My Unofficial Review of “Shin Godzilla”
“Well, I’m never seeing that again.”
These quotes are the general thoughts of most of those I heard in my audience last night as credits rolled for Toho’s 2016 Shin Godzilla/Godzilla: Resurgence. It was a one-time-only showing at one of my local theaters.
To be frank, and at the risk of other fans telling me I’m not a true fan, I understand, and, to a degree, agree with many of those in my theater.
It didn’t help when, almost three months ago, some fortunate fans were in Japan to see the movie during its opening week. I, and others left in the States, pleaded with such fans to not spoil anything on social media. Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be had. Not only did quite a few go into spoiler territory, some went so far as to post pictures and video clips of the movie. As a result, I didn’t go into this as spoiler-free as I would have liked. Also, due to some of the video and photo clips, what I saw were elements of Godzilla, and a Godzilla movie, that I was deeply concerned about. More on that as my review progresses.
For the first time, in my twenty-four years of being a fan, I found myself hesitant to see a Godzilla movie. Nevertheless, I did my best to enter the theater with an open mind–understanding that the movie was going to be different.
I’m okay with movies being different. In fact, I’ve always asked fellow fans to keep an open mind about the movies and to really watch them several times to get a full grasp of the movie before coming to a final decision. If they come out not liking it, that’s okay. If they do like it, that’s awesome. With that said, I have to see the movie a few more times to make my final analysis on the movie.
Shin Godzilla is a movie that does take the character, and the franchise, into a different area. This particular entry focuses more on the bureaucratic process of how the Japanese government might handle a phenomenon such as Godzilla. But the unfortunate side-effect is that’s most of what we see is the bureaucratic process involved in handling such a catastrophe. Mixed in are sequences of satirical comments about the government, a strenuous relationship between Japan and the U.S., and politicians concerned about their political future in the middle of the crisis.
In the middle of this are our main characters: Rando Yaguchi, Hideki Akasaka, and Kayoko Ann Patterson. Unfortunately, these characters are one-dimensional. Yaguchi is illustrated as an official concerned about becoming Prime Minister. Patterson is a U.S. ambassador to Japan whose roots are tied with Japan. There is an attempt to make her appear sympathetic with her homeland as the countdown to a U.S. nuclear bomb dropping on Japan begins. Instead, such an attempt to add depth to her feels forced and unearned considering much of her earlier scenes show her being another shrewd politician who is also concerned about her political career. Akasaka is a senior government official that appears to be the most likable of the three main characters; but even that’s not saying much as he, too, is too shrewd, and one-dimensional, to really like or connect with.
Yaguchi is given credit with being the hero of the movie when he leads a team of scientists, in various disciplines, to come up with a solution of stopping Godzilla. The solution ends up being a blood coagulate that will quickly cool Godzilla’s nuclear core. How we get to the solution, though, is incredibly tedious and time-consuming. Much time is spent studying Godzilla’s molecular structure in order to completely understand what he is and how to potentially stop him. Many other Godzilla movies touch on this and, quite frankly, do it much better in studying Godzilla and coming up with possible solutions. Two movies, that immediately come to mind, that do this better and more efficiently are Godzilla vs. Biollante and Godzilla vs. Destoroyah.
I found it fun, though, that coagulate was the solution to stopping Godzilla, because Akira Emoto, who played Yuki in Godzilla vs. Spacegodzilla, plays a government official in the movie.
The method of injecting the coagulate into Godzilla: Using concrete pump trucks to pour the solution into Godzilla’s mouth, is an interesting method. However, to be able to get the trucks to Godzilla’s mouth, Godzilla must be brought to the trucks’ level. This happens in two phases: The initial phase includes demolishing nearby skyscrapers that land on Godzilla–forcing him to the ground. The second phase includes sending four, un-manned, commuter trains at Godzilla at top speeds. I found this latter phase to be odd as it does send Godzilla to the ground, but other Godzilla incarnations have been smashed with other vehicles and projectiles that didn’t send them crashing to the ground so easily. For example, the Griffon in Godzilla X Megaguirus was relatively good size to that Godzilla. It crashed into his back but didn’t send him tumbling to the ground. Considering that this new Godzilla is the largest incarnation to date, it was strange seeing smaller commuter trains take him down.
Speaking of Godzilla, how did he fare?
With the exception of the little mouth at the end of his tail, I did enjoy the actual design of Godzilla. It reminds me so much of Honda and Tanaka wanted Godzilla to originally appear in the ’54 film. This Godzilla, which goes through an evolutionary process during the film, is quite impressive in stature and appearance. One of my favorite moments of the movie is during his night rampage, the camera faces Godzilla. The electricity is out all around him and all we see is the low, red glow of his body.
But I could do without the two earlier metamorphoses of Godzilla. While aesthetically unique, they add nothing to the character and the story. In fact, it doesn’t feel like Godzilla.
