Shin Godzilla

Shin Godzilla ★★★

Toho's latest Godzilla reboot takes a fresh, ground-level approach to kaiju carnage, but not in the way Cloverfield did. Regular folks are mere background players here, as the story focuses exclusively on how the Japanese government, military brass and top scientists deal with the gigantic, destructive, amphibious creature wrecking their country. The movie introduces what seems like hundreds of characters, each one announced with onscreen titles in a retro font, as is every piece of military equipment, all of which can make your eyes cross when there are also dialog subtitles to read. Thankfully, it eventually settles on a pseudo-main character in an ambitious political advisor (Why Don’t You Play in Hell?'s Hiroki Hasegawa). After a lot of discussions in gray rooms with glowing marshmallow windows, his alliance with a glamorous young Japanese-American diplomat (Satomi Ishihara) leads to a viable solution for containing the beast dubbed "Gojira," who keeps growing and changing in a state of constant radioactive evolution.

At the first glimpse of the new Godzilla's still-forming, googly-eyed face, the audience I saw this with erupted in laughter, and it was hard to tell whether that was an appropriate response. It remained difficult to get a read on the intended tone of this, the first Japanese Godzilla movie to hit American theaters since Godzilla 2000. I was never quite sure if it was criticizing or praising the bureaucracy that makes modern countries tick. Maybe it's both? As the movie goes on, Shin Godzilla emerges as a strange but intriguing experience, blending as it does dry procedural minutiae, large-scale monster demolition, shots of deadpan humor and an Independence Day-style take on "make Japan great again" jingoism. Indeed, it often recalled those '90s disaster movies where the protagonist was a collective (especially Outbreak), and although I was never a fan of those, it worked for me here because the disaster is a glowing deathsaurus who can cut cities in half with his breath. As in Gareth Edwards' recent middling Godzilla, the titular monster is treated as a mere catalyst for the human drama, but there's much more energy and engagement in this movie's suits bouncing theories around than in Kick-Ass crying about his dead dad for two hours. Plus, this Godzilla gets a bit more screen time, so he wins hands down.

It couldn't be further from the cartoony creature combat thrills that Final Wars capped the Millennium series with, and I certainly wouldn't want to see an entire series play out like this, but I enjoyed Shin Godzilla. It does something different while keeping its focus squarely on the monster attack situation, rather than trying to yank the audience's heartstrings with bog-standard family or romantic turmoil. I really wish the chumps behind that miserable World War Z adaptation had seen this first.

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