Godzilla vs. Kong: Comparing the 1962 and 2021 Versions

Godzilla vs. Kong is the long awaited rematch of two iconic monsters that last crossed paths in 1962. But just how different is the new version from Toho Studios' King Kong vs. Godzilla?

Godzilla vs Kong 1962 vs 2021
Photo: Toho Studios / Warner Bros. Pictures

he following article contains Godzilla vs. Kong spoilers.

After three movies of build-up, the battle lines are drawn. The mighty Godzilla goes toe-to-toe with the titan gorilla King Kong over who is the alpha of the MonsterVerse. While the movie doesn’t have the epic, apocalyptic feel which came with its predecessor Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Godzilla vs. Kong does deliver on the crazy fight scenes and makes good on a rivalry that has long had its foot in pop culture—if only because of an incredibly silly film from 1962.

The original King Kong vs. Godzilla is not a movie that’s aged well, but there’s something so fitting about seeing a giant ape trade punches with a giant lizard, then and now. It’s surprising it took this long to get a real rematch, but at least now we don’t have to deal with the heresy of seeing Kong depicted as a guy in a rubber costume.

Now that we have our second chance at this titanic showdown, let’s see how the two incarnations compare.

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Place in the Kaiju Series

King Kong vs. Godzilla, despite its marquee crossover title, was actually very early in the line-ups for its respective franchises. Well, sort of. King Kong and its sequel Son of Kong both came out in 1933. The King Kong series wasn’t all that prolific, so there wasn’t another installment until the versus movie, nearly 30 years later.

The idea of King Kong being part of Toho’s kaiju continuity would also continue with one sequel in 1967’s King Kong Escapes, this time introducing Mechani-Kong, the robot double of the iconic ape. Interestingly enough, King Kong beat Godzilla to the punch with that gimmick as Mechagodzilla wouldn’t be introduced for another few years, in part inspired by Mechani-Kong.

After that movie, King Kong was pulled away from Toho’s hands and nothing was done with the franchise until nine years later, when the original was remade by Dino De Laurentiis.

As for Godzilla, he had yet to really find his footing before stepping into the ring with Kong. Oh sure, the original Godzilla film is a stone cold classic, and the sequel Godzilla Raids Again was decent enough, mixing the original’s atomic terror with the introduction of giant monster vs. giant monster action. But that was all the beast had going for him around that time—and in each of these previous appearances he was still the heavy. All those ridiculous battles with Mothra, Rodan, Gigan, and the like would happen after 1962. Thus King Kong vs. Godzilla was not the culmination, but the event to kickstart decades of “Godzilla vs.” films.

As for Godzilla vs. Kong, the film marked the (first?) climax of Warner Brothers’ latest attempt to mimic the shared universe model which has made the Marvel Cinematic Universe so successful. And even with only four movies under its belt, the MonsterVerse is shockingly one of the more successful and coherent attempts to pull off one of these in Hollywood in the last decade. (See the Dark Universe for when it goes disastrously wrong.)

At the very least, the lead-up is perfectly done. 2014 gave us the initial Godzilla film; 2017 brought Kong: Skull Island, which took place decades earlier but was connected due to including the monster-studying organization Monarch; and 2019’s Godzilla: King of the Monsters built on the 2014 film by adding more recognizable kaiju, throwing in a couple Kong cameos, and even loosely setting up the confrontation in the end credits.

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While King of the Monsters didn’t do great financially, Warner Bros. was already too deep in the creation of Godzilla vs. Kong to stop. So they lucked out in getting at least one more chapter out of the pile.

The Folly of Men

I was going to compare the human characters from the two movies, but… I barely recall anything from King Kong vs. Godzilla and I just rewatched it.

But whatever. These elements are just padding that we have to power through. The stuff in the new movie about Millie Bobby Brown and the husky kid from Deadpool 2 sneaking around for the sake of exposition isn’t worth talking about. Instead let’s consider how each movie deals with man’s hubris.

Godzilla vs. Kong has Walter Simmons (Demián Bichir) as the big villain, playing a cross between Lex Luthor and the Most Interesting Man in the World. The idea that Godzilla exists to protect mankind is an insult to him. He feels that it belittles the human race. Hence the creation of Mechagodzilla. By building that robot, Simmons feels that man will once again be the apex predator and ruler of its own destiny. This foolish point-of-view not only pushes the destructive plot that winds up killing countless people, but his supposed control over Mechegodzilla turns out to be his undoing.

