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[Review] ‘Shin Godzilla’ is Not Only the ‘Godzilla’ Film That We Deserve, But Also the One That We Need

The latest take on ‘Godzilla’ is a strong re-entry into the storied franchise that feels fresh, smart, and frightening

Let’s get this started with the disclaimer that I’m not a big Godzilla fan. I know the general beats of the franchise and have seen the “bigger” films from the series, but I’m not some die-hard fan, nor do I subscribe to some arbitrary entrenched set of ideals like how Godzilla’s tail must be 55.427 feet long or how his roar needs to sound like a lion mixed with a shark. I just want to see a good monster rampage film here and honestly, it’s the writer and co-director, Hideaki Anno’s, involvement with the mind fuck of a series Neon Genesis Evangelion, that is really what got me to check this out in the end. He’s a pro in this area and I was beyond curious to see his take on such a famous, influential franchise. It also doesn’t hurt that Anno’s co-director is Shinji Higuchi who not only cut his teeth over at Evangelion, but is responsible for the two live-action film adaptations of Attack on Titan. That’s kind of an incredible team-up. Maybe it’s because Anno has been itching for so long to complete the final Rebuild of Evangelion film, but he enters the Godzilla series like a force of nature and delivers a poignant, compelling disaster picture.

The destruction in Shin Godzilla starts right from the jump and it might all feel like fairly familiar territory, but the film truly takes its time and shows restraint. In spite of showing you the mighty beast relatively early on, it’s not until about half way through the film until any attacks on Godzilla are being launched. The reason for this lies in the fact that the real meat of the film is in watching how this disaster relief movement develops and is handled by the government. There are many scenes of government officials arguing, hashing out think tank solutions, and wracking their brains as they try to figure out the best plan of action here.

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In doing all of this, Shin Godzilla ends up functioning as a very successful model on what to do if you’re actually being attacked by a giant monster. This isn’t a film that’s just blatant destruction and towering kaiju carnage. The government truly thinks here and tries to avoid combat if it’s going to endanger the population. There’s just as much in this film on evacuation procedures as there is on extermination methods. In spite of the film keeping the action sequences surprising sparse, it makes all of them count and still has a feeling of tension and urgency coursing through everything. The film never feels like a drag, even though a lot of it is just talking about what to do. That’s a deeply difficult balance to reconcile but Shin Godzilla finds it and has you roped into its plans, as curious as its characters regarding what tactic is actually going to work here. It’s like you’re a part of the big think tank and round table that have been assembled.

In spite of these government characters mostly talking about policy and war tactics, I still got invested in them to a surprising degree. You’re dealing with a Prime Minister who genuinely cares about his country and doesn’t want to see civilians get hurt, even if that means that this radioactive abomination gets to survive for longer. You get invested in their plight and want to see their brainstorming yield results. The film makes you care for these suits.

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It also might not seem like a pivotal deal, but Shin Godzilla also features a healthy amount of strong, influential female characters. This is something that I wasn’t expecting, but it’s a great touch here and more of a reflection of the sort of gender politics that Anno and Higuchi are used to playing with in Evangelion. The film also depicts help steadily being brought in from other nations, making this epidemic feel increasingly real and as if matters are evolving. It’s a slow, changing plan, but one that doesn’t feel out of sync with what would actually be done if things came down to this.

This Godzilla in question is explained in the film to have been born in a combination of the wake of the Great East Japan earthquake, tsunami, and the Fukushima nuclear disaster of March 2011. Amazingly, in another very smart move on the film’s part, the picture uses these factors to result in an evolving Godzilla. It’s crazy how laughable Anno’s “first form” of the beast is with it hardly seeming intimidating at all, only for the monster’s “fourth form” to be such an unbeatable God of destruction. Anno highlighting Godzilla’s growth and self-sustaining evolution process ends up emphasizing the power of this monstrosity and that once more, this is something different. This is not your typical Godzilla picture; this has a much larger scope.

