The following review contains spoilers for Shin Godzilla
Toho Strikes Back
Though not without its faults, Shin Godzilla (also known as Godzilla Resurgence) delivers on all fronts. As any good and entertaining Godzilla film should do, Shin gives you a full serving of humor (both intentional and not), great visuals and destruction, music that adds to the experience rather than serve as just background noise, and a human plot that stacks up well against the best the series has offered in the previous 28 Toho productions.
But of course, there aren’t only 28 Godzilla films. A pair of others were made in the West, the first of which was a failed attempt by summer blockbuster connoisseur Roland Emmerich. The film was such an afront to the Godzilla name that Toho immediately responded with Godzilla 2000. Not only that, but Toho eventually dubbed Emmerich's version of their legendary monster 'Zilla' because, as Toho put it, "They took the God out of Godzilla". Despite the fan backlash, Zilla is a part of Toho's official canon and it later appeared in Godzilla: Final Wars where it showed up just to be promptly obliterated by the real deal. It's
. After Final Wars, Godzilla would go into hibernation for over a decade until the West tried again.
That second attempt was Legendary's Godzilla 2014 and it didn’t take long for Toho to repeat history and announce that they were bringing big G back in response. They boasted that this new Godzilla would be the biggest yet, reclaiming the title from Legendary’s Godzilla which had just taken it months prior.
It felt as though Toho might have had a bruised ego. While Emmerich’s film was a disaster, director Gareth Edwards made a solid attempt at bringing Godzilla to a Western audience with Godzilla 2014. Despite having plenty of flaws, the movie did justice to the source material and respected Toho’s pride and joy. It was also a huge box office success, prompting Legendary to quickly announce that two more Godzilla films would be on their way. Despite my worries that Toho was rushing out a new movie for petty reasons, I remained optimistic.
We could be in the early days of a Godzilla golden age. It's possible there will be two concurrent Godzilla series with Japan and America trading blows, movie by movie. What a time to be alive!
A Godzilla Unlike Any Other
When it was announced that Hideaki Anno would be directing Toho's newest film, many eyebrows surely were raised in response. Known for his background in anime and as the director of the Evangelion series, his hiring turned Shin Godzilla into a big wildcard. It was easy to think blending the style of an anime with a live action monster flick could backfire badly. Ultimately, however, it worked out pretty well.
What Anno gives us is one of the most unique Godzilla designs we've seen yet. While mostly done in mostly good CG, there still seemed to be a bit of animatronics at work as well. While Anno claimed he wasn't satisfied with their efforts to keep up the Toho tradition of using a man in a rubber suit, they did end up using motion capture on a suit, as well as a puppet touched up with CG, and the end result is a deceptively classic feeling Godzilla.
By using a lot of low angles looking up at Godzilla and distance shots showing the legendary kaiju in beautiful wide landscape shots, Anno is able to effectively communicate his monster's immense size and terrifying features.
I use the word terrifying only half truly, for Godzilla's introduction is anything but. When we get our first look at Anno's creation...well, just look for yourself.
Wait...that's not Godzilla!
Oh, how the theater laughed. It's probably the googly eyes that most effectively derail this serious moment into one of utter hilarity but regardless, this version of Godzilla is simultaneously the worst and best thing my eyes have ever witnessed. I could see how a diehard Godzilla fan would see this and be offended but honestly, it's just freaking funny.
What really caught me off guard was how unsettling this Godzilla actually was when we got to see more of it. As it shimmy shimmied its way through town (there's really no other way to explain how this thing moves), a jiggly fat neck wobbles to and fro opening gills that drench the ground in blood. Gross! At one point, Godzilla attempts to stand on its two hind legs, revealing not a strong, healthy looking creature ready to bring the destruction but instead a tortured abomination. This is a freak that probably wants to be annihilated and it's unsettling to watch. The whole thing is funny, disturbing, and depressing all at once. It's a mix of emotions quite unlike anything Godzilla has evoked in me before.
And just when you think this introduction can't get any more bizzare, Godzilla evolves.
Like a Pokemon.