Back in the 1960s, King Kong vs. Godzilla plays with a more comedic version of hubris that still feels relevant. Mr. Tako, the head of a pharmaceutical company, decides he wants to capture King Kong. Why? Because he’d make great publicity for his product in commercials. What does King Kong have to do with medication? Who cares! It’s sensationalism, baby!

In the end, this titanic clash happens in part because a CEO wanted to sponsor it. Mr. Tako doesn’t meet a fate as dark as Simmons, but that’s mostly because he’s too much of a goofy dork for us to really want to see him get murdered by a giant beast.

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Introducing Godzilla

One of the most amusing things about King Kong vs. Godzilla is the differences in storytelling between the American and Japanese versions released in 1962. In both versions, an American submarine gets stuck in an iceberg and when it gets loose, it accidentally unleashes a pissed off Godzilla. Being that this is only Godzilla’s third movie (well, this Godzilla’s second if we’re being technical), it would be pretty easy to just say that Godzilla was buried in an avalanche in Godzilla Raids Again and now he’s free. However, the dubbing in the American version suggests Godzilla’s been there since prehistoric times.

Since Godzilla had yet to befriend any benevolent, squealing moth larvae, Godzilla was all about being a giant, destructive asshole at this time. The iceberg probably didn’t help. To paraphrase Dennis Leary: imagine taking a cold shower and multiplying that by fifteen million times. That’s how pissed off the Zilla’s gonna be. So in either edit of the film, King Kong vs. Godzilla’s lizard is the villain.

The Legendary Pictures Godzilla of the MonsterVerse is also pissed off in his first appearance in Godzilla vs. Kong, but that’s considered an actual surprise. Filmmakers had just spent two movies establishing Godzilla as some kind of noble protector of humanity. Having him show up and wreck everything is considered out of character. While Godzilla isn’t the most developed character in this film, he at least comes with a sense of intriguing mystery at the start.

Introducing King Kong

Just like in the original King Kong, Kong’s deal in the 1962 movie is that he’s just chilling on his own island when foreigners have to come over, disturb him, and drag him off for their own entertainment. Actually that’s him in both of his Godzilla movies, although it’s a bit more complicated in Godzilla vs. Kong.

In the new movie, his original home of Skull Island is toast, so they put him in his own version of The Truman Show and create a fake habitat. Kong hates this, but it’s for his own good, as leaving will certainly annoy the hell out of the already-irritated Godzilla, and outside the habitat is a perpetual typhoon.

So moving Kong in this movie is a tale of necessity. In the original, it was a decision made out of greed. Now that I think about it, it’s kind of a neat touch that in King Kong vs. Godzilla, it was the Japanese who unleashed the American creation while the Americans unleashed the Japanese creation in Godzilla vs. Kong.

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Round One

The main thing both first fights have in common between the two movies is that Kong gets absolutely wrecked. In the new movie, Kong is drugged and taken away on a ship, something that also happens to him in the Toho original (and the original, original from 1933 for that matter). But this time, Godzilla comes for him and goes for an immediate throwdown. Even if Kong wasn’t already the underdog on paper, he is also bound by metal chains, drugged, and in the water. Godzilla is seaworthy. Kong is not (and likely smells really, really bad when wet). Kong’s very survival is a miracle.

As for the original showdown, their first meeting in 1962 is very brief. Godzilla has the high ground and Kong tries throwing rocks at him. After getting a chest-full of radioactive fire breath, Kong decides to step away and consider his options. He’s smart enough to nope on out of there.

Bulking Up for the Rematch

Taking a break from the fisticuffs, both incarnations of Godzilla continue to just wreck shit. Good for them.

The two versions of Kong go on their own diverging adventures, however. The 1962 Kong kidnaps another woman and climbs up a tower, only to get captured again again. Consider it a slightly more humanitarian version of the 1933 movie’s ending. The 2021 Kong goes on a Legend of Zelda quest to the center of the Earth, discovering the catacombs of his ancestors and getting equipped with a rocking axe ready to chop up Godzilla.

