It’s been twelve years since Japan’s Toho Studios last unleashed their O.G. Godzilla upon the world (Godzilla: Final Wars), but Shin Godzilla suggests a return to scaly monsters and devastated cities for the legendary production company. This is Toho’s third reboot of the Godzilla franchise, unveiling a blood-red makeover for everyone’s favorite kaiju. Although, Toho isn’t interested in replicating Gareth Edwards’ dark, dreary tone – back again are rubbery prosthetics, “playful” effects and everything that made 70s monster brawls so endearingly cheesy. Throwback nostalgia blends with political unrest for old-school ‘Zilla fans, but new-age audiences might be unimpressed by lower-budget effects that care less about crisp visual representation. Then again, that’s just not this Godzilla – nor is it an extension of Gareth Edward’s budding ‘Zilla/King Kong universe.
To start anew, directors Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi once again summon Godzilla from murky depths. At first, he’s not fully formed. An accident is reported at the Tokyo Bay Aqua Line that spurs a reactionary cabinet meeting, under the assumption the environmental shifts are to blame. Unfortunately for Japan, it’s no volcano or water surge that ripped into the Aqua Line – only a gigantic nuclear creature that’s evolving at an alarming rate. What starts as a low-slithering lizard beast becomes this massive, fire-breathing city destroyer with impenetrable skin. Government officials find themselves caught in a web of bureaucracy while a God-like being nicknamed Godzilla decimates Japan, and it’s up to a specialized task force to stop it before more ill-informed orders are barked.
Godzilla is back and madder than ever, but Shin Godzilla is not a Toho beat-em-up. No Mothra aggressors or Mechagodzillas. In fact, this is by and large a political thriller more than any Rampage video game homage. Most scenes are spent running between conference rooms with cabinet members who bicker about Japan’s next move. Godzilla is just a cause to highlight political tie-ups that hide information from civilians and squander actions due to personal agendas. Decisions are made based on implications that might surface ten years later during hopeful elections, or with foreign approval in mind – never Japan’s own interest. Looks like someone’s government agenda is a little heavy-handed…
That said, Godzilla rains fiery hell upon Tokyo Bay, viciously tearing apart Japan on an almost pornographic level. After reaching his final form, a guttural flamethrower turns into photons being shot like porcupine needles from Godzilla’s dorsal fins. There’s a good few minutes where Godzilla does nothing but halve buildings, crunch cars and send homeless Japanese civilians screaming from toppling structures. Early sequences are filmed in first-person like Cloverfield to scale Godzilla’s size appropriately, which helps amplify his nastiest laser-spitting. Godzilla surfaces only minutes into Shin Godzilla, and Toho never tries to hide their monster for later reveals. He roars, ravages and leaves Japan an utter wasteland under his monstrous weight, shimmering like an almighty disco ball that emits incinerating beams of death. Never the shy Godzilla Gareth Edwards previously introduced.
That said, Toho’s budget comes into question where CGI is concerned. This is a big blockbuster piece that struggles to blend Godzilla’s practical presence with animated backdrops, even worse in its digital construction of hosing vehicles that squirt a formulated monster-freezing serum. Mechanical arms squirt liquid into Godzilla’s mouth, but they look like dully rendered computer game background pieces. Same goes for splashes when Godzilla appears from water spouts, or the explosions caused by flying missiles. Even Godzilla himself flails around like a lifeless puppet at times, which – admittedly – is half the charm of Toho’s style, but cheapness can’t be ignored for almost two hours.
Shin Godzilla looks to buck trends in Godzilla lore by satirizing political paper-pushing in the face of other-worldly opposition. Actions are not in militaristic combat, but calculated risks and stomached losses when consequences threaten appointed titles and status. Godzilla roars his iconic roar and blasts radioactive energy in all directions, but his purplish glow only hues for so long. Tension comes from behind closed doors, as decision-makers wait helplessly to see if their latest plan brings any results.
It’s never stuffy – J-Rock guitar solos wail over science research montages – just a bit overlong and too involved in the judicial process. Points are made ad nauseam, pushing a humanitarian agenda hinged on global collaboration over disjointed national seclusion. Not the Godzilla movie you were expecting eh? Hope you like your kaiju films with a chewy crust of political commentary…