The new Godzilla was an unqualified success this past weekend, earning over $200 million globally and kicking off development of a sequel. It’s a particularly impressive feat given the kitschy history of the character. Most people think of Godzilla as a camp testament to cheap special effects and terrible dubbing, but the new film sidesteps those impressions by adopting a more grounded, earnest tone, calling back to the 1954 Japanese original that used the creature to express nuclear fears in post-World War II Japan.

While that’s due in no small part to director Gareth Edwards, it’s also thanks to the work of screenwriter Max Borenstein. While Borenstein’s been impressing the industry for years with scripts like the unproduced Jimi Hendrix biopic Jimi, Godzilla is actually his first credit since his 2003 feature Swordswallowers and Thin Men (he’s got Seventh Son coming next year). A few days before the movie opened, we spoke with the screenwriter to find out how he made Godzilla relevant to modern audiences, both in the film and in the graphic novel prequel Godzilla: Awakening.