My first exposure to the Godzilla series occurred when I was eight years old and I received the game Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters Melee for the Nintendo Gamecube. A game in which you controlled giant monsters that you used to fight other giant monsters and destroy cities in a process that was, frankly, irresistible. The character design of all of these famous creatures—Orga, Ghidorah, Destoroyah, and Angirus just to name a few—all sparked something in my imagination.
I grew up with a fondness for Godzilla and for giant monsters—kaiju—in general. So when I heard that a movie about Godzilla was being released in 2014, roughly twelve years after playing “Godzilla: Destroy All Monsters Melee”, I was thrilled. Finally, the time had come: I had been counting down on my fingers the amount of time that would come to pass before a reboot of a series I adored, made with technology worthy of the “king of the monsters," would arrive in cinemas again. When it finally did in May 2014, I grabbed my girlfriend and took her to the theatre.
And it was…well, alright.
I couldn’t regret investing my money into a film that might give rise to a series that improves drastically upon its predecessors. Most concur that Shrek 2 was better than Shrek, after all. But I still found Godzilla 2014 lacking and I felt it suffered from the same issue that Godzilla 2004 suffered: a stiff cast of human characters that stole way too much screen-time away from the main event. I mean, in fairness to Godzilla 2014, at least it was true to the source material: it took place in Japan and had Japanese characters. I place a high value on that particular part of the Godzilla universe because Godzilla is a very Japanese story. After all, Godzilla’s conception arose from well-justified anxieties Japan had of nuclear devastation’s effects and after-effects.
But with the cultural accuracy aside, it must be said that our leading man, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, had all the charisma of a cardboard sheet. Most of the cast, with the exception of Ken Watanabe and Bryan Cranston, the top-billed actor who dies not twenty minutes in, weren’t much better. So when you put most of the impetus of plot progression on characters that put in such little effort, it’s hard to truly connect with them and it leaves a hole in the suspense that not even Godzilla can fill.
So I supported it even if it wasn’t to my standards because it wasn’t terrible.
When I found out that another Godzilla production was in the works, announced almost eight months after Godzilla 2014. I was understandably very nervous. But when I realized that it would be directed by none other than the great Hideaki Anno, my fears were somewhat put at ease. Anno won my heart with the indispensable Neon Genesis Evangelion series and he displayed a masterful understanding of cinematography and visual storytelling. On one hand, we had the promise of a new Godzilla movie, a franchise tainted by poor Western adaptations, but on the other, a man I saw as a genius was at the helm.
In October 2016, Shin Godzilla would finally receive a limited time run in Canada, so a fellow Anno acolyte and I stormed the theatre and sat at the edge of our seat.
A Godzilla movie like this was a long time coming.
It had a remedy for all of my gripes about Godzilla in previous movies I’ve seen: the human characters didn’t bore me to death, there were very healthy doses of Godzilla, and it didn’t shy away from his carnage, or fashion him as an anti-hero. Shin Godzilla portrayed officials from America and Germany assisting the Japanese government without shining the spotlight too hard on them. This isn’t their story, after all.
Shin Godzilla also brought Godzilla back to his roots with the technology used to bring him to life. A combination of CGI, motion capture, and puppetry was used to animate Godzilla; a touch which I really appreciated. It was a subtle homage to Godzilla’s beginnings that didn’t rob him of the terror he inspires in this movie.
Another nod to Godzilla’s beginnings was the clear political undertones in this film, something quite bereft of other adaptations. Godzilla’s iteration in this case calls to mind the Fukushima disaster of 2011 and its mishandling owing to the obstructiveness of the bureaucrats within the Japanese government.
Though its plot is more coherent and its characters are more interesting, it’s not without its flaws. The English delivery of some lines spoken is a bit on the stilted side, and one plot involving a lost scientist sort of meandered without much closure.
Still, with everything considered, this is certainly a Godzilla offering that has more pros to offer than cons and it’s certainly a giant step in the right direction for the future of the series.
Shin Godzilla ended on what I hope is a sequel hook, and the critical acclaim it had in Japan—now the highest grossing film in the Godzilla series—almost guarantees it a sequel. It’s been a long time since Godzilla had his dues and if more films of this ilk are coming down the pipe, this writer will have a seat secured in the theatre for all of them.
Operating under the nom de plume, "Legion," Alex Sundaresan is a writer/poet/cartoonist based in the city of Ottawa. He has a strong interest in, and is drawn towards, the strange—being somewhat strange himself. Hoping to gain work one day as a graphic novelist, Sundaresan spends his days in search of good stories and good company.