Robin Moon (they/them)’s review published on Letterboxd:
Okay, let's get one thing out of the way here. I was unbelievably giddy to be sitting in a movie theater watching a new Godzilla movie from Toho Studios that I had never seen before. It's the exact same kind of feeling I have every time I see a new Star Wars movie. It's a feeling that no other franchise has ever quite elicited in me. It's not just how many years it's been since the last one, it's not just the fact that Toho's Godzilla movies never used to hit American theaters after Godzilla 2000 flopped. This is really one of Those Franchises to me. So, American audiences. I need to ask you a favor. This is a direct appeal.
Do. Not. Fuck. This. Up.
Buy tickets. Buy tickets and go see this. Go see it twice if you can. Bring friends. I do not want to go back to wondering if or when a home video release is going to happen. This franchise matters. Keep it in our theaters.
Now, on to my actual thoughts on Shin Godzilla. When it became obvious that this was going to be a Godzilla-focused Godzilla movie rather than a "Godzilla vs.," I was basically hoping for an experience somewhat like The Return of Godzilla. Oddly enough, I basically got my wish, but not in quite the way I had in mind. The Return of Godzilla has some of the best political commentary of the entire 60-year history of this franchise, but it's pretty straightforward and doesn't amount to much of the film's screentime.
Shin Godzilla devotes basically its entire screentime to satirizing widespread frustration with Japan's government and the popular perception that that government is buried under red tape. Godzilla is able to stomp through Tokyo largely unopposed while government officials hurry from one meeting to the next seeming to spend more time figuring out how to organize their decision-making than actually making any of those decisions.
I'm not a Japanese citizen, so I don't have the intimate familiarity with politics in Japan that I do in the United States to know how accurate this satire is, but it is certainly effective at communicating what it's trying to communicate. Where I do have more than a working knowledge is in the U.S.'s role in this film, and I have to say this element of the political commentary really shined for me. While The Return of Godzilla worked fantastically as a Japanese political power fantasy--the prime minister standing up to both American and Soviet super powers over the use of nuclear weapons on Japanese soil--Shin Godzilla rings much closer to the actually lived reality that includes the toxic effect that American economic and military hegemony has had on its allies and enemies alike.
I also have to say that, on the whole, Shin Godzilla has some of the most interesting storytelling around its human characters that any film in the series has. Partially this is thanks to the narrative focus provided by actually having all of its human characters in positions to pretty believably be focused almost entirely on Godzilla for the entire film.
One choice that I absolutely loved was the character played by Satomi Ishihara. Having the film's central American character be of Japanese descent was a fantastic choice, and does a better job of depicting American diversity than most American films do. It also helps draw a distinction between the film's understandably critical view of American foreign policy and Americans in general. Again, this same courtesy is not often extended to other countries by American films.
There are some damn impressive shots in this, many of which you've already seen if you've seen the trailer. And I have to say that these are some of the best effects and visuals the series has ever had around Godzilla himself. The scene where his tail is sweeping over that residential area is just legendary, one of the best shots I've ever seen in one of these films. But I really wanted to see them do more to take this technical prowess out for a spin. You get basically two big scenes of him stomping around Tokyo, and then he's asleep for most of the movie, and then he wakes up just in time for what's honestly a fairly anticlimactic "climax."
Moreover, I'm just ecstatic about the possibility of seeing new Toho Godzilla films in theaters becoming a semi-regular occurrence going forward. I desperately hope that proves to be the case.