From a personality perspective, this Godzilla has none. All of Toho’s previous entries made Godzilla an actual character of the movie; something that many U.S. fans have enjoyed immensely with the Japanese films. Here, Godzilla is just…there. He shows no personality traits and no purpose to his rampage. Never do I connect with Godzilla on any level. Not to mention he’s hardly in the movie. This is the only Godzilla movie in which I truly do believe Godzilla’s time on camera is extremely limited. But I will say that, for the brief moments Godzilla (the final form) is on camera, the scenes are very impressive.
As for Godzilla’s abilities, they’re…interesting. I like how they tried something new with him shooting a laser from his mouth and numerous lasers from his dorsal plates; though the whole laser thing is really feels REALLY out of place with the character and doesn’t feel Godzilla-esque. Don’t even get me started about the tip of the tail also being able to fire a laser. Also, his lower jaw splitting horizontally when he fires his ray is simply odd and doesn’t serve much of a purpose to the character.
One thing I highly enjoyed was when he initially fired his atomic ray. As Godzilla was preparing the ray, he shot out a copious amount of a gaseous substance that, once ignited by Godzilla, sprawled and intertwined throughout a large section of Tokyo! I love how it not only looked, but how believable that would be for Godzilla to do before firing his actual ray.
One aspect of Godzilla’s physiology that I found to be forced was him slumbering for three days after his main rampage. This seemed so trite as to give our characters extra time to find a solution to stop Godzilla that I could not go with it.
The special effects for the movie are the best out of the Toho entries. This CGI form of Godzilla is fun to watch and could rival much of what any Hollywood production is able to do with the character. The earlier forms, while I’m not a fan of them, are executed in a believable fashion with Godzilla struggling to crawl around the city and through real estate.
There are a couple of sequences that looked a little off, but not terrible. One scene involved the camera looking at the back of Godzilla while he fires his ray. The visual of the scene looks like a step down from what we get throughout the rest of the movie and Godzilla’s movements are too disjointed. When Godzilla also goes into his three-day slumber, his movements right before that happens are disjointed as well–like he is a robot.
I want to comment on the score and sound effects.
When it comes to the score, let me say that it was great to hear the original tracks from Gojira and several other Showa era Godzilla films. But the original tracks don’t fit with the style of movie HIguchi is producing. If such tracks were re-scored with the contemporary orchestra, it would probably work a lot better. Instead, inserting the original tracks seems like Higuchi is pandering to fans.
Godzilla’s roar sounds off, too. A couple of his roars are the original Gojira roar. Like with the music tracks, this doesn’t sound authentic with what we’re given. The roar from the later Showa films shows up here as well. In a couple of instances, it sort of works; but, like with the original Gojira roar, the roar doesn’t sound like it is coming from Godzilla himself. It sounds inauthentic.
The sound effects of the military vehicles firing their weapons, as well as the sound effects of those missiles making their impact on Godzilla, are effects from the Showa era. As a fan, I got a brief wave of nostalgia coming over me, but, again, they don’t fit with this movie and felt like fans were being pandered to once again. Such sound effects worked well with the actual miniatures from the Showa era, but not with actual, and CGI, tanks and aircrafts. It takes away from their impact.
In conclusion, Shin Godzilla focuses too much time on the process of handling a catastrophe and bland characters that I found my first experience with the movie to be boring. This incarnation of Godzilla, outside of his actual look, is unique, but un-Godzilla-like in several different ways. While I give Higuchi, and his crew, credit for trying something new, I cannot say that I was entertained by much of what I saw. The rampaging scenes are fun, but there are so few of them. In fact, there’s not a lot of Godzilla. Dare I say this isn’t so much of a Godzilla movie than a movie about the Japanese government’s response to a crisis with Godzilla being a mere device? This movie just does not feel like a Godzilla movie. Too much time is spent analyzing the kaiju when other films did a better job of efficiently telling that side of the story. This Godzilla, also, has no personality or motive. I love the design and how he spews a gaseous plume before firing his ray, but that’s about it.
I cannot recommend the movie at this time. Perhaps when it comes to home video, and I’m able to give it more viewings, my opinions may change. But I have doubts I’ll be swayed much. If I walk out of a movie bored and/or disappointed, like I did with Shin Godzilla, my views rarely sway to a more positive view.
I don’t hate the movie, I simply find it boring. However, if any of you get enjoyment out of the movie, then I’m happy for you! I’m glad you were able to get something out of it that I, unfortunately, could not get. I also will give Higuchi, and his crew, an A for effort.
As always, I advise everyone to see it for themselves and to come to his/her own conclusions.
For one final point, though, I honestly believe too many fans are giving any Toho Godzilla movie the benefit of the doubt because it’s a Toho Godzilla movie. This movie commits some sins that many complained about the 2014 movie; such as there being not enough screen time for Godzilla and the fact that this Godzilla isn’t created from atomic testing. In fact, this movie has far less Godzilla than the 2014 film. Many fans are also saying to keep an open mind about it, because it is different. I remember saying the same things about the 1998 and 2014 movie, yet, few of my fellow fans said the same things about said movies. I think fans are willing to, oddly enough, look past the flaws of this movie simply because it is produced by Toho.
But I do believe that, when enough time has passed, fans will see this movie as not only a unique entry in the series, but also one that isn’t that exciting.