Movie review: Shin Godzilla (Godzilla Resurgence)
I could not miss the limited American showing of Shin Godzilla. I realized this is the first time I’ve seen a proper Toho Godzilla movie in a theater since Godzilla 1985! It was an excellent, albeit very strange kaiju movie.
When I say Shin Godzilla is a weird movie, it’s weird in a variety of ways. But overall, I mean this as a positive — it was unconventional, startling, and bizarre in ways that kept me hooked from start to finish and left me thinking during the walk home from the theater. Some of the things that felt “weird” to me are, I suspect, artifacts of this being a Japanese movie for a Japanese audience, not Americanized in any way. There are also references to pop culture that didn’t connect with me — I’ve seen other reviewers talking about heavy anime influences, and my anime knowledge is extremely limited. So to a certain audience it may seem less weird.
The first odd thing you’ll notice is that there aren’t really any individual human characters in this movie. Yes, they’re there, there are characters you’ll recognize with individual motivations. But you won’t find the expected human drama, the family rushing to escape the devastation, the scientist and her love interest, the plucky young reporter whose story plays out with Godzilla as the backdrop. Nope. The main characters in this movie are: Godzilla, the Japanese Government, and the American Government, with supporting roles by the Populace of Japan and the Other Nations of the World. There is a huge focus on bureaucracy within the Japanese government. This is sometimes used for comedic effect (commands being passed up and down the chain to the prime minister and back again), sometimes for dramatic effect (fast edits showing people rushing around, assigning tasks, getting things done).
This lack of a tacked-on, forced human drama felt weird because we’ve become so accustomed to that. And it was great because instead we got a disaster movie about how a nation reacts to an unprecedented crisis, and how it fights for the survival of its way of life. Once or twice the bureaucratic stuff bogs things down (there’s a press conference that seems to go on forever), but most of the time the fast-talking officials and quick edits give this part of the movie a frenetic sense of panic.
The other element that’s really deeply weird is Godzilla himself. You might be expecting a giant lizard, a sentient creature with at least some personality. But this Godzilla…well, when it first appears, it isn’t Godzilla at all. This Godzilla has the ability to mutate at rapid speed, often in direct response to some stimulus (later in the movie it shoots photons out of its back to stop bombs and missiles from hitting it). But its initial version is a sort of giant snake creature with legs but no arms. In a nod to actual evolution, it appears to have precursors to eyes instead of actual eyes — large light-sensitive spots on its head. It looks so bizarre at first that there was actually laughter in the theater.
You might have noticed that Godzilla looks weird in the trailers. That’s because he never fully evolves into Godzilla as we know him. That stiff-armed posture, the gaping, toothy mouth, the weird vacant eyes — all because none of those parts have evolved yet. Once you get past the initial shock of the initial snake monster, this all makes Godzilla seriously creepy. He’s an utterly alien presence. He could be a mindless animal just lashing out to protect itself. He could have some unfathomable motivation. As he stalks through the city at night, that dead-eyed stare and awful maw full of teeth are truly scary. It’s the closest I think a Godzilla movie has come to true horror since the very first movie. I noticed some similarities (in terms of mood and theme) to the horror manga I’ve read.
There was one plot hole I can’t quite let go. The scientists realize that Godzilla is powered by an internal nuclear reactor when he’s forced to return to the ocean at some point to cool down. They hypothesize that injecting him with a blood coagulant will disrupt his cooling system. This is actually a cool idea — without the blood cooling system, Godzilla would be forced to shut down his reactor and enter a sort of torpor state to avoid overheating. But when they carry this plan out, it actually freezes Godzilla, literally reducing his temperature and turning him into a giant Godzilla ice statue (which is just hanging out in the middle of Tokyo when the movie ends). That’s the opposite of what would have happened and just makes no sense. It’s just weird that they came up with a really sound scientific plot device, but then botched it for no apparent reason.
There are some great things here for classic Godzilla fans. The night battle between Godzilla and the military is incredible, with G leveling the city with the most intense laser breath we’ve ever seen. That wicked purple glow is a welcome new twist. The day battle is awesome too, and felt like a nice throwback to the 60s and 70s Godzilla movies. Speaking of, classic Godzilla roars and other sound effects are used at key moments, and if you’re a longtime fan, you just love hearing that sound (it is literally the ringtone on my phone). Plus they used quite a few of Akira Ikufube’s classic Godzilla music in the score, wrapping this modern Godzilla movie in a classic feel.
Anyway, G-Fans, make sure you check this movie out when it hits on Blu-Ray. It’s a disaster movie, it’s a monster movie, it’s super weird and kind of unsettling. It’s got the right elements to please old-school monster kids, but is innovative and unusual enough to keep you guessing.
Oh, one last thing — let’s theorize about Godzilla’s origin here. My interpretation is that the mystery scientist whose boat is found in the opening scene created Godzilla as a means of revenge for his wife dying of radiation sickness. That explains why he had such a through understanding of the creature in his research. IT also explains why Godzilla first emerged right when the boat was found — he had created the lifeform, then jumped into the ocean with it right above the radioactive waste dump, knowing the radiation would catalyze the lifeform’s ability to rapidly mutate. Have an alternate theory? Let me know on twitter!