If one can set aside the technological limitations of early Godzilla films (or the complete garbage train wreck that was 1998’s Matthew Broderick-led American reboot) and attempt to view the nigh innumerable entries in the long-running series as a sort of post-WWII allegory on the horrors of nuclear weapon testing and/or deployment, they become so much more than simple monster movies. As far as making a statement goes, or even spearheading the beloved Japanese kaiju film movement, Godzilla as metaphorical creation is actually quite brilliant, rubber suit or no. This has meant 30 films thus far and, with Shin Godzilla (also known as Godzilla Resurgence), we hit 31.
With the careful vision of directors Hideaki Anno (primarily an anime director who served as the mastermind behind the celebrated Neon Genesis Evangelion series and who also penned the screenplay) and Shinji Higuchi (Attack on Titan), this newest reboot-esque stab at the fiction pulls extensively from famous Godzilla set pieces and lore as they deftly straddle the fence somewhere between high-quality cinema and just goofy enough to remain fun. The main issue with 1998’s Godzilla was always the bizarre choice to take a more serious tone, but Anno and Higuchi know what works when it comes to everybody’s favorite monster lizard: keeping it tongue-in-cheek.
You know the story already (or should by now … engage with the culture once in awhile, jeez)—a gargantuan lizard, the product of radiation, emerges from the sea to wreak havoc on an unprepared Japan. We’re given some light science to mull over as the government cuts through miles of red tape to enact a plan. As a musing on the frustrations of bureaucracy, this is hysterical and Shin Godzilla truly shines in scenes that find the country’s top brass attempting to identify and deal with the monster while keeping casualties low. Such moments are downright funny, adding a human element that versions of the films cut for American audiences have tended to gloss over. We’re even given absurdly extraneous information like the exact floor and corridor of a government building the characters wind up walking through. It’s odd, but delightful—as are the special effects, which oscillate between high-quality, reminiscent of 2006 Korean monster flick The Host, and the campy classic kaiju cinema of the ’50s and ’60s. The monster’s rampage and accelerated evolution are brilliantly creative—sometimes it’s freaky disgusting and sometimes it’s the iconic look we all know and love, but in either case it’s overall fun as hell to see buildings collapse, boats go flying and the seemingly sentient tail crush all obstacles in its path.
Of course, Godzilla has always been somewhat tragic as a character and story, but it’s an incredibly clever means to make a covert and subversive political statement. Longtime fans will surely love the throwback elements of Shin Godzilla and find a finely crafted homage to the elements that make the beast such an enduring cinematic force. The real magic, however, will be the entire new generation that finds its introduction to the character and themes and possibly even the larger kaiju genre. This is the perfect film for parents and their kids, albeit containing some degree of violence and monster terror. Regardless, Anno and Shiguchi have cobbled together one of the finest entries in franchise history, and in a series that has run this long, that’s saying something.
Directed by Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi
Jean Cocteau Cinema, NR, 120 min.