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Read This Before You See Godzilla: King Of The Monsters

The king is back — and we aren't talkin' about Stephen. Arguably the most popular movie monster in history, the kaiju creature Godzilla is stomping his way back into theaters with Godzilla: King of the Monsters. The 35th entry in the sprawling Godzilla franchise that began in 1954 with Ishirō Honda's film — and the second installment in Warner Bros. and Legendary's Godzilla reboot series — King of the Monsters enters a cinema scape that's teeming with history and rife with canonical touchstones.

Directed and co-written by Michael Dougherty, Godzilla: King of the Monsters follows after Gareth Edwards' Godzilla from 2014. While that film sought to breathe new life into Godzilla, seeing the reptilian brute awakening in the present day to battle parasitic predators known as MUTOs (Massive Unidentified Terrestrial Organisms) and protect humankind from being ravaged by his beastly opponents, King of the Monsters tells a different tale — and adds new characters and creatures to the mix.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters steps into a proverbial party that's been raging for years and follows up a film that reimagined cinema's favorite fire-breathing behemoth and left everyone with plenty of questions. What exactly goes down in King of the Monsters? How does the movie connect to its many predecessors? Is Godzilla really the king? 

Take a deep breath — we've got you covered with everything you need to know before Godzilla: King of the Monsters stomps your way on May 31st.

Get familiar with the fresh faces

To avoid retreading old ground, sequels often introduce new characters and tell a fresh story. This is precisely what director Michael Dougherty and co-writer Zach Shields did with Godzilla: King of the Monsters.

A host of stars are joining the Godzilla family for King of the Monsters — including The Conjuring franchise veteran Vera Farmiga, Stranger Things darling Millie Bobby Brown, Friday Night Lights alum Kyle Chandler, Get Out actor Bradley Whitford, Straight Outta Compton breakout O'Shea Jackson Jr., Game of Thrones actor Charles Dance, Silicon Valley star Thomas Middleditch, and Memoirs of a Geisha and The Cloverfield Paradox actress Zhang Ziyi.

Farmiga, Brown, and Chandler make up members of the Russell family: paleobiologist Dr. Emma Russell, who works for the crypto-zoological organization Monarch and who invented a device that allows her to communicate with Godzilla and creatures like him and "potentially control them using their bioacoustics on a sonar level"; 14-year-old Madison Russell; and animal behavior expert Dr. Mark Russell, Emma's ex-husband. 

Whitford portrays Dr. Stanton, a character loosely based on Rick Sanchez from Rick and Morty. Jackson Jr. plays U.S. Armed Forces chief warrant officer Barnes, while Dance portrays ex-British Army colonel and MI-6 agent Jonah Alan, who leads a terrorist paramilitary group hunting for monster DNA. Middleditch plays Sam Coleman, a liaison between the U.S. government and Monarch, and Ziyi brings to life mythology specialist and decoder Dr. Chen, who also works for Monarch.

Say hello to the returning stars

Though there are more than a handful of new characters to meet in Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the film doesn't go without a few returning favorites. Before anyone gets their hopes up — no, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Bryan Cranston, and Elizabeth Olsen won't be back to reprise their respective roles as U.S. Navy lieutenant Ford Brody, whose team was killed after aiding in Godzilla's fight against the MUTOs in the 2014 film; Ford's father Joe, who served as the lead engineer at the Janjira nuclear power plant in Japan until it was destroyed in 1999; and Ford's wife Elle, a nurse at San Francisco General Hospital. (Their absences are down to the fact that Godzilla: King of the Monsters follows a whole new narrative, but we'll get to that in just a bit.)

The actors who are returning for King of the Monsters and who do fit into the sequel's story, however, are Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins. Watanabe slips back into the crisp white lab coat of his Godzilla character Dr. Ishiro Serizawa, a scientist at Monarch. Hawkins will be back as Serizawa's right-hand woman Dr. Vivienne Graham.

Another actor coming back for King of the Monsters? Godzilla himself. Professional stuntman T.J. Storm reprises the monstrous role in a motion-capture performance.

