In 1954, when Godzilla first emerged out of the ocean to wreak havoc on downtown Tokyo, it was in the midst of the Atomic age. More than any other nation in the world, Japan had felt the ultimate destructive power of atomic weapons first hand. Godzilla himself was emblematic of the overwhelming power of these new weapons, born out of radioactive mutation, it’s black charred skin inspired by the burn wounds of the victims of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Over 60 years later, Shin Godzilla is Toho studio’s 29th Godzilla movie and third reboot.
Though it was first released in Japan in 2016, it’s taken over a year for the movie to get limited screenings across the UK. The timing couldn’t be more perfect, with President Trump threatening North Korea with ‘fire and fury unlike the world has never seen’, the spectre of nuclear holocaust and the devastating over whelming power of these weapons has suddenly reared it’s head again, much like Godzilla himself.
Godzilla fans are a weirdly conservative bunch. When it comes to Big-G you have to obey a certain set of rules. All Godzilla movies are essentially the same – unstoppable creature walks out of the ocean to cause great destruction to Japan whilst the authorities attempt in vain to propel him with military force. In all cases, Godzilla cannot be destroyed. He must ideally be played by a man in a rubber suit and you shouldn’t screw around with his unique roar even though it just doesn’t feel modern within the context of a modern production. At this point the US have made two Godzilla movies which haven’t exactly gone down well with the hardcore fan base.
The latest US version of Godzilla directed by Gareth Edwards had its flaws, I found myself smitten by the depiction of Godzilla throughout. It was awe-inspiring and looked real. They even updated the roar to better fit surround sound IMAX. The success of the US Godzilla, which is being spun out into it’s own multi-film franchise (he fights King Kong in 2020) ha inevitably led Toho to revisit it’s franchise with Shin Godzilla.
Once again, the story is largely the same as every other Godzilla film. In modern day Tokyo, a giant creature surfaces from out of the ocean and ventures onto the mainland and causes great amounts of urban destruction. Shin Godzilla is mostly concerned with what is happening behind the scenes in the halls of power where the authorities desperately try to figure out how to handle this situation where there is no rulebook or conventional protocols to follow. Godzilla himself is also handled slightly differently, though he still remains an unstoppable force, this version is constantly evolving and has a couple more tricks up its sleeve. This is mainly in service to challenge the authorities working round the clock to come up with some way of regulating disaster perpetrated by this monster that is constantly changing. Meanwhile, US involvement frequently makes things worse. As it always does…
At first, I wasn’t too impressed by the talkiness of Shin Godzilla. It’s a movie starring a 100 foot monster with radioactive breath but the story seems mostly concerned with the discussions that take place in a number of stuffy little furniture laden rooms with various authorities locked in laboured discussion as they wait for more information to transpire. Each of these characters has an official role in government and is painstakingly introduced by this title via caption. It’s dizzying to keep track of. Gradually, however, I soon found myself getting absorbed in the story and all the talking between the authorities trying to administer some form of process to an impossible situation.
The special effects are a mixed bag, this version of Godzilla evolves throughout the movie. It’s first genus looks a little ropey, but once he comes out of the ocean fully formed and you see his giant tail swing over the suburbs of Tokyo, it becomes a lot better. A night time scene in which Godzilla unleashes his full power is darkly breathtaking and quite scary setting the stakes pretty high as the countdown to apocalypse begins.
The movie seems to know its fanbase and so contains elements of the original Godzilla, namely it’s original score and the monster’s classic roar. To me, these elements do undo the effect of the movie as a more modern version of the same old story. Why can’t these elements be modernised to some extent? Why can’t they record a brand new orchestral version of the original score? It just preserves this film as being a kind of relic to an older time.
Ultimately, Shin Godzilla feels like a movie about ‘process’ or more precisely government process dealing with catastrophe the likes of which humanity has never seen before. Since Godzilla is always evolving and showcasing new destructive capabilities, the systems of government feels all too futile and incapable of finding anyway to avert crisis. It is when the authorities set up their own task force of ‘outcasts’ – mathematicians and scientists that you begin to see a more hopeful endgame and the true message of the film comes out.
In the end, I appreciated Shin Godzilla as a movie about people coming together and doing something progressive to avert catastrophe. Action that is a result of meticulous process and so many moving parts, namely lots of people of different specialities coming together to save the nation they all share in common as their home. It’s an oddly pro government message as a system of order against Godzilla, who is literally a figure of chaos.
Hardcore Godzilla fans will find a lot to like about Shin Godzilla. It’s a classic Toho Godzilla movie in many ways. The big-G rarely changes, which it is why Shin Godzilla is to be commended for finding new ways to make the monster more of a threat. For a monster movie, Shin Godzilla also very dense, with lots of talk taking place in cushy little rooms within the buildings of power, as suits decide on the best course of action to take.