2014’s Godzilla produced by Legendary Pictures was a disappointment to some; personally, I found some very redeeming things about it, from its portrayal of the military as not-a-cliche-villainous-organization to the way Godzilla and the MUTOs operated with complete disregard for the human dramas going on around them. That said, I was certainly excited to hear that Toho was producing their own new Godzilla film, completely unrelated and in fact the first full reboot of the franchise since the iconic original film in 1954.
Shin Godzilla is probably not what most people are expecting to see when they think giant monster movie; while Godzilla is enormous (the biggest to date, in fact) and wreaks incredible havoc on Tokyo, the focus is largely on the people trying to find a way to stop him. The film focuses on a large ensemble of characters in various Japanese political groups from the Prime Minister on down, digging into the bureaucratic minutiae of how a bizarre disaster like Godzilla would really be handled by modern bureaucracy.
This results in what is largely a dark political comedy that in places feels like a cross between Aaron Sorkin and Edgar Wright as we cut from meeting to meeting to meeting in action movie style as an endless parade of government agencies request permissions and schedule meetings. This might sound dull, but the result is both unsettlingly realistic and at times quite funny. The film obviously borrows heavily from the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami and the way those real-life disasters were handled.
All this is not to say that there isn’t some great Godzilla action; I don’t want to spoil it, but the film does a fantastic job of using the original Godzilla design as a base, but exploring the creature’s physiology and mythos in a way that hasn’t been done before. This results in some unique carnage and genuinely thrilling action sequences, and with the exception of a few questionable CGI shots, the visual effects are pretty good. Without spoiling it, I’ll say that the way Shin Godzilla explains how Godzilla transitions from a marine creature to a land-based one is fantastic and terrifying.
What results is a truly unique film that is dense in both dialogue and meaning. It is edited very well, using quick cuts to carefully blend a sense of life-threatening urgency and the absurdity of modern politics in the face of such threats. It manages to balance these two sides surprisingly well, and the action bits (maybe 35% of the film) will satisfy any fan of kaiju mass destruction while the bulk of the film will engage with you on a bit of a deeper level. While I probably would have gotten more out of it if I had a better knowledge of the Japanese government, there is plenty of thematic meat to chew on between Japan’s inner troubles and the struggles with U.S. intervention. With a cast this large (328 credited actors!), it is difficult to say that anyone in particular stood out, but as an ensemble overall it works very well.
In many ways, Shin Godzilla sets a new standard for how a giant monster movie can work, going back to the human and governmental drama that marks the original film and was lost in the dozens of sequels. A must see!