Shin Godzilla, a.k.a. Shin Gojira, a.k.a. Godzilla Resurgence (not to be confused with Independence Day: Resurgence) is the latest Godzilla movie to stomp its way into the box office. You may be a little confused about this film since you probably haven’t heard of it. There’s a bit of a special reason for that. Toho Co. Ltd. is the company that started it all over sixty years ago with 1954’s Godzilla and finally, after the Americans’ shaky run with the series, the reins have been passed back over to the masters to continue the Godzilla franchise they way it was intended. Shin Godzilla is currently under limited release in the United States and Canada, showing on less than 500 screens for one week only. I don’t know if Toho plans on making a full wide release in North America or not, but for the time being, you’ve only got a couple more days if you’re interested in seeing this newest slab of kaiju cinema.
Shin Godzilla is a reboot to the franchise directed by Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi. I’m unfamiliar with Higuchi’s work, but I know Anno from his amazing directing of the anime Neon Genesis Evangelion and the Evangelion 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0 films that followed. In this movie, Japan is witnessing and fighting Godzilla for the very first time. I haven’t gotten around to watching any of the original Toho Godzilla movies, but from what I understand, Shin Godzilla fits more in line with the semi-serious early films than the goofy and purposefully tongue-in-cheek later ones. Godzilla is a force to be reckoned with in Shin Godzilla, acting with totally alien and erratic behavior. He’s treated like the unfathomably powerful creature that he is in this film. Godzilla is so beyond our comprehension as humans that he’s pretty much a Lovecraftian Elder God. The characters in Shin Godzilla try to rationalize why this massive monster is devastating Japan when for all we really know, Godzilla could subscribe to something similar to Blue/ Orange Morality. I really like the kind of terror that this Godzilla conjures up. In addition to his city-leveling powers, the fact that he cannot be predicted and that his motivations are impossible to understand make him that much more of a threat. A nuke about to be fired is a terrifying thing, sure, but it’s a hell of a lot scarier if you don’t know who it’s going to be aimed at.
Godzilla’s design was fantastic, for the most part. In the beginning of the film, Godzilla is evolving extremely quickly, turning from a swimming worm like creature to a crawling one, and finally into the full blown Godzilla we know and love (Ed. note: from a biology perspective, they clearly put actual science-based thought into some of the features for Gojira’s “evolutionary” process, which I really appreciated (except for the fact that it totally exploits the common misconception that evolution creates things that are needed by the organism (but I digress))). He looked pretty dopey at the beginning with his big googly eyes, but when he’s reached his fourth and final form in the film, the monster design is completely badass. His scarred, gnarled skin and glowing gills and venting ports all tie a look together that would fit a death metal band’s aesthetics. This ain’t your grandpa’s Godzilla. That being said, there would come extremely wide shots of Godzilla tearing his way through a city and I could swear it was actually a guy in a rubber suit rather than just CGI. Some of the CGI was almost SyFy Channel levels of bad (I’m looking at you, first twenty minutes of this film), but I was willing to look past it because Toho clearly shoved all of their animation and rendering budget into a couple key scenes, and boy let me tell you, that those scenes are fucking beautiful. The entire first fight that the Japanese army has with the fully formed Godzilla sticks out to me as one of the sequences most deserving of a gigantic theater screen I’ve seen in a long while.
That’s enough about Godzilla, because now I need to ramble about one of the most important things in a monster movie: the characters. Shin Godzilla’s characters, while not very distinct or developed, play an integral part in the movie. A kaiju or monster movie that just focuses on the monster for an hour and a half straight is going to run out of steam at some point, so human characters are needed to give the audience something else to connect to. In the 1998 disasterpiece and Gareth Edwards’ 2014 offering to the Godzilla mythos, all the characters were assholes that we all hated. We didn’t care about the trivial and forced bullshit they had to deal with, and anybody could tell they were thrown in just because it was the safest thing the studios could do. Some executive did some test screenings and figured we needed boring, flat characters because that’s what sci-fi action movies need. In Shin Godzilla, our main cast of characters are all high ranking government members and military offers. A lot of screen time in the movie is spent in boardrooms with lots of old men talking back and forth on how to mitigate the damage done to Japan physically, economically, and in it’s reputation among the UN. Sounds like fun, right? Well actually, it is. The cinematography in a lot of the dialogue driven scenes is really dynamic and engaging, and the editing cuts out absolutely all the fat in each scene. I swear it’s like Edgar Wright directed parts of this movie. These men and women are charged with protecting their country as best they can and the filmmakers have so much ground they need to cover in two hours that the dialogue scenes have to be as fast paced as possible. The film covers all of their responsibilities in a crisis situation which is a nice change of pace to see from your typical action hero protagonist that overcomes the main conflict of the story but costs the city millions in collateral damage.
Another reason I might have enjoyed the dialogue bits is because the script in Shin Godzilla is not so subtly criticizing of all the bureaucratic red tape that needs to cleared before anything can happen in a government setting. A lot of the scenes where someone with a question would have their message sent down the entire chain of command or if a meeting was held in order to schedule other meetings hit home for me. I used to work for a company that my co-workers and I jokingly described as moving “at the speed of government”, so when it takes ages for anything to get done in Shin Godzilla, I can totally sympathize.
So overall, Shin Godzilla was the best of the three Godzilla movies I have seen, and from what I can tell by reactions of more hardcore Godzilla fans, they enjoyed it too. It’s definitely not movie of the year material, but it was hella fun to watch the King of Monsters wreck shit. The political satire was pretty on point, and I thought the ending was handled gracefully, with a happy enough ending that leaves the audience knowing there will be more movies. I liked how transparent Toho was about keeping it open for a sequel, because it didn’t feel cheap or undeserved. If you can manage to get to a showing while it’s still in your country, I would definitely recommend it. If not, here’s hoping it gets a full release in theaters, or gets put up on Netflix soon.