The following review contains spoilers for Shin Godzilla
Toho Strikes Back
Though not without its faults, Shin Godzilla (also known as Godzilla Resurgence) delivers on all fronts. As any good and entertaining Godzilla film should do, Shin gives you a full serving of humor (both intentional and not), great visuals and destruction, music that adds to the experience rather than serve as just background noise, and a human plot that stacks up well against the best the series has offered in the previous 28 Toho productions.
But of course, there aren’t only 28 Godzilla films. A pair of others were made in the West, the first of which was a failed attempt by summer blockbuster connoisseur Roland Emmerich. The film was such an afront to the Godzilla name that Toho immediately responded with Godzilla 2000. Not only that, but Toho eventually dubbed Emmerich’s version of their legendary monster ‘Zilla’ because, as Toho put it, “They took the God out of Godzilla”. Despite the fan backlash, Zilla is a part of Toho’s official canon and it later appeared in Godzilla: Final Wars where it showed up just to be promptly obliterated by the real deal. It’s one of the most rewarding moments in the entire series. After Final Wars, Godzilla would go into hibernation for over a decade until the West tried again.
That second attempt was Legendary’s Godzilla 2014 and it didn’t take long for Toho to repeat history and announce that they were bringing big G back in response. They boasted that this new Godzilla would be the biggest yet, reclaiming the title from Legendary’s Godzilla which had just taken it months prior.
It felt as though Toho might have had a bruised ego. While Emmerich’s film was a disaster, director Gareth Edwards made a solid attempt at bringing Godzilla to a Western audience with Godzilla 2014. Despite having plenty of flaws, the movie did justice to the source material and respected Toho’s pride and joy. It was also a huge box office success, prompting Legendary to quickly announce that two more Godzilla films would be on their way. Despite my worries that Toho was rushing out a new movie for petty reasons, I remained optimistic.
We could be in the early days of a Godzilla golden age. It’s possible there will be two concurrent Godzilla series with Japan and America trading blows, movie by movie. What a time to be alive!
A Godzilla Unlike Any Other
When it was announced that Hideaki Anno would be directing Toho’s newest film, many eyebrows surely were raised in response. Known for his background in anime and as the director of the Evangelion series, his hiring turned Shin Godzilla into a big wildcard. It was easy to think blending the style of an anime with a live action monster flick could backfire badly. Ultimately, however, it worked out pretty well.
What Anno gives us is one of the most unique Godzilla designs we’ve seen yet. While mostly done in mostly good CG, there still seemed to be a bit of animatronics at work as well. While Anno claimed he wasn’t satisfied with their efforts to keep up the Toho tradition of using a man in a rubber suit, they did end up using motion capture on a suit, as well as a puppet touched up with CG, and the end result is a deceptively classic feeling Godzilla.
By using a lot of low angles looking up at Godzilla and distance shots showing the legendary kaiju in beautiful wide landscape shots, Anno is able to effectively communicate his monster’s immense size and terrifying features.
I use the word terrifying only half truly, for Godzilla’s introduction is anything but. When we get our first look at Anno’s creation…well, just look for yourself.
Oh, how the theater laughed. It’s probably the googly eyes that most effectively derail this serious moment into one of utter hilarity but regardless, this version of Godzilla is simultaneously the worst and best thing my eyes have ever witnessed. I could see how a diehard Godzilla fan would see this and be offended but honestly, it’s just freaking funny.
What really caught me off guard was how unsettling this Godzilla actually was when we got to see more of it. As it shimmy shimmied its way through town (there’s really no other way to explain how this thing moves), a jiggly fat neck wobbles to and fro opening gills that drench the ground in blood. Gross! At one point, Godzilla attempts to stand on its two hind legs, revealing not a strong, healthy looking creature ready to bring the destruction but instead a tortured abomination. This is a freak that probably wants to be annihilated and it’s unsettling to watch. The whole thing is funny, disturbing, and depressing all at once. It’s a mix of emotions quite unlike anything Godzilla has evoked in me before.
And just when you think this introduction can’t get any more bizzare, Godzilla evolves.
Like a Pokemon.
What we’re left with is something that’s starting to look like the Godzilla we know and love, minus the goofy googly eyes that still remain. Due to civilians still being in the area, Japan holds off on an attack allowing Godzilla to return to the sea to rest and when he returns, he’s evolved a second time. This is when Godzilla starts to look very familiar. But don’t think you know this Godzilla, its packing a few interesting surprises.
Instead of rebooting the series as a sequel to the original Gojira, Toho and Anno decided to start from scratch. Shin Godzilla features a brand new Godzilla with a brand new origin story. I already touched on one major change, the fact that Godzilla looks very different and then evolves into a more familiar monster, but his looks and origin aren’t the only things revamped.
Godzilla’s got some tricks up his sleeves, tricks we haven’t seen before. The biggest of which is the monster’s atomic breath, now a crazy sort of napalm breath/energy beam/disco show combo. And it’s deadly. Godzilla ends up turning Tokyo into an infernal hellscape in minutes flat, one of the most powerful and destructive moments in Godzilla’s long and storied history. It’s the highlight of the movie and seeing it unfold in theaters was like a Godzilla sized dream come true. Unfortunately, this climax happens somewhere around the midpoint of the movie, the final act falls short of topping this spectacle.
The biggest issue I have with this new Godzilla is its demeanor. The monster barely shows any emotion outside of its anger induced rage fest. It moves very slowly and often looks like a statue. In fact, the movie basically ends with just that; a frozen statue Godzilla plastered right in the middle of Tokyo. I feel this all was a creative decision by Anno, perhaps wanting to use Godzilla as a stagnant but ever present threat to Tokyo. It fits with the commentary on the 3/11 disasters and makes sense, it’s just a preference to want a more lively and emotive Godzilla.
All in all, Anno has given us a very unique Godzilla, from a drastic departure in appearance, to evolutions and new atomic abilities, to humanzilla things emerging from his being. You read that right. Humanoid Godzilla beings trying to escape the monstrosity that is Shin Godzilla. Anno’s monster makes us laugh, makes us cheer, and even manages to make us feel some of that authentic Toho terror and dread. Despite the googly eyes.