‘Shin Godzilla’ Review: ‘Evangelion’ Creator Reinvents Gojira And Ennobles Us All

‘Shin Godzilla’ Review: ‘Evangelion’ Creator Reinvents Gojira And Ennobles Us All
9
  • Adventure
  • Science Fiction
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Godzilla is up to his old tricks in the first trailer for 'Godzilla: Resurgence.' Toho Studios

The humans are the worst part of most Godzilla movies. It’s hard to act alongside the big reptile! Different eras tried different solutions. The original Gojira starred scientists and reporters and threw in a romantic triangle subplot for when Godzilla wasn’t onscreen stomping Tokyo. Soon the series was introducing secret agents and extraterrestrial plots in an effort to give the humans as much to do as the monsters. But while watching Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster or Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla it’s hard to escape the feeling that the human plots are mostly busywork, a sideshow to the main event. Heisei (‘84-’95) and Millennium (‘99-’04) series Godzilla movies doubled down on the same tactic, pitting Godzilla and other creatures of the Toho bestiary against futuristic submarines, freeze ray warplanes and superhuman mutants. It remained a poor solution.

Shin Godzilla (first marketed in the U.S. as Godzilla Resurgence) tries something different. Instead of escalating the human side of the equation to the silly heights of the monster itself, Shin Godzilla distributes its manpower across the bureaucracy of Japan, leveraging an entire nation and its people against the greatest threat the world has ever faced. Rather than building up any single character, Shin Godzilla ennobles us collectively, as a species.

The results start out comedic, but end up profound. In the first few minutes of Shin Godzilla — as a giant blood geyser erupts in Tokyo Bay — the various committees surrounding the prime minister change conference rooms three or four times. Flustered men in suits look at their phones, anxious for updates. Various functionaries, themselves representing whole floors of government processes, fail at every turn to properly evaluate the Godzilla threat. But Shin Godzilla isn’t about government inadequacy or malice (as is so common in American films). As the crisis grows in scale and scope, it’s committees of career civil servants who rise to the challenge.

And there’s never been a challenge quite like this. Describing the capabilities of this new Godzilla (Shin Godzilla is the first Toho Godzilla movie to completely reset continuity, previous reboots started as sequels to the 1954 original) would give away too much, but it’s sufficient to say that the threat evolves. Godzilla’s first form is a less than flattering reintroduction to the big beastie — a bug-eyed, goofball water nymph that can barely stand — but the threat escalates at a terrifying rate.

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That's more like it. Photo: Toho Co.

Godzilla’s actual screentime in Shin Godzilla might be a little scant (but more than 2014’s obscurantist American Godzilla), but it’s counterbalanced by storytelling so expansive in scope and vision that I can’t think of another movie like it. Shin is divided into three large-scale encounters, each radically altering the terms of engagement. In between, we see the full scale of societal response. While it always centers on a core group of bureaucrats, Shin Godzilla hops all around the country, spooling out troop positions, disaster responses, social media reactions, international brinkmanship and political jockeying in an overwhelming torrent of information. By the time the military begins firing on Godzilla we understand the full scale of the battle with an intimacy completely alien to most action movies, where destruction is opportunistic and forgotten the moment it’s offscreen. When Godzilla burns the neighborhoods of Tokyo, you feel it in your stomach as powerfully as you would a real-world event on CNN.

Shin Godzilla is not a pseudo-documentary and there’s no pretense of found footage, but there is an array of contextual cues and onscreen text unlike what we expect from a monster or disaster film. Watching Shin Godzilla is like reading the most gripping Wikipedia page ever written. But it’s more than packaging. Shin Godzilla feels so remarkable because of its storytelling choices, which eschew main characters and avoids heroic protagonists (there is nominally a main character, the Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary played by Hiroki Hasegawa, but his character is nothing like a traditional lead). Instead, Shin Godzilla’s story is told by people doing a good job (and even the cynical political operators have a role to play in the ongoing drama) with the resources at hand. There’s a communal sense of shared responsibility and committee actions that may be quintessentially Japanese, but feels almost politically radical in an American context, where we expect our winners to have done so by transcending the restrictive bureaucracy.

Godzilla doesn’t fall to heroes, he falls to the nation of Japan. Much that’s already been written about Shin Godzilla describes it as a parable of the Fukushima disaster, but writer-director Hideaki Anno (he co-directed with Gamera’s Shinji Higuchi) aims much higher. Shin Godzilla also targets Japan’s subservience to the United States, attacking both our itchy atomic trigger fingers and ongoing role as an umbrella over Japan’s Self-Defense Forces. The end in particular, highly reminiscent of Anno’s Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance, presents a triumphalist picture of Japan’s collective potential. It may be only marginally satisfactory as an action sequence (a well-thought-out plan working correctly will always be less than thrilling), but it’s the culmination of a story unlike any other.

If you can get over some really atrocious CGI, Shin Godzilla is a kaiju movie that tops any other monster movie put out this century. Not only does Shin Godzilla find something for the humans to do, it offers us one of our species’ greatest triumphs, as we prove to god and nature that our collective powers, the society we’ve built together, is stronger than any monster.

 

Shin Godzilla will have a limited theatrical run, Oct. 11-18, thanks to Funimation Films. You can get tickets here

REVIEW SUMMARY
Shin Godzilla
9
Evangelion Creator Reinvents Gojira And Ennobles Us All
A monster movie unlike any other. Extraordinary.
  • expansive scope and vision of storytelling
  • like reading the most gripping wikipedia page ever written
  • the best monster movie in a long, long time
  • SFX aren't great
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