There’s a bewildering sequence where the military just tests increasing artillery on the creature gauging what will work on it, with the results absolutely being a sight to behold. That being said, the fodder digging into Godzilla’s radioactive abilities is truly the highlight of the picture. Watching the birth and retaliation of his laser beam atomic breath is a truly terrifying, surprising sequence that carries a degree of awe that hasn’t been present in a Godzilla film in some time (from what I understand). Even though these films follow such a formula, Shin Godzilla feels genuinely surprising at times, which is the most important thing for a “reboot” or rebranding of this nature. Furthermore, just tiny touches like the “science” that we see involving Godzilla’s atomic laser breath are beautiful and well developed. We see fire flame out and shake into concentrated nuclear energy as this beast slowly refines its abilities. Other complications like his blood and carbon footprint leaving trails of irrevocable radioactive damage is a whole other issue, too.

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The film gets a lot of currency by banking on destruction footage like a deluge of boats or parked cars piling up, collecting, and collapsing over each other. All of these moments make for some stark, effective visuals that represent the scale of destruction that’s going on here. Additionally, there are so many foreboding shots of Godzilla simply looming over the city of Tokyo that all hit really hard. In fact, all of the effects here are so well handled, whether it’s the destruction of the city of just the practical work done on Godzilla itself. Apparently the same mix of practical and computer-generated augmentation that Higuchi used for his Attack on Titan features is what is in play here. There’s such a fight and want for Godzilla to be practically done, but when you see the ability and weight of what’s created here, you can easily see why such a fuss is created over these things.

At a number of points Shin Godzilla had me thinking about Bong Joon-ho’s gripping monster film, The Host, only with a little less of the saccharine message being crammed down your throat. The other obvious comparison point is Anno’s most famous body of work, the Evangelion series, and granted the destruction here does feel reminiscent of his work there. They’re still really different, but elements like Godzilla’s ongoing evolution as well as the responses within government feel very close to his other series in a way that’s not distracting, but rather complimentary. He was chosen to helm this film for a reason, after all. Anno even gets to implement plenty of his quirky, avant-garde camera angles and filming techniques. There are plenty of fish eye lenses set on government officials as they pontificate plans of action. Frequent use of handheld and security footage adds another welcome aesthetic to this “real-life” destruction that’s taking place.

The film’s score, by Shiro Sagisu (also known for his work in Evangelion), is also great, epic stuff. It features plenty of new tracks that emphasize the hopelessness and scope of the situation at hand. Sagisu however also respectfully features a handful of classic Godzilla tracks like “Persecution of the Masses,” to touch upon the franchise’s sprawling legacy. Even as a casual fan of this historic series I was able to pick up on these musical cues, so I’m sure the real Godzilla nerds would be losing their minds and catching even more.

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In the film’s final act, as plan after plan fail to take down Godzilla, the film puts you in the same mindset of everyone else. You’re left wondering if there’s anything that will take down this creature. The ultimate plan of attack here deals with introducing a coagulant to Godzilla’s bloodstream to slow him down and make him immobile. This seems pretty inspired to me and it’s an approach that I’ve never seen done in a Godzilla film before, but that being said, for all I know this is a pretty overdone solution for the series rather than something that’s innovative and new. I also thought that it was kind of touching that this saving grace of a plan is implemented by the people through the think tank, rather than specifically the government or some stuffed shirt official. This ends up pushing an overwhelming message about opportunity, listening to everyone, and working together. The whole nation is needed to take down a threat of this nature and the film doesn’t let you forget that.

I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect with this one, but I enjoyed my time with Shin Godzilla more than I thought I would. The film even managed to surprise me, which I didn’t think such an old franchise would be capable of doing. I like what is going on here though and if this reboot continues I’m into seeing more of Anno and Higuchi’s take on the series (or at the least still having their guidance and story ideas in place for whoever takes on the next picture). Godzilla films might have moved to a point where they feel perfunctory and like non-events. Shin Godzilla sheds that negative image and gets the series back on the right foot while imbuing it with the same power that’s present in the monster itself. Whether that translates into a strong bunch of accompanying films or simply this monument love letter of a movie, this film accomplishes what it sets out to do. Much like that final, ghostly image that the film concludes on, Shin Godzilla will stick with you and continue to trash the architecture of your mind while you ruminate on what you just saw.

