Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
(Japanese with English subtitles)
Directed by: Hideaki Anno & Shinji Higuchi
Written by: Hideaki Anno
Starring: Hiroki Hasegawa, Yutaka Takenouchi, Satomi Ishihara, Kengo Kora, Ren Osugi, Akira Emoto, Kimiko Yo, Jun Kunimura & Mikako Ichikawa
Godzilla is truly one of cinema’s most iconic monsters. In his 31 films (more than James Bond’s entire franchise), this radioactive beast has fought giant monsters and wreaked havoc on various cities. After 2014’s GODZILLA was a hit that made up for 1998’s piss-poor Emmerich vehicle, it was time for Toho to reboot their own monster. However, SHIN GODZILLA isn’t so much about Godzilla destroying Tokyo as it is a disaster flick where the disaster happens to be a massive radioactive monster. The bombastic premise is tackled with utmost seriousness and makes for a surprisingly compelling watch.
One seemingly peaceful day, a Tokyo Bay bridge is struck by a heavy flood. Fresh-faced politician Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa) believes that a creature is responsible for the disaster, but his cocky superiors quickly dismiss his wild claims. They are forced to recant when a giant radioactive monster suddenly makes its way onto the mainland, leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. Though board meetings and various groups of arguing politicians cannot seem to agree on a solution or cause, it quickly appears that this creature, known as Godzilla (God Incarnate), is evolving and becoming more powerful with each passing minute. As the seemingly indestructible threat makes its way towards Tokyo, the Japanese government and U.S. officials are forced to team up in order to eradicate this monster…but will they succeed?
SHIN GODZILLA is far more political than fans may expect. Those who want to see Godzilla wreaking havoc on Tokyo may find themselves disappointed as this movie mostly takes place in boardrooms, offices, and rooftops. However, the dialogue-heavy approach is far more entertaining than I ever could have expected it to be. Discussions about refugees being evacuated from danger, rising health hazards due to Godzilla’s radiation levels, the tanking economy due to the expensive disaster, and the U.S. having a hand in things are all relevant to current events. This giant monster movie approaches its ridiculous premise as a plausible situation. In this way, SHIN GODZILLA is unexpectedly sophisticated for a monster movie.
Though conversations between various characters resonate, the cast of military and government officials blend into each other. Sure, there are a few performances that stick out and recurring faces spout out exposition, but that’s about it. Yaguchi is the male lead and he helps spearhead a crazy plan to take down Godzilla, but encounters resistance from the government’s bureaucracy. Satomi Ishihara plays Kayoko Ann Patterson, an American Special Aide with a stake in helping Japan out with their Godzilla problem. Satomi’s scenes are interesting, but her overall arc feels like means to an end. That complaint pretty much boils down to most of the characters here. I didn’t care about a lot of them, other than they were showing how the Japanese government might realistically respond to a Godzilla attack.
As for the main monster, we see Godzilla evolve through different stages. I wasn’t a fan of his early appearances, especially his first on-screen look. Fans have been making fun of the early “armless salamander” Godzilla and that’s for good reason, he looks hilariously stupid. The theater audience burst into laughter at the sight of this googly-eyed Godzilla and I’m not quite sure that’s what the filmmakers were going for. Godzilla’s later scenes are intimidating as hell though, especially when he begins firing off deadly atomic rays. This Godzilla felt dangerous and unstoppable, which are both very positive qualities.
SHIN GODZILLA is bound to be a polarizing installment in the long-running GODZILLA franchise. Those who like the ideas of watching scientists carefully map out the biology of this giant monster, politicians meeting in boardrooms to discuss possible solutions for getting rid of Godzilla, and the real-world effects that might be caused by a giant monster attack, will likely find something refreshingly original in this reboot and are sure to get some enjoyment out of the experience. Those who want to see Godzilla rampaging through the city and were disappointed by the 2014 summer blockbuster might walk away pissed off and disappointed. SHIN GODZILLA is a unique monster movie and there’s something to be said for that alone.