Godzilla vs. Kong Beat Sheet
Since the pandemic hit in 2020, box office revenues have plummeted. However, one of the highest grossing films has been this much-anticipated, colossal hit from Legendary Pictures’ cinematic MonsterVerse via Warner Bros. The MonsterVerse is a shared fictional universe featuring a series of films highlighting the world’s mightiest monsters—Godzilla and King Kong. The first chapter was Godzilla (2014), a reboot of the Godzilla franchise, which was followed by Kong: Skull Island (2017), a reboot of the King Kong franchise, Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019), and now, Godzilla vs. Kong (2021).
The titanic franchise has grossed nearly two billion dollars worldwide. For this monster kid, it was a fun time at the movies, which was reminiscent of watching the original Toho creature features of yesteryear at grandma’s house on Saturday afternoons. Here’s a breakdown of this Monster in the House movie, which has all of the elements of that Save the Cat!® genre: House (world), Monster (our eponymous titans), and Sin (playing God). Check out these monster beats!
Screenplay by: Eric Pearson, Max Borenstein
Story by: Terry Rossio, Michael Dougherty, Zach Shields
Director by: Adam Wingard
MITH Type: Pure Monster
Cousins: The Descent, The Thing, An American Werewolf in London, Gremlins, Alien, Jaws, Godzilla, Kong: Skull Island, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Anaconda, Jurassic Park, The Mist, Lake Placid, Creature from the Black Lagoon
Opening Image: Kong wakes up on sun-dappled Skull Island. Bobby Vinton’s “Over the Mountain Across the Sea” plays on the soundtrack. After itching his massive hairy buttocks, the giant primate takes a shower in a colossal waterfall. As he thunders around his jungle paradise, the king of all he surveys, the monstrous mammal encounters a small girl.
Set-Up: Jia (Kaylee Hottle), an Iwi native orphan, meets up with the monster. He sees her; they’re friends. Kong rips out a tree, tears off the branches and roots, and fashions a spear. He hurls it into the air—the balmy morning sky shatters. It’s an LED ceiling. Kong lives in a giant containment unit that surrounds Skull Island.
The eponymous primate is aware of his artificial environment. The problem is the Monarch scientists monitoring him, led by Dr. Ilene Andrews (Rebecca Hall), can’t relocate him. Doing so would draw another alpha Titan—Godzilla. There would be a fight. The irony is Kong is safe here, but he is also not safe here. He will need to find a better home, but how and where?
At Apex Cybernetics in Pensacola Florida, Bernie Hayes (Brian Tyree Henry) hosts his monster conspiracy theories on Titan Truth Podcast. He’s working deep undercover in Apex—wanting to blow the lid off of what the megacorp is doing.
Theme Stated: Bernie surreptitiously manages to download a top secret manifest of something that resembles a massive red eye being shipped from Pensacola to Hong Kong. This will prove to be the “sin” that will bring the monster into the house. The corporation is tampering with things better left alone by “playing God.” A familiar Frankenstein theme.
Catalyst: Godzilla emerges from the waves of the Gulf and attacks Pensacola, virtually destroying Apex Cybernetics. Bernie Hayes nearly dies. In the rubble, he discovers what looks like a giant electronic eye that he saw in the manifest hidden in a secret bunker.
Debate: The giant lizard’s attack creates an international crisis. Godzilla, thought to be a friendly Titan—based on his killing Ghidorah five years earlier—is now considered the number one, worldwide threat. How can he be stopped when he’s the most powerful creature on Earth? And why did he attack? Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir), the Apex owner, says he’ll find a solution.
Madison Russell (Millie Bobby Brown) listens to Bernie Hayes’ podcasts. She tries to convince her dad, Dr. Mark Russell (Kyle Chandler), who was near the attack site, that the theory about Godzilla specifically attacking has something to do with what Apex is doing. Her dad disagrees, saying that the podcast conspiracies are filling her head with garbage. She picks up her friend, Josh Valentine (Julian Dennison), and they track down Bernie. Madison’s the Half Man, a familiar trope in MITH, who’s dealt with these monsters before and lost her mother previously in Godzilla: King of the Monsters.
