THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan
Godzilla is one of the most enduring movie monsters of all time, yet the films in which he's appeared haven't always been examples of fine cinema. The Japanese original, released in 1954, is a classic, although the version American audiences saw was slightly different, thanks to scenes featuring Raymond Burr shot specifically for our shores. The many sequels, in which Godzilla fights a variety of other creatures (including King Kong), can be fun, silly, and/or stupid. Roland Emmerich's 1998 Godzilla is a notorious bomb, while Gareth Edwards 2014 version got some great reviews but left many audience members cold.
That brings us to Shin Godzilla, the first Japanese Godzilla picture in quite some time. It will have a special limited engagement in more than 440 theaters from October 11-18.
The story begins with strange activity occurring in Tokyo Bay. Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa) believes that the aquatic disturbances are being caused by some kind of living creature, rather than an environmental anomaly. That belief is dismissed, and even ridiculed, by other government officials. Then a massive lizard-like beast crawls out of the water and onto shore, where it begins destroying the city. Those same officials now look for ways to stop it, but the creature continually reveals new abilities as it evolves, foiling their every attempt. Yaguchi, now proven right, quickly makes his way up the ranks, eventually helping to formulate an unorthodox scientific investigation and military response.
Shin Godzilla is about one-quarter monster attacks and three-quarters politicians, military leaders, scientists, and others scrambling to figure out how to deal with that monster. In many respects, the film is a satire of Japanese bureaucracy, presenting officials who are inept, powerless, and at odds with each other in the wake of a genuine threat. That aspect probably plays a bit better in Japan than it will in the United States. At times, it's also confusing to follow who everyone is and what they're doing. (Guaranteed, you've never seen a movie so constantly putting labels onscreen to explain the characters' positions and locations.) Despite this, Shin Godzilla is still a stinging indictment of governments everywhere that get mired in red tape at the precise moment they need to be springing into action.
The quarter of the film that's devoted to Godzilla is so ridiculously fun that you won't mind the excess of strategy scenes too much. The CGI used to create the monster is excellent and, best of all, Shin Godzilla takes the character to the next level with some amazing new powers. One of the most thrilling scenes, for instance, finds Godzilla “powering up” and then shooting atomic rays from its body to take down the aircraft attempting to bombard it. Is this movie's concept of Godzilla completely faithful to the original's? No, but it's undeniably entertaining. It pays off with a climactic battle that combines all the various military assault ideas and all of Godzilla's crazy powers into one epic battle of awesomeness.
Directed by Hideoaki Anno (the creator of Evangelion) and Shinji Higuchi (the excellent Attack on Titan), Shin Godzilla might have been even better with a more 50/50 split on the political satire/monster mayhem, but it still puts a cool, inventive, modern-day twist on the whole concept of a Godzilla flick. If anything about this classic creature has ever meant something to you, this is a movie you won't want to miss.
For more information, or to purchase tickets, please visit the official website.
( out of four)
Shin Godzilla is unrated but contains some monster mayhem and mild language. The running time is 1 hour and 59 minutes.
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