Oh God, someone hit B and stop this! It's starting to actually look intimidating!
What we're left with is something that's starting to look like the Godzilla we know and love, minus the goofy googly eyes that still remain. Due to civilians still being in the area, Japan holds off on an attack allowing Godzilla to return to the sea to rest and when he returns, he's evolved a second time. This is when Godzilla starts to look very familiar. But don't think you know this Godzilla, its packing a few interesting surprises.
Pictured: Godzilla bringing the disco back
Instead of rebooting the series as a sequel to the original Gojira, Toho and Anno decided to start from scratch. Shin Godzilla features a brand new Godzilla with a brand new origin story. I already touched on one major change, the fact that Godzilla looks very different and then evolves into a more familiar monster, but his looks and origin aren't the only things revamped.
Godzilla's got some tricks up his sleeves, tricks we haven't seen before. The biggest of which is the monster's atomic breath, now a crazy sort of napalm breath/energy beam/disco show combo. And it's deadly. Godzilla ends up turning Tokyo into an infernal hellscape in minutes flat, one of the most powerful and destructive moments in Godzilla's long and storied history. It's the highlight of the movie and seeing it unfold in theaters was like a Godzilla sized dream come true. Unfortunately, this climax happens somewhere around the midpoint of the movie, the final act falls short of topping this spectacle.
Some fans are saying these changes go too far, that it's too different and ridiculous! Well, to them I say see
, exhibit C....
The biggest issue I have with this new Godzilla is its demeanor. The monster barely shows any emotion outside of its anger induced rage fest. It moves very slowly and often looks like a statue. In fact, the movie basically ends with just that; a frozen statue Godzilla plastered right in the middle of Tokyo. I feel this all was a creative decision by Anno, perhaps wanting to use Godzilla as a stagnant but ever present threat to Tokyo. It fits with the commentary on the 3/11 disasters and makes sense, it's just a preference to want a more lively and emotive Godzilla.
All in all, Anno has given us a very unique Godzilla, from a drastic departure in appearance, to evolutions and new atomic abilities, to humanzilla things emerging from his being. You read that right. Humanoid Godzilla beings trying to escape the monstrosity that is Shin Godzilla. Anno's monster makes us laugh, makes us cheer, and even manages to make us feel some of that authentic Toho terror and dread. Despite the googly eyes.
Seriously. Humanoid Godzilla beings. Good luck sleeping ever again.
The Human Element
For me personally, the human plots usually end up being a Godzilla film's weakest link. Sure, some zany time traveling plots with aliens might entertain more than others but for the most part, Godzilla is usually bogged down by characters we don't care about giving dialogue that feels like pure filler. To me, this is not the case with Shin Godzilla, though I can see the possibility of people getting lost in the dialogue or bored during some longer plot heavy sequences.
A Deeper Meaning
This film operates like a behind-the-scenes documentary following the Japanese government as they deal with a surprise Godzilla attack. This means there's no human sub plots, no love story, no crazy sci fi. You're getting a rather realistic look at a natural disaster and a nation's response. While some might not like this, it's clear that Anno had a plan and knew exactly what approach he wanted to take and why.
Shin Godzilla has a lot to say. It draws on the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami as well as the Fukushima meltdown that followed to provide a humorous satire on the response of the Japanese government. It becomes obvious when the Prime Minister goes on live TV, deceptively dressed in an emergency rescue suit (we as viewers know the man has spent all his time in conference rooms and meetings, not out surveying damages), telling the people that they need not worry about the monster making landfall. As soon as he says this, he’s interrupted with the news that Godzilla has already done so.
It did what now?