Walter Simmons and his colleague, Ren Serizawa (Shun Oguri), visit Dr. Nathan Lind (Alexander Skarsgård), a Hollow Earth specialist who’s written an unpopular book about it. They need Kong to help with the mission. Hollow Earth, a holograph mapped from one of Simmons’ high-tech satellites, is an ecosystem as vast as any ocean at the Earth’s core. It generates a life force. Simmons wants to capture an energy force below that could compete with Godzilla by way of a HEAV (Hollow Earth Aerial Vehicle). Lind has an idea. They need a Titan that can lead them down there. Only one Titan may cooperate.
Dr. Lind visits the Skull Island containment dome and speaks to Dr. Andrews in an effort to use Kong to stop Godzilla.
Break into Two: Dr. Andrews agrees to take Kong to Antarctica, where the Hollow Earth entry is located. Accompanied by a naval armada, the giant primate rides, chained to the deck on a massive barge. Kong isn’t happy; he doesn’t understand what is happening. Dr. Lind is with Dr. Andrews and Jia. They’re joined by Walter’s prickly daughter, Maia Simmons (Eiza González), a top-tier executive at Apex. They avoid Godzilla’s known territory since the Titans share an ancient rivalry.
B Story: Madison and Josh link up with Bernie and decide to go find out what’s happening at the partially demolished Pensacola Apex site. They are the helper story that will uncover the inevitable transgression that every Monster in the House tale features.
Fun and Games: The crew, and Dr. Andrews, learns that the deaf Jia can sign with Kong. And he wants to go home.
The promises of the premise: Godzilla shows up! A magnificent fight at sea ensues with astounding explosions and special effects. Godzilla is at home in the water; Kong isn’t and he nearly drowns. What remains of the ravaged Navy must shut off all their engines and play dead—as does the half-drowned Kong—for Godzilla to acknowledge his victory and leave.
Since they can’t run ships anymore or it will trigger Godzilla to return, they must fly Kong the rest of the way to Antarctica, tethered on a big net using several helicopters.
Midpoint: Kong arrives at the Antarctica Hollow Earth point, along with Dr. Lind, Dr. Andrews, Jia, and Maia Simmons, a false victory. Madison, Josh, and Bernie discover where the secret bunker Sublevel 33 is. They’re accidentally shipped to Hong Kong in a cargo container with a throng of massive Skullcrawler embryos. Apex is up to something sinister, tying A and B stories together. The stakes raise and the clock ticks.
Bad Guys Close In: Convincing Kong to enter the Hollow Earth entrance in Antarctica, Lind and Andrews follow in one HEAV craft, Maia Simmons and her team in another. They manage to slip through the crushing reverse gravitational field safely to discover a jungle paradise that resembles Skull Island. Kong and the exploration group are attacked by massive Warbats. Kong defeats them.
In Hong Kong, Madison, Bernie, and Josh arrive in their shipping container via the underground monorail tunnel. They soon discover a sacrificial pit, of which they are unwitting members. It’s a test center for Mechagodzilla. They’re front and center when Walter Simmons orders Ren Serizawa to run a systems test. Ren sits inside Ghidorah’s skull, and through a combination of power and telepathy, operates the mechanized monster. The Apex-built machine quickly kills the Skullcrawler, but runs out of power, only achieving 40 percent. It’s revealed that Walter Simmons wants a Hollow Earth core sample so he can power up and replace Godzilla. Humans will once again be the apex predators on Earth. However, the surge of Mechagodzilla power in Hong Kong triggers Godzilla to swim in that direction (as he did earlier in Pensacola).
Kong discovers his ancestral throne room in a massive cavern. Based on bones and artistic depictions, it’s made clear that there’s an ancient, long-standing war between Kong and Godzilla’s kinds. Kong retrieves an axe fashioned from the dorsal spines of a long-dead Godzilla descendant. As the team discovers the raw power source, Kong realizes he can utilize the unharnessed power to recharge his battle axe. Maia Simmons has the power source’s signature sent back to Apex’s Hong Kong base.
