Shin Godzilla full movie review - An imperfect, but bold direction for the iconic monster that hearkens back to the series' thoughtful roots
"Shin Godzilla" is two thirds of a great giant monster film. The set-up and crisis escalation contain some of the finest work the series has churned out since Shusuke Kaneko's 2001 feature, exhibiting a degree of depth and thoughtfulness that hearkens back to the original feature.
Thus, it is unfortunate that the final act stumbles so perceptibly. Nonetheless, this latest Godzilla feature gets more than enough right to earn a hearty recommendation.
"Shin Godzilla" leaves little room for actual characterization and is primarily about people, plainly, doing their jobs. But the screenplay (arguably the sharpest in the series) doesn't approach this in a rote or perfunctory fashion. It's more interested in showing the approach of officials and experts in the face of a crisis, critiquing a disabling government protocol and commending the determination of those who pull through with a solution. We don't learn much of these peoples' lives outside of this episode, but the weight of the situation is never lost on them and their actions are infused with a sense of commitment and professionalism. This, combined with the amount of detail with which this subplot unfolds, goes a long way towards making the narrative engaging.
One of the primary criterion I use when evaluating the plots of individual Godzilla films is how well the two sides (i.e. monster, human) complement each other. Most entries in the series utilize the human developments to justify or lead up to the monster action. It's an acceptable objective, but "Shin Godzilla" takes it further, with an interdependency that enhances both components. The threat of Godzilla yields the political commentary communicated through the government response (a subplot executed with uncommon confidence and weight), and the human characters keep Godzilla as the focus of their discussions and actions, sustaining his presence in the film; the 2014 flick largely failed in this regard. Though the satirical aspects are not as well considered as they could have been, the accompanying premise elevates the film in other ways, most notably in the sense of verisimilitude.
It's always impressive to see thought go into the possible ramifications of the existence of giant monsters, and while the results can't quite be called "realistic", sufficient effort is made to lend credibility to the situation. Truth be told, I think the fact that the human subplot is comprised of meetings and discussions lends immediacy to the proceedings. Even seemingly throwaway moments are interesting, such as the gathering of protesters who seem to worship Godzilla, and the roof shingles loosened by his footfalls. One very impressive moment comes when two soldiers survive an attack and voice their resolve to hasten evacuations. This brief scene draws more sympathy to the military than the entirety of "Godzilla (2014)".
However, a sharp depreciation occurs during the final act. In addition to the discussions becoming tedious, the urgency of the situation largely dissipates. This is most evident during the climax, where the smoothly executed plan defuses everything; the denouement is actually more interesting. It's an ingenious plan, to be sure, though the technicalities are murky. Social relevance from earlier proceeds by conveying the Japanese nation's sentiments concerning its geopolitical standing, and the dissatisfaction with imposition from other countries. It's an interesting point, but unfortunately redefines the conflict and distances the monster.
Overall, this is the most polished Godzilla production from Toho. Camera work is varied and dramatic, and scenes of conferences and meetings are lit to complement the film's largely sullen tone, a far cry from the comparatively flat work in most earlier entries. The CG work is uneven. Some examples are darn near flawless, while others are embarrassing, such as the artificial way Godzilla lurches forward before becoming dormant. But, other technical accomplishments make up for lapses in visuals. For example, Godzilla's early form (possibly inspired by Namazu of Japanese lore) looks silly, but the sound effects of its footfalls and the disturbing sight of blood gushing from its gills leave an impact. Also, in a surprisingly chilling moment, when the creature first stands upright and lets out the iconic roar from the original film, the truth of its nature snaps into focus. Shots of Godzilla looming in the distance grant a foreboding quality (one of him glowing red at night like some infernal entity is particularly stunning) and the point of view shots of the military vehicles lend a dire immediacy to the battles. His movements are limited during the attacks, but, again, the approach makes such a trait an asset. The portrayal of his durability during the clash with the SDF, combined with the actors' reactions, creates genuine tension. Consider when the government officials realize Godzilla is impervious to the full force of their weaponry. Rather than coming across as an obligatory development, the shock of the discovery is felt. It's impressive that such an obvious feature of these films can be affecting even after more than two dozen entries.
Also, that one practical effects shot everyone is so quick to praise sucks. It's impressive from a technical standpoint, but is too abrupt and lacks context and scope, diminishing its impact. Watch similar scenes from "Giant Monsters All-Out Attack", "Gamera 3" and "Mothra vs. Godzilla" and consider the difference.
I was VERY disappointed by Alexandre Desplat's music for the 2014 flick, so one can imagine how happy I was to hear a soundtrack that complements the gravity of the story. The piece "Persecution of the Masses" is undeniably the crown jewel in this respect. In contrast, there are some unnecessary callbacks. The lazy insertion of an Akira Ifukube theme as Godzilla undergoes his first transformation should have been properly updated; it's a solid bit of music, but feels antiquated here. Many have grumbled over the insertion of an "Evangelion" theme during preparations for the final battle, but I would argue the real issue is that it isn't a very good piece of music. Other than that, the auditory experience is solid.