A story of family, rescue, and monsters — duh

The vast majority of sequels use the ending of their direct precursors as a springboard to launch into new narrative territory. Godzilla: King of the Monsters is no exception. So, what's the sitch with the sequel's story? Let's break it down.

Set in 2019, five years after 2014's Godzilla, King of the Monsters centers around the members of Monarch as they go head-to-head with a "battery of god-sized monsters" — and by that, we mean Godzilla and his three foes Mothra, Rodan, and King Ghidorah. Mankind once believed the "ancient super-species," collectively known as Titans, were the stuff of fiction. The Titans are all too real — and threaten humanity's existence when they rise to fight for dominance.  

With a title like "King of the Monsters," it was obvious the film would heavily feature the fearsome beasts, but the sequel is actually also about family, a high-stakes rescue mission, and a "relationship between a mother and daughter."

Godzilla: King of the Monsters sees Dr. Emma Russell and her daughter Madison get kidnapped by Jonah Alan's "mysterious organization" that wants to use Emma's intelligence and Titans communication device, as well as Madison's "strange connection" with Mothra, for nefarious purposes. Emma feels humans and Titans can co-exist peacefully, but after experiencing a great loss, her ex-husband Mark doesn't agree. Despite holding a negative view of the monsters, Mark teams with Monarch's Dr. Ishiro Serizawa and Dr. Vivienne Graham to rescue Emma and Madison.

The terrible trio

Godzilla: King of the Monsters will bring Mothra, Rodan, and Ghidorah back to the big screen, and we've got the skinny on who three creatures are and how they'll be depicted.

A colossal moth-like being, Mothra will be both beautiful and deadly in King of the Monsters. Director Michael Dougherty aimed to give her a realistic appearance, including long legs that help her fight against and defend herself from her adversaries. "I tried to create something that was beautiful, and feminine, and elegant, and looked like a true goddess, but also dangerous if she had to be," he said.

Rodan is a pterodactyl-like monster, described by Dougherty as a "massive A-bomb" and a "bit of a rogue" with incredible physical power. "You never quite know where his loyalties lie," Dougherty said. "Godzilla's more of a lumbering, plodding presence; it takes him a couple of days to destroy a city like Tokyo. Rodan can level it without even thinking."

As for Ghidorah, the three-headed dragon-type beast is Godzilla's ultimate nemesis. That each of his heads has "its own different personality" — one alpha and two "lackeys" — makes Ghidorah even more formidable than Godzilla's other challengers.  

Collectively, the trio are more than mere monsters — they're dangerous divine beings. "We want to put the 'god' back in Godzilla," Dougherty once said. "We wanted to portray these creatures not just as giant animals, but as something you would bend your knee to in real life."

What the trailers have taught us

Since releasing the first teaser for Godzilla: King of the Monsters in July of 2018, Warner Bros. and Legendary have rolled out several sneak peeks at the film — each of which unveil something different about the monsters, the humans, and the world in which they're living.

The initial teaser saw Madison attempting to make contact with Monarch, then tap into the sounds of a wild-sounding, growl-heavy fight between Monarch's members and an unidentified creature. A few days later, the first full-length trailer screened at San Diego Comic-Con 2018, filling us in on the full story. As Dr. Emma Russell explains in the footage, the "world is changing," the "mass extinction we feared has already begun," and humans are "the infection" — and that because Titans are the "original and rightful rulers" of the planet, they are mankind's only hope of survival. She also says that if all of the Titans, which have "remained in hiding," aren't found, humanity will cease to exist. Cue the start of Monarch's new mission and earth-shaking storms that signal the rise of Mothra, Ghidorah, Rodan, and Godzilla.

Subsequently released individual creature teasers gave us closer looks at the film's monsters, while the second trailer featured the Titans ravaging cities, creating chaos, and gearing up to fight one another. Plus, it teased a big question King of the Monsters will answer: "Which of these Titans are here to protect us, and which of these Titans are here to threaten us?"

Is Godzilla the good guy?

