'THING' OF THE MONSTERS
SHIN GODZILLA (12A)
Review: David Stephens
There’s one US remake that was so wide of the mark that it left a nasty taste in the mouth for many, and remains eternally unloved to this day. We’re talking about Roland Emmerich’s 1998 version of “Godzilla”; weird logic gaps (even for a monster movie), unnecessary cosmetic changes to the Big “G” (that chin!!), and the decision to concentrate on the Jurassic Park “Godzooky” offspring. Sequels were unsurprisingly nixed. That incarnation also got physically trashed by the “real” Godzilla in the 2004 Toho movie “Godzilla: Final Wars”, and it only took 20 seconds!! (NB: Check out the clip on YouTube. It’s brilliant). Coincidentally “Final Wars” was the last time that Japanese studios unleashed the lizard onto Tokyo and accompanying cities … until now. The US version has since been reinvented with the welcome reboot of Gareth Edward’s “Godzilla” in 2014, which has pleasingly led into the conception of the “Monsterverse” and all its upcoming Kaiju. But we’re talking about “Shin Godzilla” here, which has also been a similar re-invigoration of the Toho version of the atomic-breathed colossus. Although released in its home country in the middle of 2016 (and becoming a huge success), it took a while to get to the US, and is only just now having a limited theatrical release in selected cinemas across the UK. So YGROY takes very great delight in Rahhhrr-ing down to the big screen and getting an eyeful of our favourite un-jolly green giant…
We’re in modern day Tokyo, and something stirs in Tokyo Bay. Some kind of underground eruption cripples local transport and a crazy-eyed serpentine creature starts to make its way into the city. The emergency meetings of the Japanese government are ineffectual due to the unique situation and officials being unwilling to take responsibility or make far-reaching decisions. By the time the military is mobilised, the creature has returned to the water after causing untold death and destruction. Having learned its characteristics and its ability to immediately evolve, one member of the government (Hiroki Hasegawa as Rando Yaguchi) forms his own team to find a way to stop the monster. But it’s a race against time as the ultimate (and familiar) form of the newly christened “Godzilla” (which means God-like here) starts to approach the city again. Can anything stop it?
The one thing that’s immediately clear with “Shin Godzilla” is that this is unlike any version of the monster you’ve seen before. It’s not the child-friendly goofy critter that did a victory dance after smashing Kaiju and taught “Minilla” to blow smoke rings. And neither is it the honourable (if destructive) guardian of Earth that shared a “Bro” eye-contact moment with Aaron Taylor-Johnson. This is a destructive goliath, devoid of emotion and single-minded in his actions.
The best Godzilla films (when they’re not about beating up giant lobsters) have valid social subtext. The 1950s films were allegorical warnings about WMDs. Even the 2014 version could arguably be read as a statement about mankind’s inability to influence the forces of nature. Here “Shin” launches a scathing attack on ineffectual politics and bureaucracy, whilst returning to the very basics of the Godzilla lore. The movie has an extremely stripped back plot and is very much reminiscent of the 1954 original. This is backed up by the translation of “Shin” in the title which could mean one of several things; “real”, “evolved”, or even “god” itself. The inference is that this is the ultimate incarnation of the creature and it is genuinely a total reboot of the Toho interpretation with no other previous entries being referenced. No other Kaiju appear either, and the basic origin of the G-Guy (along with his motives) is swiftly brushed over in a workmanlike fashion (although it’s pretty much the same as the 50’s).
It has to be said that there are some stunning sequences in the film. The mid-section battle sequence, where the big guy and the military flex their muscles is genuinely awesome. The impassive colossus takes missiles to the chin whilst barely acknowledging them, as skyscrapers realistically tumble around him. It’s some of the finest (and most “realistic”) city-trashing that you’ll see on celluloid and easily matches what the US films have presented so far. And it all goes into overdrive when the huge reptile shows his full set of tricks… Not only that, but there are some darker elements hinted at with his biology and in some brief scenes.
But having said all that, fans of giant monster shenanigans should be prepared for the fact that there are only three major sequences with Godzilla in town-smashing mode. A LOT of the running time in the movie is given over to the characters strategizing against the beast and trying to save Tokyo. The first 15 minutes in the film is quite insightful and amusing, as it shows just how hopeless bureaucracy and political constraints are in a genuine emergency. By the time the government has signed papers (to cover their actions in the future), 2 hours has passed and it’s already too late. It’s an interesting take on Japanese (and global) politics. The US gets a bit of a shoeing as well, with some trigger happy bombing solutions, which leads to one character uncomfortably proclaiming; “I won’t let it happen here for a third time”. In fact, some characters are more worried about stocks and share values in the worldwide market for Japan, as oppose to a dirty great lizard dropping a tower block on their heads, which is sadly quite believable.
This means that many scenes just consist of characters in meetings trying to brainstorm solutions or research. Sometimes when the music gets ominous and dramatic, you think “Aww, yeah. It’s on baby!” … but the characters merely move on to another meeting for more stressful conversations. For Western eyes - especially those who thought that the 2014 US version was a bit light on Kaiju action - it might be a little too much talk to make it a classic and will test the patience of those who want to see more of this new version of the monster.
Even so, the good definitely outweighs the bad here. Genre fans who’ve grown up with ol’ atomic breath, will definitely love this interpretation, particularly those who’ve appreciated his more vicious appearances. “Shin” refuses to give the monster any redeeming qualities or anthropomorphize him. He’s a beady-eyed animal who just takes what he wants, and is remorseless in doing so. The pure destructive force that is at his fingertips (and tail … and back fins) and a lack of emotion is what makes this an unusual and effective reincarnation. You won’t be able to stop a tingle shiver its way up your spine when a new version of the “Godzilla March” music plays whilst the gigantic being goes for a little stroll. Great stuff.
If you have any affection for the “character” at all (US or Toho style), then this is probably a must-see. Be prepared to wade through a lot of management speak, but you’ll be paid handsomely for it with some fine destruction and that iconic roar.