Shin Godzilla

Shin Godzilla ★★★★

Reviewing every Godzilla film

31. Shin Godzilla (2016)

Shin Godzilla is Toho's first Godzilla entry in 12 years, and the first film to feature Godzilla as the lone kaiju since 1984's Return of Godzilla. Keeping with the feel of the original, this is not really about a giant prehistoric creature destroying a city (though there is plenty of that). Instead, it is full of social commentary, and a scathing satire on the Japanese government, and their responses to disaster.

Following the classic set up of a monster coming ashore, and a group of people trying to figure out how to kill it, Shin on the surface may not seem like anything new. However, it is devoid of dull subplots that go nowhere. No false sentimentality, bad love stories, time travel, aliens, or annoying child characters in this one. It is a no-nonsense thriller that lacks an antagonist, and barely has a protagonist.

And it is elevated greatly by its relentless mocking of slow bureaucratic response to emergency. Of course, in the minds of those who made it, I'm sure they were thinking of the Fukushima disaster and the Japanese government's response to that, but it could apply to so many situations. Reading about America's reaction to Hurricane Katrina, or any number of countries treatment of the ongoing pandemic, you realise that Shin Godzilla could well be universal.

It is genuinely sharp too. The constant moving into other rooms, the long named subtitles that pop up again and again, and the prime minister's shocked reaction at the creature coming on land all made me burst out laughing. And it does this in a nuanced way, with each character seemingly trying to do what they think is right, but just failing constantly.

There is perhaps also a message about our lack of control over nature, with each attempt at destroying the legendary creature doing very little. And Godzilla here is quite something. I've never detected such little emotion in any other depiction of the beast. It has the coldness of a tsunami, sweeping across a city without any remorse for the destruction and death it leaves in its wake.

One particular scene featuring Godzilla may be among the most powerful in the franchise. As beautiful and disturbing a scene of destruction as any in the 30 films before it. With an almost angelic piece of music accompanying Godzilla's reign of pure chaos.

I think if there is one fault, it is that the second half feels like it slows down greatly. The first half has a rapid and constantly engaging pace, but in the second it feels like everything grinds to a bit of a halt. This could perhaps be a reflection of the declining energy of those trying to figure out how to kill the beast, but its not entirely successful in keeping you always intrigued.

Still, this is a very respectable Godzilla entry, with great social commentary, amazing scenes of the beast itself, and just a generally superbly made film. It is definitely near the top of the pile, and perhaps one that would make Ishiro Honda himself proud.

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