SHIN GODZILLA (2016)
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Shin Godzilla…meaning “true” Godzilla…is a reboot of the classic Godzilla series from Toho Studios and the imaginative minds behind Neon Genesis Evangelion, Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi. In this new incarnation, Godzilla starts out as a mysterious tadpole-like creature that appears in Japanese waters causing structural damage to its Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line before making landfall. It cuts a path of destruction as the Japanese government flounders over what to do. As they struggle over how to handle this unprecedented event, the creature mutates growing larger and more destructive as it does. Worse still, this beast, the prying U.S. government calls “Godzilla”, is a walking nuclear reactor heading into the heart of Tokyo.
In this new incarnation of the long enduring classic character, Godzilla is a true monstrosity as it has the power to mutate itself at will, as it returns to Japan, no longer content or satisfied with feeding on the nuclear waste the Asian nation dumps into its oceans. There are hints that he is a nuclear created amalgamation of all sorts of sea and other life that now has formed into an ever-changing leviathan in search of nuclear fuel. The creative duo also uses the creature as a metaphor for the recent earthquake and typhoon disasters that struck Japan in 2011 and the Japanese government’s mishandling of it, due to being mired in bureaucratic red tape and politics. They also take some jabs at the United States prying into Japanese affairs and being a bit of a bully towards the island nation in bending to its will. This works for the most part, though if the film has an Achilles heel, it’s that it allows its political satire to get a bit heavy-handed and overloaded in the second act, while we wait for an immobile Godzilla to recharge after battling a U.S. bomber attack with its new version of the atomic heat ray. The film does drag a while before it’s impressive but over-too-quick climax, at a point where it should be ramping up. Having Godzilla dormant for a good chunk of time after a fairly action-filled first half, really slows the film’s momentum. That and the points made here were pretty much the same made in the first half and it starts to get redundant. On a technical level, the FX are mixed. There are some truly spectacular sequences of destruction unlike any seen in a Godzilla film, including the multimillion-dollar American flick from 2014. In contrast, there are some weak CGI FX that hinder the impact of some scenes, such as Godzilla’s creepy amphibious first form and some shots during his overall impressive unleashing of his new nuclear capabilities. Tonally, the film takes itself fairly seriously, though there is some humor and plenty of satire. The last half could have used more tension instead of talk and after a spectacular battle with U.S. B2 bombers, it’s off-putting to see Godzilla just stand there for so long, allowing Japan to re-group. The traditional Godzilla gave little rest for the weary. Fans will be pleased that the film does use some of Akira Ifukube’s classic Godzilla music for mood and nostalgia and there is also an effective score from Shirō Sagisu as well.
The cast, for the most part, perform well with lead Hiroki Hasegawa standing out as Rando Yaguchi, a young Deputy Cabinet Secretary who sees the flaws in the system and how they are negatively affecting Japan, especially in a crisis. Beautiful Satomi Ishihara plays Kayoko Ann Patterson, a U.S. born senator’s daughter who is the envoy to Japan during Godzilla’s attack. She could have been a bit stronger in a smug role and the fact that her English is terrible, doesn’t bode well for her playing a U.S. born character to an American father. Other than that, the cast all get the tone of their parts and balance the satirical humor with the more serious facets of the story fairly on-point. As for Godzilla, he is for the first time really creepy. He has nuclear energy glowing from points under his skin, like the burning Godzilla from Godzilla vs. Destroyah and actually evokes Hedorah, The Smog Monster, in the way it evolves from a disturbing reptilian-slug thing to a creature that resembles a giant walking, grinning zombie dinosaur. It is a startlingly original take on this iconic beast and his new way of unleashing his nuclear power was shocking and impressive. Too bad a few shots suffered from weak CGI as this sequence was one of the most powerful in the film.
Overall, this was a very interesting, entertaining and sometimes disturbing new incarnation of one of film’s most classic characters. It is still the Godzilla we know, yet with some daring new characteristics and a more contemporary origin. The film is more moderately paced than these movies usually are and comes with a lot of political commentary on Japanese government and its relationship with the U.S. It does stumble a bit with a very talky second half and by getting a little too heavy-handed with its messages, though it does recover somewhat with an impressive, if not a bit too quickly resolved finale. A bold new start for a franchise and a character that has endured for over 60 years and one of the most unique films in the series.
Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) Godzillas.