“Shin Godzilla” (2016) Directed by Hideaki Anna, Shinji Haguchi. Stars: Hiroki Hasegawa, Hideki Akasaka, Ren Oshugi.
For over two decades, Toho Studios has been promising us big Godzilla fans the Godzilla film to beat out all Godzilla films, and I’m sorry to say this isn’t it. But it’s much better than what we’ve been used to since the Toho “Godzilla Versus” series of the nineties, and a head and radioactive dorsal fin above the woeful 2014 version that Bryan Cranston overacted in so shamelessly. Essentially, this is a modernized reboot tracing Godzilla’s roots, so to speak, and by and large it’s meant to be taken seriously, although there are some laughs, some unintentional and some surprisingly witty.
In a nutshell, there are seismic and radioactive disturbances popping up in what I believe is Tokyo Harbor, and everyone is getting their panties in a bunch over what it might be, and if it’s not what we think it is, what will the public think of us? Politicians are clashing with prominent scientists, who are clashing with up-and-coming scientists, and everyone is clashing with the military. That might sound like a standard Kaiju movie, but here they go for concerned discourse rather than the raving and ranting of “Destroy All Monsters” or “Invasion Of The Astros.” Ultimately, cooperation is the way to get there, but that process takes a long time.
The script is pretty good, and it strives to be as believable as possible. Dialogue between characters works well, but there is so much of it. “Shin Godzilla” has enough chatter for about two and a half Godzilla movies. Lots of swirly/whirly camera work helps to get the audience through it, but dude, this is a Godzilla movie. Destroy something.
Godzilla makes his appearance fairly early in the disasterpiece, but it’s a jaw dropper. Looking like a cross between an Axolotyl or a dream date for Cthulhu, he plops onto land and starts waddling around on fin feet, popping out his googly eyes and knocking down buildings simply because he doesn’t give a fuck. At this point the audience is thinking, “What the hell is this thing? Is he Godzilla? Is he here to fight the big guy later on?” The answer is yes, he’s what we came for, but this is only an evolutionary stage. Once again we get too much yapping before a grown-up dinosaur-type monster gets on with the carnage. Being current with trending monster graphics, the titular character is mostly CGI, as are the tidal waves and the crashing, flying buildings. Most of it ranges from pretty good to very good.
Finally, Godzilla power morphs into his adult form just as everyone finds out he has been feeding on nuclear waste at the bottom of the ocean, and he stockpiles the stuff for food and fire power. Godzilla is now more of a glowing red than the familiar olive drab, and his eyeballs have a bit of a ping pong ball look, and his tail has a blunt end to it. These things are going to cause most purists to balk, but I’m cool with most of it, and I’ve seen every one of the 31 films. Most changes are forgivable and forgotten when the creature takes umbrage at being woken up with missiles and radiates violet beams from his mouth, fins and tail. The blunt end of his tail is actually a flexible laser cannon of sorts. The effect is awesome. We get fifteen minutes of destruction, and then Godzilla freezes up again. Bad move. He does come out of it once more, but guys, come on, give me a break. I’m jonesing for some Asian WWF style monster cataclysm.
The between-the-monster scenes do present some tension at points, and it’s obvious that the cast, the director, and the composer are all playing at the top of their game. You end up with a movie that tries to be good, but without the respectful amount of screen time for the monster we came to see. In the end, “Shin Godzilla” is neither fish nor fowl. It’s a decent drama tucked inside a monster movie that should have been longer. If you are a die-hard fan, go see it in the theater, but if you are a casual fan or just want lots of mayhem, wait for a matinee, or get it off of Netflix. My above review is only based on the Japanese version with English sub-titles. “Shin Godzilla” opens at selected theaters for a limited time Oct. 11th through the 18th.