Thursday, December 15, 2016

Shin Godzilla

   Western audiences have been spoiled to pieces with Pacific Rim. Consciously or otherwise, it's generated a false perception that kaiju movies (giant monster movies; usually Japanese) have a lot of screentime of the monster(s). They don't. They never have. The chief complaint I've been seeing circling the interwebs about Shin Godzilla is that there isn't enough screentime of Gozilla it/himself. The same complaint was leveled at the 2014 movie, and Godzilla is on-screen twice as much in this movie than he was in that one. Go figure. People are fickle.

   From the absolute start of the movie, things take off at a breakneck pace. Things are constantly happening. Just because things aren't blowing up, doesn't mean stuff isn't going on. The human element of this monster movie is having to react to it's appearance like they would react to a horrific natural disaster. I feel like this element got lost in translation with casual audiences, but whereas the very original Godzilla movie reflected the horrors of Hiroshima and spoke plainly about the scary aftermaths of man's preoccupation with power, this Godzilla movie uses the terrible natural disasters Japan has suffered in recent memory as a basis for the carnage wrought by the titular monster.

   As such, scenes of frantic politicians trying to plan and strategize relief efforts seem very much at home in a Godzilla movie. Sure, the movie ditches the usual tropes like lovers separated by the tragedy, or a singular hero on which to hitch the movie's popularity, but in doing so it creates a much broader scope and subsequently, delivers a more grounded and unsettlingly realistic take on the Godzilla concept. The movie is also refreshingly creative with it's 'action' scenes, if you can call them that. Like a kid with carte blanche at a toy store, directors Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi throw all new tricks at us, making Shin Godzilla a real treat for longtime fans of the franchise.

   However, where the movie really shines is it's sense of humor. I'm wondering if I was laughing at scenes that weren't meant to be funny, but it's hard to imagine them being played as anything other than at least slightly tongue-in-cheek. I found myself chuckling at more than a few gags, but it's an accomplished and subtle sense of humor that's actually more grounded than any of it's big budget monster thrills. On the flip side of things, if there's any flaw in the movie, it's that very rarely are any of the main characters ever in danger. Nobody is ever in the thick of the carnage. At least the last American Godzilla flick had Aaron Taylor Johnson and co-stars getting right up near the thunderous monster battles.

   There's nothing of the sort in Shin Godzilla. As real and convincing as some of it's effects are (and you can be sure not all of them are) it lacks a street level human perspective. It lacks emotional human drama, despite having lots of political human dramatics. Most all of the hurried conversation and frantic plotting is done in a series of conference rooms and offices, and only ever there. Shin Godzilla seems downright claustrophobic in comparison to 2014's American offering. It's not a fatal flaw, but it's a glaring one. I found the movie enjoyable regardless despite that, and there's enough sci-fi kaiju tricks up Shin Godzilla's sleeve that you'll be thoroughly engrossed throughout.

   The movie is paced with a vengeance. There's no fat to trim, but there's so much going on it can be overwhelming, or even lose a fair amount of its viewers in the process. Overall, it's not a perfect movie, but it's a really good one. If you're a Godzilla fan, you're going to find yourself right at home. If you're someone who feels that if Godzilla's name is in the title, he should get more screentime than anyone else because he's obviously the star... maybe you'd be better off re-watching Pac Rim. Just saying. Nevertheless, Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi have rebooted Godzilla with gusto and paved the way for future sequels that this kaiju fan awaits with baited breath.

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