On the surface, Adam Wingard and “Godzilla vs. Kong” are a match made in heaven. The indie horror veteran has been working toward directing a summer blockbuster for the past decade, gradually taking on bigger and bigger budgets, and on Tuesday, Wingard tweeted that he’s “disgustingly invested in these monsters.”
But it’s hard to imagine that Wingard is using his skills to the best of his ability by joining Legendary Entertainment’s MonsterVerse. By keeping his feet firmly planted in the disciplined world of micro-budget filmmaking, Wingard has been forced to come up with inventive approaches to genre films that catch audiences by surprise. His first collaboration with screenwriter Simon Barrett, 2010’s “A Horrible Way to Die,” combined the subject matter of horror with the strong characters and an intentionally meandering plot to create something that was distinctive in its own right.
Indeed, Wingard’s best-received work has been the 2011 horror film “You’re Next” and 2014’s “The Guest,” both of which were low-budget movies based on original ideas. His first experience working on an existing property for a studio, meanwhile — 2016’s “Blair Witch” for Lionsgate — was a dud. The movie earned a metascore of 47 and was a box office disappointment, taking in about half of its $20 million expected opening weekend grosses.
Plenty of Wingard fans were undoubtedly thrilled to hear his next movie would be an epic showdown between cinema’s two most famous monsters, but anyone who’s grown accustomed to the director’s speedy output of smaller-scale movies should be wary. Wingard will be locked up for the next three years on “Godzilla vs. Kong,” a period of time in which he could otherwise churn out a handful of new movies.
While he follows a long list of low-budget filmmakers who have been handed the reins to a big-budget summer blockbuster, Hollywood’s playbook of hiring indie directing talent doesn’t always produce quality movies. Josh Trank’s “Fantastic Four” for Twentieth Century Fox was a box office bomb and a critical disaster, and though Colin Trevorrow’s “Jurassic World” took in $1.67 billion worldwide, the film’s reviews were mixed at best.
Legendary will certainly be popping the champagne if “Godzilla vs. Kong” does similar business, but if the film itself doesn’t stand out against the company’s “Godzilla” or “Kong: Skull Island,” it will further obscure the memories of Wingard’s previous accomplishments — and make it harder to imagine he can top them anytime soon.
Of course, it’s certainly possible that Wingard’s incremental rise to tentpole director will help him succeed where others have failed. Having recently completed Netflix’s “Death Note,” a live-action adaptation of the popular manga series made for around $40 million, he’s better positioned to move up in scale than many indie directors who took bigger leaps with their first big-budget efforts.
“I have a good idea of what money buys you in terms of making movies,” Wingard said during an interview with IndieWire at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival. “You just get more toys and better crews, but ultimately the filmmaking experience is always the same.” For those of us who have enjoyed his work over the years, we’ll just have to hold out hope that assertion remains true.