Subtle digs at government operations appear throughout the film, from constantly needing to change board rooms to an exhausting chain of command that must patiently be navigated to approve each order. Can we fire, can we fire, can we fire? Yes, fire. We can fire, we can fire. Fire away. But on top of the satire, there are several more serious topics Anno wants us to ponder as we watch:
Japan's deep respect for Article 9, the part of their constitution that renounces war and the use of weapons. The Japanese Special Defense Force mentions several times that they are better suited for helping the citizens evacuate instead of fighting Godzilla.Japan's inability to defend itself and needing to rely on the United States to help with Godzilla. Japan does try to use force against the monster but they throw everything they have at Godzilla without even leaving a scratch on him. It's the Americans that eventually wound Godzilla when they come to help.Japan's role in the worldwide community and the older generation's passive ways, going along with the decisions being made for them. This even applies to the ridiculous notion of dropping a nuke on Tokyo to destroy Godzilla.
Anno challenges us to come up with our own thoughts on these issues, to wonder if Japan should be given more autonomy and break with tradition to build a strong military that can defend themselves. We watch a sort of changing of the guard as an older generation gets replaced by a younger one and with them comes a shift in thinking. It's up to us to compare these two leadership styles and come to our own conclusions, though the character Yaguchi makes a pretty bold statement late in the movie basically yelling at the audience that Japan's Special Defense Force is the only hope for Japan's future.
While we're given a deep and intriguing story, it does tend to drag at times as we get a couple of long dialogue heavy sequences. The most notable occurs after Godzilla's attack on Tokyo when Japan's new leadership studies Godzilla and finalizes their plan to stop not only the monster, but the nuke the world wants to drop on Tokyo. While they come up with an ingenious plot that they successfully execute, the explanation is overwhelming and difficult to follow. Dialogue in this movie comes fast and furiously, there's more characters than Game of Thrones, and whenever a new character or location appears, we get extra subs to tell us the information the movie thinks we need to know. At times I was reading as fast as I could and still couldn't get through everything. And if the screen wasn't crowded enough, sometimes English speaking characters would pop up adding Japanese subs to the hilarious mess.
This wasn't so hilarious in the movie's final act however. The part of the film that digs most deeply into Godzilla's origin story was the hardest to follow. A man named Goro Maki had been studying mutations due to nuclear contamination, he knew about Godzilla and apparently so did the United States. Something happened to his wife, he commits suicide, and leaves behind all his research on an abandoned yacht. His research forms a sort of puzzle for the Japanese government to solve, which they eventually do by realizing they could fold his data printouts like oragami, unlocking everything they need to put their plan into motion.
Yeah, I don't know. I'm not sure why Maki would make his research so cryptic if it could help stop a monster he knows very well. I'll have to wait for the Blu-ray release to see exactly what was going on with this part of the plot.
Maki is sort of the most interesting character in this movie because of the mystery surrounding him, yet he never appears on screen. As for the others, I'm personally ok with Anno deciding to make his story driven by satire and political commentary instead of giving us a personal connection to any individuals. It's fitting that a large group of characters come together to defeat Godzilla, with no special emphasis on any one person. It would sort of contradict the film's message to have a single hero. Japan needs to decide if they want independence, if they want to be able to take care of themselves as a country. They decide yes and defend themselves, as a country not a person.
In truth, none of the characters seem like they'd be all that interesting if we dove further into their lives anyways. This is something that can sadly be said about most Godzilla movies which is a shame. While most of the characters don't really stand out, one character in particular does. And not in a good way.
"I'm Kayoco Ann Patterson and I'm totally spunky and a little funny. I want to be YOUR president." -Kayoco Ann Patterson 2028
The problem with Kayoco is that in a story where you can reasonably buy into what is happening, all the political maneuvering and the messy chain of command present within the government, I just can't buy into her ever becoming president. She's a stereotyped character and no amount of suspended disbelief can make her aspirations seem plausible. Her English speaking scenes stick out like sore thumbs as well, especially her meeting with the US Ambassador to Japan. The man is portrayed like a cartoon villain, he's just a voice coming from a shadowy seat. Despite just needing to read a few lines, the voice acting is rather bad. The whole scene could have just been tossed. There's a few other American characters that have the same problem in their brief roles.
And So It Ends
As mentioned earlier, the Japanese government comes up with a pretty clever plan to defeat Godzilla, inspired by their findings in Maki's work. Essentially, they want to inject a blood coagulant into Godzilla cooling him down. The plan works, Godzilla is frozen, no nuke is dropped on Tokyo. At least not when the film ends.
