So the family went to see Shin Godzilla last night, and we all emerged delighted. I managed to go without knowing anything beyond the teaser trailer, and I was glad to hit it cold. I’m going to try to avoid spoilers here, but if you’re planning to go, don’t even read this. And yes, you should go.
This is one of the most unusual films in the series. It is easily the most politically pointed since Godzilla, Mothra and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack, and like that film, radically re-thinks Godzilla’s origin and being. Without going into too many details, there’s a definite anime influence, but at the same time, lots of call-backs to the 1954 original, in that the consequences of the attack are rigorously worked out. Shin Godzilla is nowhere near as bleak as the first film, but then, no other giant monster movie is (Cloverfield comes close, though it leavens its despair with some humour).
The political angle is not only notable, it’s central. The characters are primarily politicians, with some administrators and scientists in the mix. Most of the action takes place in conference rooms of one sort or another, and the film is as much a political drama as it is a kaiju movie. A double bill of this and Advise and Consent would not be out of line. The spirits of The West Wing and Yes, Minister hover over many scenes, and there is plenty of dry wit. The social, legal, economic and international implications of the catastrophe are explored in ways we have never really seen in a Godzilla movie before.
Thematically linked to the above is a rigorous emphasis on the collective. The 2014 Godzilla went against the grain of the Hollywood blockbuster by rigorously undermining human agency (and in particular reducing the stereotypical Square-Jawed Hero to virtual uselessness), and Shin Godzilla similarly negates the idea of the individual hero. If a solution is to be found (a question that makes up no small part of the film’s suspense), it will be through the work of many hands, and this idea is present from the opening scenes.
As for Godzilla himself, this is his most terrifying incarnation yet. In the American edit of the original, Raymond Burr claims the monster is 400 feet tall (rather than the 50 metres he actually was), and the current incarnation has at last reached almost precisely that height. The face is truly monstrous. Like Yeats’ rough beast, Godzilla has a gaze “blank and pitiless as the sun,” lending a terrible credibility to the idea that this is indeed some kind of god. The military attack is worthy of a Tom Clancy movie, and the rampage is among the most spectacular of the series, with easily the best FX of any Toho Godzilla.
Restrained and low key in its performances, but more grotesque than ever in its monster, this is perhaps the most ambitious entry in the franchise, and one I’m really looking forward to seeing again.