It’s hard to argue with the fact that the King of Lizards is back on his throne.

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42 Comments
  • Munchie

    That last picture looks like a giant turkey gone completely mental.

    • Rick-Taylor

      In the movie, it slides around like a snake and is a little goofy.

      • RKSDooM

        I literally gasped out a “what the fuuuuu-” in the theater when Godzilla first showed up looking like that.

        Great movie though.

  • Rick-Taylor

    I really enjoyed the movie, but felt like it was a “Part 1”. Now, we need the conclusion of the story.

  • zomnombie

    This movie sucked…sorry. Godzilla takes a nap during it, no joke. I can confidently say I am a bigger Godzilla fan than you, seen every one, EVERY single Godzilla movie and Shin is possibly worse than the American Matthew Broderick version. I seem to be the only person who saw this as the boring ass Godzilla movie that it was. Go find Final Wars, or anything with Mechagodzilla. Godzilla vs. Megalon is more entertaining than Shin.

    • Batmanfanboy

      Sorry, but your opinion is shit. Shin Godzilla was awesome.

      • zomnombie

        Glad you liked it. Thank you for your perspective. I have to call it what it is though. Though I like plenty of things that are considered bad this was just not one of them.

        • Batmanfanboy

          Well fortunately most of the world and Godzilla fans disagree with you and they will carry on with this series. They screened this in North America for good reason, the film is awesome.

          • zomnombie

            Well once again I’m glad you liked it…a lot apparently. I’ll stick with the classic Thoho ventures myself.

          • Arnold De Jesus

            zomnombie is an obvious troll. Nice trolling effort though. You made it last quite a few entries.

    • AlanMorlock

      Just having seen a lot of movies doesn’t mean that you’re particularly adept at engaging with a movie or understanding its context.

      • zomnombie

        Oh I assure you I have no qualms with context or engagement. The difference of opinion I have is what seems to be the issue. I think this movie was pretty sucky and even if I am in the minority I am ok with that. I hope it inspires people to seek out the rest of the Godzilla catalog and find the ones that (in my opinion) are better. Shin Godzilla looked rad but the movie got lost in its “clever” neo-political satire focusing more on Japanese government red tape shenanigans so much so that Godzilla literally becomes a backdrop, while he’s napping…HE TAKES A NAP. Godzilla, for all its subtext about atomic proliferation and emergency response snafus, still should remain at the forefront of his own movie and not pushed to the side by the 5 year political plans of characters that are pretty weak. The final plan to fight Godzilla is laughably bad. The Godzilla destruction scenes where great and I wasn’t particularly bothered by the change in his look/power base/origin its the rest of the movie wrapped around Godzilla that fell to pieces after a promising first 30 minutes. If that was enough get you on board with this movie than good for you. I have seen enough Godzilla though to expect better. 😉

        • AlanMorlock

          I’m just saying “I guarantee I’m a bigger Godzilla fan than you” means not a goddamned thing. This movie simply didn’t deliver what you’re looking for.

          Godzilla is not backgrounded. While the focus of the film is on the response to his presence, every bit of the movie is directed towards the problem he poses. This is in contrast to the 2014 movie where it is the MUTOs that drive the plot. Godzilla isn’t backgrounded here any more than he was in the relationship drama of the original film.

          The early section of the film does play as a bit of a joke about how convoluted the Japanese governmental bureaucracy can be. It very quickly stops being a joke however and is an expression of very real frustration about the lack of action and the lack of accurate public communication presented by the Japanese government in response to the 2011 earthquake and the ( still on going) Fukushima nuclear crises. It expands that scope to really take on public frustrations about how the international community and the United States in particular ties Japan’s hands to address their own problems and how they continue to be forced to be a tributary state. “Post-War goes on forever.”