The title of Godzilla: King of the Monsters tells audiences all they need to know about the monster's ranking in the Titan hierarchy: he's the big kahuna, the grand poobah, the top banana, if you will. But what about where Godzilla stands on the hero-villain binary?

As Bradley Whitford's Dr. Stanton states in one of the film's trailers, Godzilla is "on our side," and can help save mankind from being eradicated by Mothra, Ghidorah, and Rodan as soon as Monarch sets him free. Though Godzilla isn't out to harm humans, not everyone is totally willing to consider him the good guy. Take the difference in opinion between actor O'Shea Jackson Jr., whose character Barnes leads Monarch's military crew the G-Team, and Kyle Chandler, whose Dr. Mark Russell has a "troubled history with the Titans," as evidence.

Jackson Jr. told Fandango that Godzilla is a heroic protector: "Speaking as a Godzilla fan, I always hated those humans who acted like didn't Godzilla didn't just save their ass. What happened in San Francisco in 2014 [in Godzilla], from what I can see, he holds down the Pacific, so California seems safe. So I'm down with that." On the converse, Chandler said Mark isn't a fan of any of the Titans, Godzilla included. "They're mean, ugly, dangerous, and they've caused havoc with [Mark's] family," he said.

Looks like some will be hesitant to bow down to the king. That could be their undoing or give Godzilla the chance to prove them wrong.

Past meets present

Godzilla: King of the Monsters may be as fresh as can be in terms of its time setting —  taking place in 2019, the same year of its release — but it also incorporates elements of the past. 

Talking with Fandango, director Michael Dougherty detailed that the concept of King of the Monsters is rooted in the mythology that the world belongs to the Titans, since they were on Earth long before humans came along. In his words, humans are "the invasive species," and the Titans are "the old gods... the first gods." He also shared that King of the Monsters gives the creatures a "more mythological, almost biblical, backdrop" when exploring their history. "These creatures were once worshipped by some ancient civilization," said Dougherty. "I really love that about the old movies that Mothra was this deity. It really opened up the mythology."

In simple terms, Godzilla: King of the Monsters sees ancient mythology clash with the modern day, bringing humans and god-like beasts together at the same point in time — a union partially motivated by a childhood wish of Dougherty's. "As a kid it always bummed me out that dinosaurs never actually crossed paths [with humans]," he said. "So I'm saying f*** that."

Filling in the gaps

The five-year break between Godzilla and King of the Monsters — both in regards to the film's release dates and their time settings — leaves a lot of time unaccounted for. Though we can't say for certain whether Godzilla: King of the Monsters will explain the in-world events that went down between 2014 and 2019, or how the film will address the gap, we can assure you that another piece of Godzilla content definitely will.

On May 21, just ahead of King of the Monsters' May 31 debut, fans can dig into Godzilla: Aftershock, the Legendary Comics-published "tie-in prequel" graphic novel that takes place in the time after Godzilla and before King of the Monsters and sets the stage for the sequel. Written by Avrid Nelson with artwork by Drew Edward Johnson, Godzilla: Aftershock continues the plot laid out in Godzilla, seeing an all-new monster ascend from deep within the planet and Godzilla battle an "unstoppable primal instinct" that challenges his inner strength. 

The graphic novel also introduces several characters from King of the Monsters, as Dr. Emma Russell and the members of Monarch try to put an end to the creature and attempt to piece together the truth behind a past tragedy "of apocalyptic proportions" that is resurfacing again. As Godzilla fights in a rivalry that spans as many years as the Earth has been a planet, Emma unravels secrets beyond anyone's wildest imagination.

A meaningful message

Just as Godzilla: King of the Monsters' story is about more than just the eponymous beasts and the touted-as-the-top-dog creature who aims to vanquish them, the film's meaning is far deeper than surface-level stuff. There's serious, real-world subtext to King of the Monsters. 

Much like the Ishirō Honda-directed Godzilla from the '50s and Gareth Edwards' Godzilla from a few years ago both connected to actual events in the outside world (Honda's original depicted Godzilla as a symbol of nuclear weapons in response to the World War II bombings of Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki; Edwards' film called to mind parallels to the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant disaster), King of the Monsters carries a message about environmentalism, the role humans play in the destruction of planet Earth, and the importance of science in our modern society.

