Shin Godzilla: What did I think?

Haven’t posted for a while, but thought I’d return with another brief movie review. Having been a long-time Godzilla fan, I broke down and watched last year’s “Shin Godzilla”, which is a new entry from long-time Godzilla studio Toho in Japan. They haven’t put anything out in over a decade, and the last two attempts to reboot their Godzilla franchise were pretty bad. Like many fans, I had just assumed that the time of rubber-suit monsters was past, and left it at that. Keep in mind that, as usual with my posts, this review WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS.

This latest movie is a fresh attempt at the franchise with more modern CGI effects, and personally I think it reflects the renewed fear of nuclear power that the country is feeling after the Fukushima thing a few years ago. That’s something the older films seemed to lose over time… a reason for Godzilla being a monster. That said, I have to say that “Shin Godzilla” also tries hard to beat the weirdness level of those lost days. Toho has given us all kinds of psychedelic aliens & monsters over the decades, but I’m not sure any of them beat the sheer… alien-ness… of this new iteration. Keep reading and you’ll get a sense of what I mean.

Like several other Godzilla movies, this one sets things up by having a crazy scientist trying to warn everyone and no one wants to listen. They learn the error of their ways when a giant “proto-Godzilla” thing heaves itself out of the harbor and starts swimming up-river into the heart of the city. Picture a 3-story giant yellow eel with legs, eyes like hubcabs, and gills squirting out blood… and that’s pretty close to what this thing looks like. It gets weirder.

After swimming for a while, this thing – which currently bears no real resemblance to Godzilla, but instead looks like something he’d be fighting – flops itself onto land and starts pushing itself along the ground with its increasingly-stronger legs. As it passes behind buildings, it seems to be growing larger, and the fin-like protrusions on the front-half of its body are starting to resemble little arms like on a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Now possessing the strength to stand up on those back legs, it heaves itself upright and drags itself back towards shore. At this point, it’s kind of starting to look like Godzilla, but still isn’t there. As the thing disappears back into the harbor, both the scientists on the screen and the audience are left scratching our collective heads while we try to figure what the heck just happened and what it has to do with Godzilla. Imagine our (the audience, that is) surprise when we learn that the creature is what the crazy scientist was predicting, and that they’re calling it “Gojira.” That’s right – that funky-looking eel thing was Godzilla the whole time.

Right about the time they figure this out, after about 30 minutes of no Godzilla on the screen, he lurches back out of the harbor. Now, finally, he looks like the Godzilla we know and love, except his tail is about twice as long as usual and he looks like he was microwaved on high for too long. He begins his customary march inland, laying a path of destruction as usual, when they start throwing bullets, helicopters, and missiles his way. At this point, it gets weird again. In addition to his traditional bluish/purple “atomic breath”, this new version starts shooting all kinds of beams out of the plates on his back – almost like a disco ball reflecting laser beams. Then he starts flopping his tail around while shooting a beam out of it. At this point, I’m kind of just staring and thinking “Say, whaaaaaat…”. But it isn’t over, yet.

When all the military options fail, like they always do, the scientists finally manage to knock down Godzilla and pump him full of a coagulant that forces his body into nuclear meltdown, causing him to freeze over like a statue. That would seem to be the end of poor ol’ Godzilla – at least, until he thaws out – but then at the very end we see a close-up of his tail. The tip of it is slowly splitting into creatures that look a lot like the Xenomorphs from Aliens… although each one would have to the be size of a train car, at least.

So What Did I Think?

Well, weirdness aside, the film had some great visuals that any Godzilla fan would appreciate. Once he evolved into his normal form, it was great to see a well-done CGI version of the Toho Godzilla wreak havoc throughout Tokyo. And boy, did he wreak havoc. I would have to say that Godzilla was far more destructive in this film than in any other Godzilla movie I’ve seen. He literally torches half of the city, and that beautiful shot of Godzilla standing among the flames almost makes you forget how much death & destruction he’s causing. I also like the visual portrayal of his atomic breath in this one, which changes subtly from film to film. This one comes out looking almost like a super-hot bluish/purple plasma, then dies away to orange flame right before it stops. I’m on the fence with the back-beams, and totally don’t like the tail beam, but the visuals of the beam itself is very nice.

The acting is fairly typical for a Toho film, which is to say it’s… Meh. Adequate, but not great. The version I saw was in Japanese with English subbing, so that might have something to do with it, although that’s usually how I watch the Toho movies. There were several scenes where you could tell it was little model sets, but you almost expect that from a Toho Godzilla film, and – honestly – it’s part of the charm for a lot of fans.

The appearance and “evolving” presentation of Godzilla is probably what will polarize fans on this movie. It’s a unique take on the monster, and is drastically different from what we’ve seen in the past. The fact that Godzilla seemed to be evolving into something else when he froze at the end will also miff some watchers.

Overall, I’m torn on this one. I say watch it once for yourself and see what you think. It’s not one I’d sit down and watch over & over, but I think it was worth the initial time at least.

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