          Shin Godzilla not only offers new designs and the best digital effects yet acheived by a Japanese production, it returns the series to actually being about something. Its a vital film for the series and one of the most relevant of the year. Its why it has been and outstanding success in Japan.

          Also, freezing Godzilla/administering blood coagulate is a plan that has been used in several Godzilla movies. Did you think it was dumb then?

    • horrormaker

      You take comment of, takes a nap during it, no joke. i don’t understand why you think this is bad. He was wore out after that huge outburst from him. Is this ridiculous? Not at all, we have seen it before in many other monsters films and in Gamera. How many times does Godzilla have to go and take a nap after taking a beating? Many of his films have that. He comes back stronger and more rested, ready for action. if you have seen everyone, you would know that he does rest after a beating, then comes back to give a beating. In the sea monster one, Godzilla was sleeping. In the Son of’ he was laying down only having to get up to rescue his son.

      • zomnombie

        Comparing it to Son of Godzilla is not helping defend this movie.

        • horrormaker

          i am not comparing…I am questioning YOU? Why do you think that the idea of taking a nap is silly or whatever, when in many Godzilla films he does the same thing. Being a Godzilla fan, you should know this is nothing new. I want to know WHY you thought it was a bad idea?

    • Erik Christensen

      He took a nap in Godzilla 2014 too…

      And in Godzilla 2000…

      And in Godzilla 1984…

      … etc.

    • This has to be the most perfect example of the condescending, arrogant, know-it-all fan I’ve ever seen. You should be in a museum, or work in a library of Godzilla knowledge or something.

  • Simon Allen

    This looks and sounds appalling ……i will avoid and wait for Godzilla 2 thanks .

    • Batmanfanboy

      The american Godzilla 2? Haha Shin Godzilla is probably ten times the film that one was. Your taste is horrible. And you look like a doofus too btw.

      • markemark

        HA.

      • horrormaker

        i don’t think his taste is horrible. Both films worked at their own level. In Shin, i was hoping that Godzilla was more real looking as in Edward’s film. We saw muscle movement, nostrils flare, and good fighting scenes. Shin brought out something new…a whole different looking Godzilla, a re-image of him. Did you ever think about why Toho made another Godzilla film? The Japanese were picking on the U.S. for Edward’s design of Godzilla. That picking stop after they saw the film and probably said, “We can’t let the Americans get away with this. Now we have to top this movie, with our creation.” i look forward to the next American Godzilla film, plus i wouldn’t agree that Shin was ten time the film Edward’s was…i think they were about even…for different reasons.

        • Erik Christensen

          Shin Godzilla is an abomination… and Godzilla is supposed to be an abomination. He’s a thing that should not be.

          This is the first movie in a LONG time that portrayed him that way, and is why I loved it.

      • Simon Allen

        Um …i don’t think Godzilla 2 is out yet so kudos to your psychic powers for seeing the movie in advance and at least i don’t look like Ben Affleck .

  • Whelk

    Just finished watching the movie. I’m pretty lukewarm on it. Nice visuals and effects, and the cast was appealing. The pacing was pretty slow, with large Godzilla free gaps. The redesign of the monster was interesting, but for me, gets too far afield of traditional Godzilla. It also leaves unanswered why G decided to wander around the city.
    The end struck me as too reminiscent of the end of the 98 Godzilla, and finally, Tokyo tower survived.

  • horrormaker

    one thing we should remember is the different tone and production of each movie. Shin Godzilla was taken very serious, that worked for the film. Edward’s Godzilla was the same, serious. Many of the Godzilla film are cheezy, campy and cheap, however, many of them are fun to watch. The tones of those film make the others feel different. I can guess–for those who didn’t like Shin or Edward’s Godzilla maybe did like the tone of the film, which was the same tone for the very first one. We must ask ourselves what is a Godzilla Story and what is a Story of Godzilla? Shin took Godzilla to a whole new level, same with Edward’s. Godzilla never looked so real as in Edward’s. I like Shin and Edward’s and both are in my top 5 Godzilla films. Sometimes movies are meant to be more than fun. i can understand why Godzilla fans were upset with both films because of the tone and not like the others, however, i believe we need this;sometime the same thing gets boring.

