In recent years, it’s been hard not to feel a pang of sorrow for the gigantic radioactive lizard that is Godzilla, especially in the western world, as both recent attempts at Hollywood creating a new franchise featuring the King of the Monsters have resulted in abject failure, and a distinctly disinterested shrug from the box office audience.
There are many reasons why this could be the case, but the most obvious reason is the confusion of the overall message of the Godzilla series; nukes are bad. Whilst Japan holds an evocative first-hand account of the damage that can be caused by such weaponry, the United States has somewhat glorified its nuclear deterrent, and is one of the more vociferous countries to demand they be kept as a just-in-case scenario instead of disarming them. As such, both Godzilla films released by Hollywood in 1998 and 2014 respectively refused to focus on that aspect, instead choosing to look at how awesome America is in destroying giant lizards. Fortunately, Toho (the original production company behind the 1954 Godzilla movie) is still making the films in Japan, and their latest, Shin Godzilla, has recently come out in the UK, and it is maintaining its message of nuclear disarmament that has been so prevalent from the beginning.
The premise of Shin Godzilla is fairly simple, Godzilla has once again risen from his home on the bottom of the ocean and is terrorising Tokyo for the umpteenth time, and it is up to a group of scientists and politicians to neutralise the creature before the USA can drop a nuclear warhead on the beast. The plot of the film chooses to focus more on the political and scientific side of things as opposed to the military (although they get their fair share of screen time too.) It changes what could have easily been billed as an action film into something more akin to a tense political thriller with emphasis on more level-headed, and logical characters searching for a peaceful solution instead of the gung-ho military types that are often the protagonists of when it comes to this style of story.
No matter how enjoyable it is to watch the human protagonists attempt to stop him, it is the spectacle of Godzilla himself that draws you into this world, along with the special effects that accompany his trail of destruction. The film uses a combination of CGI, models and Dynamation (the stop-motion animation technique designed by Ray Harryhausen.) The mixture enables the filmmakers to create a visual style where the strongest points of each effect to help negate the weaker aspects of the others. The overall impression is a sight to behold.
It is the ease with which one can recognise Godzilla which highlights the major problem of the film, especially if you are watching it using English subtitles over the original Japanese audio. In an effort to help inform the audience with who each character is as they are introduced, the film provides subtitles with their name, unfortunately, this is often combined with the character in question performing a dialogue, making it necessary to either pause the film to take in all the information, or risk missing out on a key part of exposition whilst trying to read another portion of the screen. It’s a minor gripe, but when you can’t work out if the person talking is the President of Japan or one of his aides, it can lead to some minor confusion.
Shin Godzilla is a worthwhile addition to the Godzilla Franchise and a nice introduction to the back-catalogue of films. The final scene may feel a little cheesy and heavy-handed with its overall metaphor, but there is a lot of truth also embedded within it, especially some earlier shots that are reminiscent of the 2011 tsunami that damaged the Fukushima-Daichi Nuclear Plant. If nothing else, this film is definitely a better watch than the versions with Matthew Broderick and Aaron Taylor-Johnson.