Lifelong Godzilla fan right here…
The big moody lizard has been stomping cities flat for over 60 years now, with over 30 titles to his name and a cinematic legacy that’s tough to match and yet on these shores he’s still criminally under appreciated on these shores. With his latest outing (his first Japanese production since 2004’s campy Godzilla: Final Wars) only getting a one day UK release a year after it premiered in Japan, it seems most people forget the Big G’s roots lay in a black and white arthouse allegory for the nuclear bombing of Hirosima. Unable to make a movie directly about the event, the towering reptilian bastard stood in for details too raw for audiences to handle and allowed a nation to work out it’s issues through the medium of fantasy.
Since then, Godzilla’s been through more changes than Katy Perry’s concert wardrobe, veering wildly from marauding monster, to camp superhero, to unstoppable force of nature and back again, but his newest venture tonally goes right back to the beginning.
This is a Godzilla movie about Japan. This is a monster movie about hard politics.
It’s odd to think that a movie series that once had it’s central character tuck his tail between his legs and fly with the power of his atomic breath could ever take such a focused look at the minutiae of how to run a government while a pissed of death-gekko hate fucks your country. The short answer is you can’t. Upon this new Godzilla’s arrival (initially in the form of a giant, dead-eyed, salamander that bleeds from it’s gills) we are treated to a blackly comic procession of meeting after meeting (and sometimes meetings about having meetings) as the Japanese Prime Minister wrestles with epic red tape about what he can and can’t do, what he should and shouldn’t do and how to work within the parameters of rules and restrictions placed on them by the UN and the USA, all the while Godzilla nonchalantly wanders through other people’s property. It’s ballsy stuff, although most of it may fly over the head of anyone simply looking for basic monster mash action. Trademark scenes of carnage are given an uncomfortable edge of realism thanks to riffing on recent real life disasters like tsunamis, earthquakes and yes, 9/11. A large scale helicopter attack is called off at the last second when a single couple is spotted in the battle zone, dozens of impossible decisions are heaped upon the PM, it’s The West Wing meets Cloverfield. Interestingly, the USA gets somewhat of a roasting here, giving Japan an ultimatum to evacuate 3.2 million people from Tokyo in 2 weeks before they drop a nuke, forcing the country to fend for itself and defy the rest of the world.
It works, mostly. Evangelion director Hideaki Anno gives everything a realistic, even bland feel, while simultaneously making Godzilla more fantastical than ever before. Rapidly evolving through multiple forms into a gigantic being who can not only fire purple beams through his mouth but from his spines and tail, he’s a ravaged nightmare version of the basic Godzilla design we know and love. A glowing, 300 foot-plus mass of radioactive prick, with skin like burnt jerky and skinny skeletal withered arms, he is legitimately intimidating despite his rather dodgy googly eyes.
However, while the rapid rat-ta-tat style of the immense amount of meetings this film has (the Star Wars Prequels would be lightsaber green with envy) keep things moving, the sheer bulk of talk does slow things down while simultaneously dazzling the audience with sheer the amount of title cards flashing up, announcing who and what everyone is. The third act suffers most where Godzilla decides has a bit of a kip to aid the plot of the scrambling humans. Simply put this really isn’t gonna be everyone’s cup of tea but there’s plenty here for the curious, no less in the bonkers finale where everyone stops the chat and enacts a do or die plan that involves bullet train bombs, falling buildings and an attempt to give Godzilla what amounts to a super roofie.
As a long time Kaiju fan I’ve pretty much seen it all by this point, but Shin Godzilla brings a new, intelligent, surprisingly engrossing, angle to this long running series which should sit snugly next to the USA’s next effort arriving 2019.