"Shin Godzilla" (2016) Retrospect Review
I love Godzilla.
Love might seem like a strong word, but for Godzilla, it isn't. When Gareth Edwards' take on the monster came out in 2014, I literally cried tears of joy when they showed Godzilla in his full glory. I've been watching these films since I was a kid and over the years they've never quite lost their appeal. I might write at a much much longer length about my relationship with Godzilla some day, but for now, I'll keep it simple. They're inherently silly, except for the original 1954 film from Japan, which took itself quite seriously as a metaphor for nuclear war. The destruction of that film isn't gleeful, in fact, it takes the time to show a mother and her child getting crushed by rubble during one of Godzilla's invincible assaults.
The "serious" justification came out for Gareth Edwards' incarnation, but the fact of the matter was that most people didn't like the "serious" parts of that film. The last third where the MUTOs and Godzilla duked it out in San Francisco was jaw dropping and fun, grounded spectacle filmmaking that can't help but draw cheers.
For Shin Godzilla though, directors Hideaki Anno (the famous founder of Gainax animation and the creator of Evangelion) and Shinji Higuchi (a top special effects coordinator in Japan for countless tokusatsu projects) may have found something I'd never considered: A middle ground between the serious and silly approaches of the past.
While Shin Godzilla clearly deals in heavy imagery reminiscent of the Fukushima disaster and even directly flashes images of the aftermaths of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it also deals heavily in satire, choosing to set most of the film in a series of generic rooms where people have meetings about having more meetings. It's an incredibly strange approach, especially for a series that's weakest element has always been its human factor.
But somehow, it kind of works. There's something weirdly and morbidly funny about watching the Prime Minister have a press conference where he claims early in the film that Godzilla can't come ashore and walk, only to be informed seconds later that Godzilla is walking through Tokyo.
I am getting ahead of myself a bit though. It's worth saying that the story of this Godzilla film doesn't take the other films into account. It's a new re-telling of Godzilla's origin, which still manages to work in radiation, but with some toxic waste dumping and a mysterious professor for good measure.
This new origin though fundamentally changes the monster at its center. Unlike previous incarnations of Godzilla, that more or less show up to the proceedings fully formed, this Godzilla's first appearance is pathetic and almost adorable. However, it grows to a much larger size throughout the film, mutating into new forms and new powers. If you thought Godzilla's atomic breath was frightening in previous films, Shin Godzilla ups the ante to ridiculous and incredible heights. Let's just say that the first scene where the new Godzilla uses his powers is an all-time great scene for the series.
It's worth saying that these show stopping scenes are bookended with so many satirical bits of policy-making and so on that it makes the film difficult to recommend to complete newcomers to the series. And while I enjoy the film overall, it could have used some cutting down on the constant string of board room meetings. I know I keep talking about them a lot, but it's only because they might literally make up about 80% of the movie. If you like Godzilla style movies though, consider this a fascinating off-shoot for now.
However, and I'm strongly emphasizing this:
Without spoiling too much, they better make a sequel to this one because the last shot of the movie is so TRULY APESHIT THAT I NEED TO KNOW WHERE THE HELL THEY'RE PLANNING ON TAKING GODZILLA NEXT.