I've been thinking about this ending since I left the theater, it leaves a lot open to speculation. We're told that if Godzilla were to wake up, the countdown to drop the nuke would resume. That would give them roughly an hour to...do something, whatever they could do before Tokyo is wiped off the map. This combined with the humanoid Godzilla creatures I referenced earlier creates an ending that maybe needed just a bit more. Open ended is good but, unless there's a direct sequel, I think Shin Godzilla leaves too much on the table.
Despite the flaws, Shin Godzilla's human plot rides its thought provoking nature to success. I may change my opinion a bit over time as I reflect back on this movie and watch it again, but right now I'm feeling pretty confident in saying it's one of the best human plots from any Godzilla movie. I can certainly see why someone might disagree, mostly because of the lack of personal character development, but the 1954 original Gojira is the only film in the series I can think of that delivers a comparably powerful plot and strong message about the world that inspired it.
A few scattered thoughts I have on other aspects of Shin Godzilla:
The soundtrack is fantastic. The classic theme and sound cues are present, making sure we know that we're watching an authentic Toho Godzilla, filling us with feelings only Toho can provide. I found it interesting how the soundtrack seemed to evolve with Godzilla and the Japanese Government. The music was more orchestrated and string driven when the old and passive leadership was in charge. When the younger generation took over, the music became more modern, lead by electric guitar and drums. The middle sections had a sort of blend between the two with strings, piano, and drums making for some great original tracks.The biggest blunder of this film was truly the googly eyes. There were other problems I saw in Godzilla's design based on the promo pictures and trailers, mainly the stubby arms and the incredibly long cat-like tail, but after seeing the film, those worked well. The googly eyes on the other hand...Though the effects were mostly great, there were some instances where the CG looked particularly bad. They serve as examples why the smaller budgets of Eastern films can't do full CGI like Western movies can.When Godzilla is injured by the American Air Force, I wondered if that was the cause of Godzilla's back lazers. Perhaps atomic energy was leaking through his wounds, similar to the gaping neck hole Godzilla has in GMK: Giant Monsters All Out Attack.I'd rather not compare this movie to Godzilla 2014 but let's face it, everyone is going to. If Toho turns Shin Godzilla into a series, it'll be Toho and Legendary going toe to toe for several years. I'd say Toho wins round one, the main difference being that Shin Godzilla is a lot more effective at accomplishing what it sets out to do. Legendary's film decided to make Godzilla a third string player behind nameless soldier #645327 and the Mutos. The problem was that Brody wasn't interesting enough to carry the movie like they wanted him and his plot to do and no other element in the film made up for it. Director Gareth Edwards also wanted to tease his monsters, evoking the slow burn style of classic films like Jaws and Alien, but it just didn't work. The cuts were unnatural and it felt obvious that they were intended to mess with us. I do enjoy Legendary's film. I've seen it several times and will see it several more I'm sure. There's just no contest here with regards to which movie executed its intent better.
I personally love Shin Godzilla, I feel it could very well end up being one of my favorites but I can see why others might feel differently. The poor pacing, long sequences of information overload, Godzilla sleeping for half the movie while the Japanese government studies and plans, and the kaiju's incredibly goofy and hilarious first form are all enough to give someone pause. Throw that on top of a very topical and heavy commentary that is tough to follow if you're not familiar with the 3/11 disaster and subsequent Fukushima meltdown, and you've got a movie that requires a lot from its viewers. It could take several rewatches to really grasp what is going on, I know it will for me. While I love the depth and feel Anno gives us a very thought provoking story, it might not click for others. It all comes down to what the viewer prefers, in respect to both storytelling and how they would like Godzilla to be used.
In the end, there's no doubt that this a Japanese movie made for a Japanese audience. The fact that we get to see it in US theaters is a treat. If you're curious about what an authentic Toho Godzilla film is like or you're a big fan of their work already, Shin Godzilla is absolutely a must see movie. You just might want to do some light reading first.
The true King is back and no one does it quite like Toho.
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