The King of all monsters returned to the silver screen this summer in Japan by way of Toho studios and it made a huge impact at the box office. Just this week, at the time of writing, the monster’s rampage crashes into American cinemas for a one week release. Growing up during the Heisei period of Toho’s productions I have a fondness and nostalgia for the giant lizard anti-hero and his destructive ways. Pitched as a force of nature that man must struggle against, with the occasional bout with giant other otherwordly forces, Godzilla was a serious threat that allowed for dramatic conversations about humanity’s own issues. “Shin Godzilla” does this particularly well. While there is camp and visceral destruction to be had, the film also uses Godzilla as an opportunity for social commentary on Japan’s status in international politics and how to decide whether or not to use force when the country effectively has no military.
In the initial stages of Godzilla’s wake of destruction the monster hasn’t quite evolved enough to become the towering colossus we all know him to be. No, at first he simply slithers and plods along a riverbed on his stomach looking quite silly and odd. Because of his size even at this stage he still does an awful lot of damage but eventually falls back into the sea to evolve further. Eventually he returns in style with an appropriately creepy look about him this time around. Then does exactly what you would expect him to do, follow the scent of radiation and plod towards it, menacingly. Throughout these sequences the story is driven by a large and ever changing cast of characters in the government and military personnel.
The film casts a wide net on the scope of the film by showcasing how Godzilla’s very presence effects the lives of the people in Tokyo and surrounding areas. This does a lot to present the audience with an effective grasp on just how many moving parts would have to come into play under such an event. There are many conversations between leading personnel about the streams of red tape and hurdles they have to jump through just to get anything done. A lot of the plot rests on these debates. The film carefully considers the weight of taking action, of following procedures, and whether or not to choose independently. Also I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Godzilla movie where “The Americans” were such a force in the background, they increasingly effect the story and try to control Japan’s situation for them as the runtime goes on.
This film does an impeccable job pulling everything together, the terror of the monster himself, the belowing and immense score-yes it’s got the classic tune that was missing from Legendary’s production, and even the cinematography and editing help to keep the pace taut when Godzilla isn’t onscreen, although his prescence can be felt throughout. Inbetween the rampages the film wisely takes a sort of CSI vibe as specialists attempt to learn as much as possible about the beast to form possible retaliations. Sweeping camera movements and quick-snap editing keep the atmosphere tense throughout while injecting moments of humanity and humor when appropriately needed.
All in all this entry in the longest continuously running movie franchise has everything that makes Godzilla great. Symbolism of Japan’s current psyche on popular and important issues. Stellar amounts of Godzilla destruction. Heck, they even throw in a nod that basically boils down to “The Americans call it Godzilla, so we’ll just go with that… but really it’s Gojira… *sigh* Americans” which personally made me crack a smile. Honestly this is a better film than our last attempt at adapting the King of monsters, so hopefully we’ll learn something from the originators of the property. Long Live the King.
Final Score: 5/5