"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," director Michael Dougherty told Fandango. Actor Kyle Chandler also shared, "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. I think you'll see that in the movie that's important to the director." Star Vera Farmiga even described the movie as being more about "saving the environment" than your average monster-filled flick, and said that the parable of the film is what drew her in.

An Easter egg hunt

Nowadays, you'd be hard-pressed to find a film that doesn't feature callbacks to classic movies, cheeky nods to pop culture, and references to all sorts of different cinematic universes. Easter eggs have become the norm in modern cinema, with audiences practically squirming in their seats at the thought of finding every last hidden allusion tucked inside a new release. It should come as little surprise that Godzilla: King of the Monsters will continue this trend — but what you should know about the sneaky references is that some will set up the future of the Godzilla franchise.

Actor O'Shea Jackson Jr. told Fandango during a set visit in 2017 that he was "nerding out really hard" over the Easter eggs in King of the Monsters, and said that fans will have a blast trying to uncover them all. "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," he said.

Director Michael Dougherty piggybacked off Jackson Jr.'s remarks when he told Entertainment Weekly that the film will also tease the introduction of another famous movie creature post-King of the Monsters: King Kong. "It's not like we're bending over backwards to introduce Kong, but there's definitely some bread crumbs," Dougherty shared.

Grab your binoculars and a basket before heading out to see Godzilla: King of the Monsters, as the moviegoing experience sounds like it will double as a massive Easter egg hunt.

Crafting a shared cinematic universe

Godzilla: King of the Monsters is no average sequel. It expands the revived world that Godzilla set up; calls back to the old-school monster movies produced by Toho, the Japanese company responsible for 32 of the 34 already released Godzilla films; and help set up a new cinematic universe packed with monsters and centered on Monarch's undertakings that will stretch "across multiple releases." 

King of the Monsters not only serves as the sequel to Godzilla, but also as the next entry in Warner Bros.' "initial trio" of MonsterVerse movies, which see Godzilla exist "in an ecosystem of other giant super-species, both classic and new." Additionally, director Michael Dougherty once mentioned that King of the Monsters hinges on something of a crossover event, as the film unites the creatures featured in Toho's classics. "Outside of the Universal classic monster movies, Toho is one of the first companies to pioneer the idea of a shared universe," Dougherty said while the folks at Fandango visited the King of the Monsters set. "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 [with King of the Monsters]."

In including Mothra, Ghidorah, and Rodan in Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the film opens the door for other creatures to enter the burgeoning MonsterVerse as the story of Monarch's mission with the monsters continues.

A sequel is already in the works

Before Godzilla: King of the Monsters even released its first trailer, the bigwigs at Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures announced plans for a sequel. You know, that third entry into the studios' Godzilla trilogy, the last piece of the first wave of MonsterVerse movies, and the film that King of the Monsters will tease with its references to King Kong? That one.

Aptly entitled Godzilla vs. Kong, the King of the Monsters sequel has Death Note's Adam Wingard on board as director, plus Millie Bobby Brown, Kyle Chandler, and Zhang Ziyi back in the fold. Like King of the Monsters followed a different story than Godzilla, so too will Godzilla vs. Kong — this time centering around a brutal brawl between Godzilla and the gorilla-like monster King Kong. The film — which stars Alexander Skarsgård as "the leader of a military unit" as well as Rebecca Hall, Jessica HenwickBrian Tyree Henry, and more— also focuses on "humanity's fight for its future," Monarch's mission to discover the truth about the Titans, and a conspiracy that "threatens to wipe the creatures, both good and bad, from the face of the earth forever."

Make no mistake, though, there will be a clear winner of the titular battle. As Wingard once confirmed, "I do want people to walk away from this film feeling like, 'Okay, there is a winner.'" Start placing your bets while you wait for Godzilla vs. Kong to debut on March 13, 2020.