Shin Godzilla (2016)
(AKA: Godzilla Resurgence)
Growing up, there weren’t many children my age who lived in my neighborhood. So while most kids would be outside playing with their friends, I was busy eating a big bowl of cereal while watching professional wrestling and Superhost. Superhost was a locally produced program out of Cleveland, Ohio. Supe was a comical guy who dressed in a superhero outfit and wore dingy Converse sneakers. His program consisted of skits, cartoons, shorts of The Three Stooges or Laurel and Hardy, and, more often than not, a Godzilla movie. To a lonely, imaginative 10-year old kid, this was a pretty terrific line-up.
I immediately fell in love with Godzilla. Even as a young boy I realized that this wasn’t exactly high brow entertainment. The words I heard the actors saying didn’t match the movement of their lips. And it didn’t take a genius to determine that the King of All Monsters was most likely a guy in a rubber suit. None of that mattered. Godzilla movies were cool, action-packed and over-the-top. Most importantly, they were fun.
As I got older and savvier, I connected the dots between my love of pro wrestling and Godzilla. In both, a bad guy comes to town and wreaks havoc. The villain turns back the hero in their first meeting but eventually gets whooped in the final battle. Hulk Hogan and Godzilla were cut from the same cloth.
But Godzilla didn’t start out as the Sheriff of Tokyo. In the 1954 film Gojira, Godzilla debuted as the ultimate villain. He was a stomping, skronking catastrophe that tore the city to pieces. He was designed by director Ishiro Honda and his creative staff as the quintessential symbol of the nuclear holocaust that destroyed the country at the end of World War II.
“If Godzilla had been a dinosaur or some other animal, he would have been killed by just one cannonball. But if he were equal to an atomic bomb, we wouldn’t know what to do. So, I took the characteristics of an atomic bomb and applied them to Godzilla.” -Ishiro Honda
The film was a success and spawned a sequel, then another and another. (To date, there are 31 films in the series, two of which were made by Hollywood.) Eventually, Godzilla began to be portrayed as a hero and defender of the country against other kaiju (monsters).
That brings us to 2014 and the announcement that a new Japanese-produced Godzilla movie was in the works. Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi were named to helm the project. The film was to be a reboot of the franchise. Godzilla would return to his nefarious ways.
Pardon the pun, but this movie has teeth. Of course, it is jam-packed with the action and devastation that one expects from any respectable kaiju picture…but there is more. In between requisite scenes of havoc and destruction, the film revisits the idea of Godzilla as a metaphor for horror and tragedy. On March 11, 2011, Japan suffered a major calamity when a massive earthquake triggered a tsunami that precipitated the meltdown of three nuclear reactors. In total, this caused roughly 15,000 deaths. Much like in Gojira, Anno and Higuchi wove real-life tragedy into the fabric of the monster.
The destruction in the film isn’t prurient. It feels imminent and tangible. It’s treated with both the respect and grief of any national tragedy. An excellent job is done conveying the actual panic and confusion of large-scale disaster.
Anno and Higuchi also helm a targeted examination of the machine of politics. Early in the film, before the discovery of Godzilla, when government officials are attempting to determine exactly what menace the country is actually facing, progress is bogged down by bureaucracy. Lower-tiered officials are either to remain silent or risk castigation by their superiors who don’t wish to hear opposing analysis of the situation no matter how correct
As the plot unfolds and the gravity of the insurmountable enormity that Godzilla represents reveal itself, an excellent job is done conveying the difficulty of being the ultimate decision maker during a major calamity. The prime minister suffers dilemmas that call for him to decide between the potential death of countless civilians–or selling out his country’s future for international interests–versus the destruction of a creature of incalculable power. The plot sets stakes for the viewers and sticks to them.
The United States isn’t necessarily portrayed in the best light in the film, either. The U.S. government is portrayed a necessary evil that has self-serving interests. In the context of the film, it’s hard to argue the opposite.
As far as this being a monster movie, does it work? Absolutely. Other than the tail being a bit longer than I would prefer, I love the design of Godzilla. He comes across imposing and ferocious. The film does an excellent job of portraying the power and rage of the creature.
At 120-minutes, the film floats by due to editors keeping scenes short and punchy.
I’ve read complaints that there isn’t enough humor in the final cut. That’s not saying there isn’t any humor, just not enough. I think there are more laughs than one realizes but I also respect the heavy tone that producers orchestrated. Being the “first” in this reset era, I give the movie a pass for being weighty. They next film, however, should definitely be lighter in tone.
I really dig Shin Godzilla. Despite being “just” a monster movie, it has depth and a point of view. The action scenes are of the ilk that demands it be viewed on a big screen to properly do it justice. It is chock full of action yet can also be legitimately dissected over drinks afterward. It possesses equal appeal to a cynical adult or a wide-eyed 10-year old. It is light years better than the 2014 American-produced abomination.
Fifty plus years deep and Godzilla has proven to be just as relevant as it was in 1954. Hell, the only things missing were a bowl of Cap’n Crunch, The Three Stooges, and good ol’ Superhost.
-Zep the Bear