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King Kong did Godzilla vs. Kong's big twist before Godzilla ever did

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Mar 31, 2021, 5:15 PM EDT (Updated)

Godzilla and King Kong aren't the only monsters in Godzilla vs. Kong, out today in theaters and on HBO Max. There's a surprise appearance by another famous kaiju from Godzilla's past, arguably the most iconic monster from the Japanese franchise who hasn't already made an appearance in Legendary's Monsterverse. However, although this kaiju is one of the Godzilla series' most famous faces, King Kong actually did it first.

This story fully spoils the end of Godzilla vs. Kong.

It's Mechagodzilla! Godzilla's robotic counterpart appears in Godzilla vs. Kong — a "twist" that was teased in international trailers — and it's revealed that the King of the Monsters was going on a rampage in the first place because Apex Cybernetics was building a monstrous machine that would rival his power. It takes the combined might of Godzilla and Kong (but mostly Kong, to be honest) to defeat Mechagodzilla. Mechagodzilla has appeared in five previous live-action Godzilla movies and, briefly, in an anime movie, too. His first appearance was in 1974's Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla... six years after the film debut of Mechani-Kong.

Credit: Toho

Yup, that's right. King Kong had a robot version of himself well before Godzilla's more famous mecha doppelganger. Mechani-Kong actually made his first appearance on the small screen, popping up in two episodes of The King Kong Show, which ran from 1966 to 1969. The series was produced by Rankin/Bass (the folks behind all those Christmas specials) but the animation was done by Toei, a Japanese anime company. In the series, Mechani-Kong was a creation of the villainous Dr. Who (no relation) and he fought with the heroic Kong on two occasions.

Mechani-Kong would make the jump to live-action when Toho, the studio behind Godzilla, took up the ape's legacy. Toho made King Kong vs. Godzilla in 1962 and made a second movie starring the Eighth Wonder of the World, King Kong Escapes, in 1967. Escapes isn't a sequel to King Kong vs. Godzilla; instead, it's a new canon and a loose adaptation of the Rankin/Bass cartoon. Dr. Who returns as the villain, and he's created a Mechani-Kong to mine the radioactive Element X in his Arctic lair. Dr. Who has the idea to use Mechani-Kong to hypnotize the real Kong and have the ape do the mining instead. However, Kong is able to avoid getting hypnotized and the two fight near Tokyo Tower before the organic Kong is able to best the synthetic one.

King Kong Escapes is something of an oddity in Toho's catalog of Monster movies. It's not a proper Godzilla movie, and while some other non-Godzilla movies have had kaiju emigrate to the main series (Rodan and Mothra first appeared in self-titled standalones, for instance), Mechani-Kong was not so lucky. Gorosaurus, a dinosaur-like kaiju the real Kong fights in Escape appears in the Godzilla movie Destroy All Monsters, but Toho didn't ever play with either Kong again. There was talk about making a Godzilla vs. Mechani-Kong movie in the early '90s, but Toho bailed on the idea when they realized they would still have to pay for the rights to Mechani-Kong, even though the monster had made its live-action debut in a Toho movie and the real Kong would be MIA.

Luckily, Toho did make a robotic version of a monster that was totally theirs. Mechagodzilla, which was clearly inspired by Mechani-Kong, appeared in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla and then again the following year in 1975's Terror of Mechagodzilla. In both instances, Mechagodzilla was an alien invention that was created to defeat Godzilla and invade the planet. The next time he appeared, in 1993's Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II, Mechagodzilla was a human invention, created to defeat Godzilla because in this era of movies, Godzilla was a bad guy again. The third Mechagodzilla also called "Kiryu," starred in 2002's Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla and Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. the following year. This robot was also a human invention, though it was a cyborg built around the skeleton of the original Godzilla from the '50s. (It goes berserk at one point, not unlike how Godzilla vs. Kong's Mechagodzilla goes on a rampage due to the influence of King Ghidorah's bones.)

Credit: Toho

Mechagodzilla is the more famous and more successful of the two robots, so it's not a surprise that it's Godzilla vs. Kong vs. Mechagodzilla instead of Godzilla vs. Kong vs. Mechani-Kong. Audiences are going to be much more excited to see Mechagodzilla — a character even non-kaiju fans probably have a passing familiarity with through cultural osmosis alone — than they would be seeing the much more obscure Mechani-Kong. Within the fiction of the movie, it makes more sense that Apex would build a robotic Godzilla than a robotic Kong, as the former had recently established he was the King of the Monsters while the other just bummed around Skull Island for 50 years.

Both Mechagodzilla and Mechani-Kong have something very important in common: They're both pretty stupid in a great way. Giant monster movies can be serious affairs — the original Godzilla was a horror movie about the atomic bomb that came out less than a decade after America dropped two nukes on Japan, and even the 2014 Godzilla that kicked off the Monsterverse has some somber gravitas. You can't really claim to be making a "serious" movie that just has a straight-up robot version of a giant monster. The "mecha-" prefix says a lot about what sort of tone a movie's working with.

Luckily, as Godzilla vs. Kong director Adam Wingard told SYFY WIRE, that's exactly what GvK was going for. Wingard remembers speaking with producer Alex Garcia when he first came aboard the project. He asked if Aaron Taylor-Johnson's character from the 2014 Godzilla was returning for GvK. The response?

"He was like 'No, no, no it's going to be this, this, and this, and uh, Mechagodzilla's gonna be in it,'" Wingard recalls. He was sold on the idea right away, eager for his chance to put his own spin on Mechagodzilla. Wingard instantly liked what Mechagodzilla's presence said about what sort of movie Godzilla vs. Kong would be.

"You had to remember at this point, King of the Monsters hadn't even come out yet," Wingard continues. "So my entire reality with the new Godzilla films was the 2014 Godzilla, the Gareth Edwards film, which is very grounded and realistic and kind of somber in a lot of ways. Even though Skull Island went in a much zanier direction, it was still grounded in our reality. I was fascinated by 'wow, how are we going to do a Monsterverse version of a giant robot?," basically. But I was all-in because I thought that was so cool."

We don't know how Wingard would've handled Mechani-Kong, but that's OK. That's Mechani-Kong's whole deal, in a sense: The forgotten mecha who paved the way for a much more iconic robot. Godzilla vs. Kong proves, definitively, who would win in a fight between Godzilla and Kong, but there's no need for a Mechagodzilla vs. Mechani-Kong movie. We already know who the winner is.

Godzilla vs. Kong is now in U.S. theaters and available to stream on HBO Max.