Shin Godzilla

Shin Godzilla ★★★★

The King of the Monsters returns to his Japanese roots with Shin Godzilla, a film that all but reboots the franchise on a fresh, clean slate. The story is less focused on countless scenes of mass destruction and more on the political damage control that goes on behind the scenes while the monster rampages across Tokyo, and that's where most of the intrigue of the film is derived. Rather than being a somber fable on the dangers of nuclear testing (a message which is undoubtedly still retained in subtext here), the film slyly criticizes the bureaucratic handling of a major disaster. While a rapidly evolving monster mindlessly obliterates the Tokyo skyline, the higher ups who could benefit their country by enacting some real preventive measures are constantly kept back by the need for countless meetings, congressional law drafting, and endless amounts of red tape. Even worse is that there are still those in this governmental body who serve to benefit in their career from a disaster such as this, rather than genuinely helping the public survive in a timely manner. The "heroes" and "villains" of this story are easy enough to tell apart, with the film's critical voice as loud as the monster's roar itself.

Shin Godzilla starts its story in an instant, whisking us away at a breakneck pace through Aaron Sorkin-like dialogue pacing that quickly builds its urgency and intensity without having to spend a tremendous amount of time with world building. Director Hideaki Anno wisely assumes that the audience is already plenty familiar with the title character, so the need to go over specifics has been outed. This gives his story ample time to quickly build up urgency in its national disaster, and abruptly introduce each of the many political heads involved in the story. Huge Japanese titles on the screen reveal where each scene occurs and who is speaking for the first time, there are so many of these introductory cards that it becomes comical at times, no doubt part of what Anno was intending as part of his clear cut satire.

This Godzilla is introduced to the world as an unknown phenomenon, like a mysterious act of God that has never been seen before. This allows the mystical tension of uncertainty that fueled the characters of the original 1954 Japanese masterpiece to flow back into these characters, giving a new generation of audiences a firsthand feeling of a proper Godzilla introduction. The film's action pieces feel somewhat stale, particularly when compared to the 2014 American Godzilla, but the main focus of the story is proof enough that the action wasn't what Anno primarily had in mind when making this. Like the original classic, Shin Godzilla is more a human drama than a monster movie- a somber portrait of poor political handlings in the face of an unimaginable crisis. This is a far more dialogue filled Godzilla film than any other I've seen, yet the unbelievably intense pace that the dialogue runs at helps supply the adrenaline that I had been hoping to get out of the film.

Shin Godzilla is a refreshing new look at the iconic monster from his home country Japan, with a shimmering hope that there's room for some more encounters with him in the future. It's not necessarily the perfect masterpiece that Ishiro Honda's landmark achievement is, but this reboot is certainly a fine start for a new franchise. Fans who were hoping for a more action packed fare will walk away disappointed, in all likelihood, but the dialogue-centric story and its breakneck pace was more than enough to satisfy me. Perhaps its few action scenes won't hold up when compared to Gareth Edwards' vision, but Hideaki Anno's version is great in its own different ways. It's a politically charged film that once again places a monster in the center of its own subtext, and a somber satire on a country drowning in bureaucracy.

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