Shin Godzilla

Shin Godzilla ★★★★½

In an era where American studios foist remakes, legacy sequels, reboots, and all manner of over-reverent franchise kickstarter bullshit into the cinemas, few, if any, can claim to rise as high in the mushroom cloud-scale shadow of their forebears as Shin Godzilla. Directed by Neon Genesis Evangelion mastermind, Hideaki Anno, this 2016 soft reboot of the franchise represents the very best of Toho, Godzilla and blockbuster filmmaking. Here is a film that understands the original text at the fundamental level and perfectly understands how to draw on its iconography, select the best ideas of past iterations, and launch the entire enterprise into the future.

In Shin Godzilla, the monster is man as much as beast, and while that's by no means new for kaiju pictures, what's fresh is how it reflects the 1954 original by rooting itself in the real life contemporary politics of Japan. Like the Legendary effort by Gareth Edwards, this film takes much inspiration from the 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster as well as the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami. Anno's script is a lacerating piece of political satire, the In the Loop of monster mashes, where the true enemy of the people is the bureaucratic red tape and political in fighting that prevents leadership, cooperation and creative vision.

One (in my opinion, bad) complaint people levy against Ishirō Honda's Godzilla is that it spends too much time on the fundamentally less compelling human political elements of the plot. I maintain those scenes are critical to that film's meaning, but I love what Anno does in an effort to address that perceived flaw. In Shin Godzilla the humans aren't just obscuring the Goji plot, their indecision, insane chain of command, frequent meetings all literally obscure Goji as it rips through Tokyo, crushing fools and spurting blood-chum all over the city streets. The politicking is blocked and scripted elegantly, but the sharpness is in the way sticking with them makes you want to bite your fingernails. Every moment they waste, incalculable damage racks up.

Mercifully, Anno doesn't just stop at pointing the finger at his government, and he also doesn't fly off the handle into fascistic ideology. Instead he gives a procedurally-driven view of some hard nosed fuckin professionals who roll up their sleeves and get to work. It's exhilarating and inspiring, a beautiful evolution of the Honda's social criticism. There is a specific needle drop of "Frigate March" from Akira Ikufube's original score that makes the spirit soar as you feel the camaraderie of the team, the fruit of their collaboration. I adore how much characterization Anno gets out of the script's expository dialogue. Between the rapid edit, blocking and performances, dozens of characters are brought to life with little more than speculative biology and the politics of disaster relief.

On the note of music, this is just... divine. This is the second time I've seen the film in theaters, and both times the sound is striking. Naturally, you've got all the Goji goodness, the roar, heavy use of that aforementioned original score, but also mixed in is music from Shirō Sagisu's Neon Genesis Evangelion score! These choices go far in illustrating what an ideal match Anno is for this material, the vitality of music to Godzilla, and most fascinating, the overt way the big lizard gave rise to the Evas themselves. Listening to all these motifs intermingle is like watching past and future converge, and that's the very soul of science fiction, the glorious byproduct of what Honda and co set into motion nearly 70 years ago.

Magnifying the value of all I've said is that the film is a bona-fide rager, among the greatest pieces of spectacle released in the 2010s. I find every moment of this cracking, no matter how banal the subject matter, and when Goji gets going, holy moly, the big lizard has never been more intimidating and awesome. As a born contrarian, I'd love to give you a fresh angle, but the simple truth is the purple dorsal laser scene is just the coolest fucking thing I've ever seen and the peak of this enterprise. Resting atop all the sharpness, comedy, character and filmmaking is cinema's greatest monster, the one and only non-binary icon of nuclear disarmament, a god incarnate tearing through Tokyo and the screen to remind you what an elite monster movie ought to be.

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