Just… remember to go for the head. Trust me, it can make half a universe of difference.

Round Two

Give credit to the folks from the original, they are actually able to set up the kaiju brawl in an area that is relatively lacking in human casualties. Using electric cables to guide Godzilla and a collection of balloons to carry a drugged King Kong (sort of recreated in the new movie at one point), the big fight occurs near Mount Fuji.

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Initially, Kong tries to make up for his lack of fire breath by just throwing rocks over and over again. Godzilla is able to knock one of them back with his tail, but Kong persists. He also starts using his superior agility, which turns out to be his undoing. Kong rolls circles around Godzilla until slamming his own head into a boulder. That spells the end for the gorilla, as Godzilla stomps an absolute mudhole into his hide.

Kong has a far better second round in the remake, using his axe to absolutely ruin Godzilla’s night in the bright lights of Hong Kong. Despite Godzilla’s breath being treated like a level three Street Fighter super, Kong is able to evade it and prove that he was absolutely on Godzilla’s level after all.

After putting Godzilla through a building and dazing him for a bit, one of the boring human protagonists refers to Kong as the winner of round two. Then again, Godzilla isn’t finished by a long shot.

Final Battle

Funny thing about King Kong vs. Godzilla. Originally, it was meant to be Kong fighting a kaiju version of Frankenstein’s Monster. Although they switched it up, the writing of the fight was only slightly finagled. That’s why when King Kong looked to be ready for a dirt nap, he was revitalized by suddenly being zapped by a bunch of random lightning. Supposedly, King Kong getting strength through electricity was just an unused idea from the original movie concept.

Electric Kong went full Hulk Hogan on Godzilla, throwing him around like a rag doll and powering through his offense. It would have been more awesome if it didn’t look so damn silly, to the point that they briefly depicted the fight with puppets.

In the end, King Kong and Godzilla tumbled into the sea. In this continuity, Kong was able to overcome any watery advantage Godzilla would have had and rose up victorious. Then years later, that stupid, orange Godzilla book from my elementary school library claimed the Japanese version had Godzilla win and–due to it being a pre-internet age–so many of us believed the lie.

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Those of you who know, know.

Godzilla v Kong has Godzilla spring back up from taking his lumps so he can absolutely demolish Kong. It’s like he’s insulted that Kong got some licks in and makes Kong’s final run in the old movie look weak. Eventually, Godzilla almost mortally wounds Kong with some stomps to the chest and walks off while Kong can only defiantly roar back at him.

Here’s where things get similar, but different. In a plot device reminiscent of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Mechagodzilla shows up in the third act. It’s a fairly clever take on another previous incarnation of the robot duplicate. In the Toho Godzilla continuity of the 2000s, Mechagodzilla was built atop the original 1950s Godzilla’s bones, which caused the first Godzilla’s ghost to gradually take over. This time around, Mechagodzilla is possessed by the mind/ghost of King Ghidorah from King of the Monsters. That’s why Godzilla has been in a mood. He senses the return of his old nemesis and it’s driven him into a frenzy.

Kong, meanwhile, is once again revived by being electrocuted back to health. This time it’s by the human characters and not random lightning, but the reference is definitely deliberate. Kong and Godzilla beat up the metal pretender, growl at each other, and go their separate ways. Maybe they’ll meet again if we get some kind of modern adaptation of Destroy All Monsters.

Who’s the Winner?

In the end, we’re left with two very different stories, even if the newer movie tries to reference the former a few times over. In the ‘60s, we received a wacky movie featuring Godzilla getting an overall 2-1, but losing in the third and most important battle. The modern one is silly in its own way and also gives us 2-1 in Godzilla’s favor, but it’s pretty apparent that Godzilla absolutely owns this matchup. It isn’t a victory for Kong to so much win a fight as it is for him to stand up and prove that he’s able to draw blood against the best.

It’s not a better version of the story, but a better version of the idea. Having these two behemoths duke it out is such a rich concept that’s only really been done well in unofficial video games like Rampage, Primal Rage, and King of the Monsters. King Kong vs. Godzilla from 1962 was merely okay, and charitably good enough. Now we get a real cinematic crossover brawl that makes good on what we really want?

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Let’s see Legendary remake Frankenstein Conquers the World. Seriously.