomorphic character. Kong is a primate. Kong is therefore easy to identify with, even if he fundamentally is always the kind of misunderstood loner, outsider, antihero, he’s also a primate. We can relate. We can identify with him and the character that emotes a more human manner. Godzilla is just this massive monstrous force of nature that’s impossible to ever fully understand or comprehend his motivations. At times in different films over decades, they imbue him with different kinds of personalities, but fundamentally he’s a little impossible. The best versions of Godzilla I think are kind of impossible to fully understand and he has a relationship to human beings that’s something like your relationship to the ants at the picnic table. Like if they don’t get your way, you’re fine with it. If they do, you kill them, but you really don’t think twice about it. It may be every now and then you see one ant lugging a giant crumb and you think, “Oh, that’s a fluffy ant. I won’t kill that one.” That’s pretty much it. Where initially Godzilla is causing destruction and we don’t know why and obviously people are going to misunderstand that. But he certainly isn’t malicious and you have to try to understand what’s going on because Godzilla wouldn’t cause havoc just for no reason.

Mechagodzilla is interesting. Is that a complicated character to introduce? And maybe a movie like Ready Player One helps where he’s featured pretty prominently. But everyone knows Godzilla. Everyone knows Kong. Mechagodzilla is a little … nerdier.

Oh, exactly.

It’s going to be super exciting for a group of people and other people are going to have no idea what this thing is.

Yeah. And I think that’s okay because at the end of the day, the “character” of Mechagodzilla, certainly in this film, is much less important than what Mechagodzilla represents. It really is human ego, right? Writ large. It’s human hubris, the attempt to engage and be active for good or ill at the level of the monsters and then run amok. Obviously kind of a life of its own and whatnot. But, I think that notion that this is people trying to intervene where they rather should stay the hell away, that’s fundamental to something we all kind of can relate to and understanding because that’s what society and civilization does. It causes a lot of problems and some magnificence, but that’s what people do. And so we tried to focus it on that, which I think then, sci-fi aside, it’s relatable and understandable and kind of fits into an existing paradigm.

The first Godzilla and Kong fight happens 45 minutes into the movie? Why did you decide to have a bunch of fights instead of one big fight at the end.

Like I said, a lot of those bones were at least in place in terms of the notion that was something that people wanted to do by the time I came in. But I think it was, to me, that was just the obvious solution because we’ve laid the groundwork now. We’ve introduced Kong. We introduced Godzilla. And they’ve each had their own films where they were, by virtue of being introduced, they weren’t front and center the entire time. But now that you know them, you can’t play coy. This is Godzilla vs. Kong! They’re the stars of the film! It’s almost like a boxing film. Round one goes to one. Round two goes to the other. What’s going to happen in round three? And that felt like the obvious structure.

‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ is now in theaters and streaming via HBO Max. You can contact Mike Ryan directly on Twitter.