  • AlanMorlock

    Somebody had to wait to pirate it.

  • horrormaker

    I think the Japanese took a lesson from Edward’s film. Both films open up with a disaster and both kept Godzilla low keyed. That is one of biggest complaint you hear about both films. You can look at many of the past Godzilla films and say, ‘You don’t see much of Godzilla”. There are films where he doesn’t show up until the last 30 minutes.

    • Satanzilla

      I loved G14 because it didn’t overexpose the big guy and kept the momentum of the picture going with action set pieces from start to finish. Many of those sequences floored me, like the emergence of the male MUTO.

      Shin Godzilla has the same small doses of Godzilla but he’s goofy, whereas the Edwards G is probably the most impressive rendition to date (and I say that as a HUGE fan of biogoji). And instead of set pieces we get a never ending satire on Japanese bureaucracy.

      Even that doesn’t ring true. The whole thing plays out like it was written by a nineteen year old trying very hard to look jaded and world weary.

      I didn’t hate every single thing about shin Godzilla and I didn’t love every single thing about G14, but I think the Edwards picture is vastly more entertaining a show than SG. What really cracks me up is when people rent about G14 not being a big budget episode of power rangers but then go on to extol snooze-fest SG!

  • Jada Maes

    I loved The Dark Knight, but it doesn’t change the fact: “BLANK is not the BLANK we deserve but the BLANK we need” reached the kingdom of cliché faster than a one legged man who shits in one hand, then gets out of the kitchen. It’s the 21st century “Life is like a box of chocolates.”

  • Cameron Fraser

    I really hope you didn’t write this review based on the version online missing 20 minutes of footage because it doesn’t reflect the actual movie very well.

  • Bobby1181

    That bottom pic of first form Godzilla is going to blow up as the new “Hurr Durr” meme.

    • Ted C

      Yeah…that sentence makes total sense.

  • Flu-Like Symptoms

    I skipped the rest after the second sentence. I saw the theatrical version last month. I liked it better than the American incarnation, but was hoping for a bit more.

  • zillabeast

    As a Godzilla fan, I thought it was amazing. That just like, my opinion though.

    • Ted C

      Just like, OK. Like.

  • Ted C

    What a dumb headline

  • Neon Maniac

    Shin Godzilla was tedious and borderline unwatchable. And to think, all the G-fans were up in arms about a lack of monster action in the American film.

  • Red Right Return

    Wow some real fanboys in this thread. It wasn’t better than G14. Each has parts better than the other, and each deserves credit for being a good Godzilla movie. I’m especially laughing at Batmanfanboy below for being such a gimp to insult others for having a different opinion.

  • Teddy Tinsley

    I admit it was kid of slow to watch at first but when the big guy finally went nuclear it was refreshingly Epic. I’m looking forward to the eventual sequel and Blu Ray release.

  • Alejandro Silva

    Not a hardcore fan either but I freaking loved the movie. Saw it twice and it was amazing. My favorite Godzilla movie so far. It had interesting characters, a badass plan to deal with Godzilla and probably the most realistic approach to a monster attack on the entire saga (and in movies in general) and all from the political point of view. Also the destruction in this was massive! Godzilla single-handedly turned Tokyo to ashes in one of the most horrifying and beautiful scenes in the franchise

  • andychrist

    its like a proper film again instead of being a schlock flick . good story , well shot , great acting ,unsure if there is humor, i only got one joke (zara)- dunno if there were more .and unlike man of steel , marvel , transformers and most western films , there is actually a recognition of civilians being in the way of the destruction and an effort to minimize casualties . only thing i miss is the music , not the 54 theme , thats there in full , but the later dun dun dun dun DUN DUN DUN DUN music from some of the 70s films onwards to 2004…. deals with earthquake , flood , meddling america , nuclear fear and other issues that have afflicted japan i recent times ….. bet than 98 usa – hell yes , better than 2014 usa , i would say so

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