All Is Lost: The power surge from Hollow Earth to the major Chinese city summons Godzilla, who smashes his way through the metropolis. Using his devastating atomic breath, the radioactive thunder lizard blasts a hole into the ground burning all the way to Hollow Earth, its source. Simmons’ daughter also betrays Dr. Andrews and Dr. Lind. This was a one-way trip for our heroes, it seems. Despite Ren Serizawa’s misgivings, Walter Simmons orders him “into the chair” as the power upload is ready for Mechagodzilla—and the final test.
Dark Night of the Soul: Down in Hollow Earth, the chaos of Godzilla causes cave-inhabiting Hellhawks to attack the group, killing most of the men. When the survivors of Maia’s team shoot Kong with machine guns armed on their HEAV, the king crushes her vehicle. The last humans standing—Lind, Andrews, and Jia—manage to escape the crumbling cavern, following Kong through the seared tunnel Godzilla created.
In Hong Kong, Madison, Bernie, and Josh are captured by armed Apex security. Not good.
Break into Three: Kong arrives back on terra firma with his recharged battle axe. This is a Campbellian “seizing of the sword” moment in the Hero’s Journey.
Gathering the Team: It’s more evenly matched with Kong on solid footing (instead of the sea) and with a radioactive-charged battle axe. Andrews, Lind, and Jia arrive in Hong Kong desperately watching the rivalry between the two Titans.
Executing the Plan: Kong and Godzilla have a legendary rumble that leaves the massive city in rubble. Kong is recharged, using his axe to repel the lizard’s fiery breath and draw blood. The overgrown primate is using Godzilla’s own power against him. Madison, Bernie, and Josh meet the gloating Walter Simmons.
High Tower Surprise: The battle finishes with Godzilla overwhelming and critically injuring Kong. The thunder lizard roars in the primate’s face for him to submit—but Kong only roars back in defiance. Seemingly impressed by his opponent’s perseverance, boldness, and valor, Godzilla relents. Kong attempts to stand, but succumbs to his wounds. He’s finished. In Apex, Mechagodzilla comes online again—augmented by the Hollow Earth power. However, he grows sentient—frying pilot Ren Serizawa’s brain and crushing Walter Simmons. The mechanized monster breaks free of his laboratory confines and attacks Godzilla with missiles, laser breath, and ponderous, motorized strength.
Dig Deep Down: Godzilla is now down for the count and Kong is dying, his heartbeat fading fast. Dr. Lind gets an idea… early in Act Two, Maia Simmons said that the HEAVs had enough power to “light up Las Vegas for a week.” Lind lands the vehicle onto Kong’s chest and uses it as a massive defibrillator, shocking the primate’s massive heart awake.
Execution of the New Plan: It’s up to the original Titans to defeat the faux Titan. Kong attacks the mechanized lizard, saving Godzilla from being fried. Realizing Mechagodzilla, despite being sentient, is still connected to the Apex satellite, Josh tries to hack into it and shut it down. The kid fails until he steals Bernie’s flask, with his last bit of alcohol until the end of the world, and pours it onto the controls. This ties A and B stories together. They manage to disarm Mechagodzilla’s deadly weaponry. From there, Godzilla and Kong tag team Mechagodzilla, ripping him apart until there’s nothing left. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, indeed. The real monster—the corporate monster created by a greedy, evil man—is dead. Kong literally buries the hatchet, in this case the augmented battle axe, into the rubble. Godzilla returns to the Pacific Ocean. The world is safe from monsters… for now.
Final Image: Kong is in his new home in Hollow Earth with Jia, as he’ll be monitored—“The Air That I Breathe” by The Hollies appropriately on the soundtrack. The massive monkey has finally found where he belongs, his true home, where he can be king. Will Kong produce a son as the previous mythology of the monster movies suggests? Time will tell.