I never was a huge kaiju fan, but I always thought GODZILLA and other Japanese monster movies from Toho Studios were pretty cool when I was a kid. I remember titles like KING KONG VS. GODZILLA, RODAN, and DESTROY ALL MONSTERS showing at my local theater when they were new and the place being packed with happy, excited kids (we really loved our monster movies back then!) I rarely missed these and other such films as MOTHRA and GAMMERA on television as well.
I did pretty much miss out on the middle period in Japanese monster movie history, namely the updated stuff from the 80s and beyond. I had the misfortune of seeing the Roland Emmerich/Dean Devlin GODZILLA remake in 1998, the less said about which the better except that it was, in two words, horribly ill-conceived.
With that in mind, I must say that I found Toho's latest 2016 remake, SHIN GODZILLA (or "Godzilla Resurgence"), to be a welcome throwback to those old-fashioned kaiju epics of my childhood which I recall most fondly.
What I found intriguingly different this time around is that the beast is in a state of accelerated evolutionary flux. When we first see him, he's a purely amphibious fish-eyed creature--sort of a cross between a turtle and a seahorse--whose intense body heat causes a steam cloud to erupt in Tokyo Harbor and inflict extreme tsunami-style damage on the coastline. After it makes its way out of the water, it morphs into a being that can exist on land.
After its initial rampage and a brief return to the sea for its final stage of evolution, the monster returns fully transformed (more or less) into the Godzilla we've always known and loved. At this point the movie kicks into high gear with scenes of devastation that are absolutely breathtaking and, this time, completely convincing. (No more cardboard buildings and flimsy pagodas with wind-up toy military vehicles skittering around, as endearing as they were.)
There's one sequence in particular in which several skyscrapers surrounding Godzilla are detonated and brought down upon him all at once, resulting in a scene so utterly catastrophic yet realistically rendered that I found it strangely exhilarating. If you have a sweet tooth for scenes of full-scale destruction, this movie should satisfy it and then some.
That said, SHIN GODZILLA resembles the Godzilla movies of old in another, less positive way--it's often incredibly boring. Remember all those long, talky scenes they'd always put between the monster action to pad out the movie? This one has those in abundance, and they're talkier than ever.
Much of the talk consists of a lot of overwrought political and scientific chatter spouted by an endless succession of uninteresting and resolutely unmemorable characters. The only two who make any sort of lasting impression are young Mr. Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa), who assembles a crack team of geniuses to figure out how to neutralize the radioactive beast before it has to be nuked along with the rest of Tokyo, and Miss Patterson (Satomi Ishihara), a winsome, headstrong Japanese-American woman acting as liason for the American President.
But even these two characters are too busy yakking about boring stuff (Mr. Yaguchi seems particularly stiff-necked) to develop much interesting character interaction, and the rest of the old fogies do nothing but sit at long tables endlessly gnawing on all the political knots with an almost comical nationalistic fervor.
These scenes with all their rapid-fire exposition really are a calcified bore despite attempts by co-directors Hideaki Anno (EVANGELION) and Shinji Higuchi to make things interesting by keeping the camera moving a lot.
The only time the non-Godzilla scenes liven up is when the monster's approach throws all of the earlier formality into utter chaos during the mad scramble to evacuate in time. Some suspense is also generated late in the film with the impending decision whether or not to use nukes as the Americans (natch) and UN are urging the Japanese to do.
But all of this is forgotten during the three major monster sequences in the film, the third of which begins with 15-20 minutes of the 120-minute running time left and features some of the film's most amazing SPFX including several explosive-laden commuter trains crashing into Godzilla, a missile attack involving jet planes and ground-based vehicles, and a nail-biting attempt by Yaguchi's team to defeat the beast via their own highly unorthodox scientific methods.
After the dust has settled over Tokyo, SHIN GODZILLA emerges as both a modern update and a welcome throwback. Just like the old Godzilla movies, it's boring as hell between the monster stuff. But when Godzilla starts stomping his way through downtown Tokyo as millions of terrified civilians flee for their lives, with the added benefit of today's state-of-the-art effects making the massive devastation all the more perversely thrilling, it makes me feel like a little Monster Kid again.
Official website, ticket info, etc.
Our previous coverage of the film