Shin Godzilla

Shin Godzilla ★★★½

What an interesting film this was. On one hand, it doesn't do enough to make for an entertaining kaiju film in and of itself, and suffers from a form of what crowds didn't like about King of the Monsters, with most of the runtime focusing on the humans on the ground, and not enough of the massive destruction of a populated area. But by spending so much time trying to cut through the red tape to get something accomplished, we are presented with a realistic depiction of what would happen during an event like this. It may be more cinematic to have our westernized versions with a central, heroic military figure leading the death charge and saving the day (and the planet, in a thinly-veiled ode to the idea of American supremacy), but what would something like this actually look like? Shin Godzilla is here to take a stab at that concept, its viewpoint shaped by the bureaucratic framework of Japan's hierarchical political system and drawing terrifying inspiration from the Tohoku earthquake and Fukishima nuclear incident that followed.

It finds a crazy, memorable middle ground between the rubber suits of old and the multi-million dollar CGI Hollywood monstrosity in the films that I've seen. Of all the variations I've seen, this Gojira will stick in my mind the longest. First, when he makes initial contact with the surface, he is nothing like we've ever seen or come to expect (I'll just leave it there for those who haven't seen the movie). Second, and adding multiple layers of terror to an already-scary scenario, he rapidly evolves when he is attacked, so we see him go through multiple stages before achieving the more "final form" that we would recognize. As if the monster wasn't already capable of causing you to shit your pants, now he doesn't just fight back when attacked, he changes his entire DNA in order to fight back even more effectively. To say that this is the most God-like Godzilla is no understatement, and that we watch him actively evolve along the way smacks of irony in the best way.

The camera work is frantic, yet serving of a larger purpose. It is controlled chaos everywhere you look, framing the central character as the whole of Japan, as plagued by indecisiveness as it is overflowing with hope, ingenuity and teamwork. The crisis response bounces from frustrating to celebratory, heartbreaking to heartwarming, at the drop of a hat. But those stop-starts are exactly what we would expect in the face of unprecedented danger, which makes this an interesting study in human behavior. Godzilla has always been a terrifying reminder of nature's potential response to human folly, and this version ramps that up a notch with the evolution angle and all the horror that it brings. There are several images throughout the film that draw very clear inspiration from Tohoku, Fukishima and the response we watched on TV, and not since the earliest days of the monster has it felt so appropriate.

I wrestled with how to rate this, because I can't say that I had as much fun with it as I had watching Godzilla vs Kong on the IMAX screen, but given how wildly different it is while still maintaining the core values of the franchise, how blatantly scary it is and how it spreads its focus out on a wide plane to show a country resolute despite poor leadership, there is a lot to admire here. The soundtrack is very good, the effects are unforgettable and it has much more to say beyond the surface level, surpassing cash-grab, kaiju disaster porn in favor of much deeper ideas.

And holy shit, that ending shot! I had to rewind and pause a few times to try and wrap my mind around it. No spoilers, obviously, but it makes a powerful statement.

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