Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi’s Shin Godzilla is, for all intents and purposes, more of a grand live action anime because it translates much of its visual style and energy rather successfully from some of both of its creators’ previous well-known animated works. It’s also a sly poke at Japanese government bureaucracy where every decision has to go up a few ladders and lengthy meetings are constantly being held even as a horrific, mutating monster makes its radioactive presence known.
As a reboot of the classic franchise it works excellently in delivering a new and more terrifying Godzilla that mutates from a googly-eyed giant, arm-less gilled beast that flops and slides along because its body can’t hold it up, to a 400-foot tall nuclear blasting fiend that requires a lengthy cooldown after it uses its powers. This isn’t a Godzilla who’s a kid-friendly lizard who punches other monsters in the face and goofs around. Nope, the film takes it back to the more horror-laced 1954 original in terms of tone, laying on a modern plot where every decision made needs discussion and division heads and other leaders change into fancy jumpsuit ensembles just to look official while executive orders are issued.
Things kick off with an abandoned luxury boat, a missing scientist and some cryptic clues placed carefully on the boat. The Japan Coast Guard finds the boat, but strange events start taking place as seismic activity wrecks the area, and damages the busy Tokyo Bay Aqua Line tunnel. While looking at some footage during an emergency meeting (the first of many), Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa) thinks it’s some sort of massive creature, but no one in the meeting believes him. The film is a riot of meetings where organization names pop up on screen whenever someone gains a new position or inherits a job description. But the film plays it so it’s subtle, but quite amusing when it’s recognized.
Sure enough, something weird, large and looking like a half-formed bobblehead from the back of a car (remember those?) eventually makes its way to shore and begins shuffling through Tokyo’s Kamata district, causing destruction by simply slamming into anything in its path, forcing small boats ashore and then, wheeled vehicles are pushed away like toys en masse. The creature occasionally spews stinky gouts of blood from its gills and someone later notes the smell is forcing anything doused in the blood to be burned. The government speculates it can’t possibly stand on two legs because its weight would crush it, but when the creature evolves before their eyes into a more threatening looking (but still somewhat bug-eyed) one and stands up (oops!), that tune is changed.
Rando Yaguchi gets picked to lead a team of people to work on figuring out how to deal with the creature and that rather cryptic code left by the missing scientist while the state is looking for a within reason military solution that kills the creature while causing as little damage as possible. Meanwhile, the creature eventually overheats from exertion and heads back to sea after evolving, but a radiation trail from its wanderings reveals it’s pretty much a nuclear fission-powered beast that will be quite a hazard if it comes back in a more evolved form. Guess who’s coming to dinner and has bought its own nuclear powered oven?
Yep, after a bit of calm time where some things seem back to normal, Godzilla returns in a major way and now a mean-looking and twice as tall monster, clocking in at about 400 feet tall. it first decimates the SDF forces gathered to stop it and soon after, some US air support in a series of terrifying attacks where wounding it actually makes it worse for Tokyo as the creature unleashes all of its power in a jaw dropping display. This is a moment where you might feel like cheering initially when the long buildup to the scene results in the expected destruction, only to feel instead for the untold thousands caught in the results, including some government leaders who become collateral damage casualties. This hearkened back to the scenes of mass destruction from the 1954 original, but amplified many times due the fury of the enraged creature in the new film.
Godzilla goes silent afterward, and while it’s recharging, Yaguchi’s team of outside the government misfits discovers the creature’s blood is what cools it down after an energy discharge. They come up with a way to chemically freeze it for a long while, but need some extra time to produce the chemicals needed. The US government in the meantime, wants to use a thermonuclear blast to kill the creature after the city is evacuated, but this is agreed upon with a lot of reluctance by the new government, as a seemingly invincible Godzilla can simply stroll anywhere it pleases and it’s noted that even if the creature was in New York City, it would get the same treatment.
The team gets it’s extra day and with the nuclear clock ticking away, they implement their freezing plan in a pretty spectacular scene. Naturally, it makes no sense scientifically, but you don’t watch a Godzilla film expecting anything to be accurate on that front. Speaking of accurate, the film’s music by Shirō Sagisu is perfect, with cues from the original film by Akira Ikufube and what sounds like bits of remixed Evangelion tunes making appearances in scenes. The film ends with a quick shot of what seems to be more potential evolution for the species, but with Legendary Pictures in charge of the franchise these days (well, until later this year), it’s probably likely this flick is not only a Toho-made reboot for fans of the original, but one that may not get a proper follow up in a timely fashion. Legendary has its own version of the character and canon, but I rather liked this version a bit more because it brings on an apocalyptic scenario and makes us live with the consequences as a result.