Earlier this month, I was quite excited to watch the newest Godzilla movie. For many, this wouldn’t be a big deal, but for me, it was a very special day. I enjoyed the last American Godzilla movie in 2014, but I’ve always had a special place in my heart for the Japanese series. The last of those, the poorly named Godzilla Final Wars, came out in 2004. Twelve years later, Toho Studios is back with Shin Godzilla. We drove three hours to the nearest theater showing it, the Alamo Drafthouse in Kansas City. It was a great experience, start to finish.
I wouldn’t usually mention the theater itself in a movie review, but the Alamo Drafthouse is worth talking about. It was my first time at one of these establishments, and it was probably the best trip to the movies I’ve ever had. Instead of playing boring commercials before the show, we were treated to a delightful series of Godzilla-related shorts. Several vintage trailers for older Godzilla movies made up the bulk of the pre-show. There was a brief bit of a Godzilla Island episode (a late 90s TV series that used actual action figures for the monster scenes). I especially loved the Spectreman clip and Bambi Meets Godzilla. All the quirky stuff they showed us got me even more hyped for the film itself.
I’ve been to exactly one theater that served food other than popcorn and pretzels before. It was less than amazing to eat bad chicken tenders and average french fries while sitting in a standard theater seat. The Alamo Drafthouse does it much differently. A helpful waiter took our order before the movie began. Just as the theater darkened, he returned, delivering our drinks and popcorn unobtrusively. There was a narrow table running the length of each row, very convenient for holding drinks and food. About a half hour in, our burgers arrived. They were fantastic. Connor and I had fries, while my wife chose to have hers on a bowl of greens and other salad-like stuff. Our drinks and popcorn were refilled every twenty minutes or so. Never once did the wait staff interrupt the movie, even when helping other people. The food was much better than I was expecting, and just added to the wonderful time we had watching the movie.
So what about the movie then? Was Shin Godzilla any good? I think it was great, and I’ll tell you why. We are now entering a spoiler zone, so if you haven’t seen the movie, you might want to stop reading.
Ever since the first Godzilla in 1954, all subsequent movies called back to the original monster. Even when the series was rebooted in 1984, 2000, and beyond, there was always a plot point about the return of the creature. Shin Godzilla abandons this concept. For the first time in over five decades, Godzilla is brand new, something never seen before, without any historical precedent. It’s refreshing to see Godzilla treated in this way. When you don’t automatically know it’s a giant radioactive reptilian monster, it adds to the sense of dread and danger of it all.
Compounding the sheer terror about what Godzilla might be is the shifting appearance of the creature throughout the film. At first, Godzilla is more a meteorological phenomenon, causing floods and such. Then a gargantuan tail and spiky back appear, causing panic. When Godzilla finally makes landfall, it looks far more alien than any version we’ve seen before. Initially, you see large, googly eyes which are almost comical, but then the undulating, tadpole-like nature of the beast is revealed and it’s horrifying. Over time, Godzilla evolves into more and more dangerous forms, before eventually taking on the more traditional bipedal stance. Even in this iteration, however, Godzilla is a far more revolting abomination than it has ever been before.
The historical theme for Godzilla has always been the dangers of nuclear weapons. In Shin Godzilla, the focus shifts away from the threat of external nuclear powers. The context is clearly the Fukushima disaster from 2011. Again and again, the government is portrayed as slow and ineffective in its response to Godzilla. These same concerns have been voiced concerning the release of radioactive material from the Fukushima nuclear plant after damage from a tsunami. In Shin Godzilla, bureaucrats are indecisive when dealing with the threat of the monster, and their ineptitude costs many Japanese lives. After one particularly grueling scene, many of the “old guard” politicians are killed, leaving behind only minor officials who are even less prepared to deal with Godzilla. It’s refreshing to see these new themes being used in a Godzilla film.
One of the best things about a giant monster movie is seeing a huge creature tear up a city. In Shin Godzilla, the level of destruction is off the charts. Not only is Godzilla now bigger than any previous iteration, it has more raw power than ever before. The classic atomic breath is brilliantly realized, and both awesome and awful in its use. The new ability to shoot beams from the back spines and tail is somewhat controversial, but I felt it made sense and was executed well. There is a sense of absolute hopelessness when seeing the sheer entropic force that Godzilla has. There is a sense of an ever growing death toll, something that is often glossed over in other kaiju films. This gives the scenes of destruction much more emotional impact than you’d expect.
As far as the special effects go, Shin Godzilla easily has the best of any previous Toho film. It compares quite favorably to the 2104 Godzilla, though Shin Godzilla had but a fraction of the budget of the American film. Not once did I think “MAN IN SUIT” while watching. Suitmation was likely still used but it looked brilliant, regardless. The cinematography was quite unique, much different than the standard monster movie fare, and the soundtrack was a great balance between classic themes and modern style. It’s easily the most cinematic film in the series since the original way back in the 50s.
I simply adored Shin Godzilla, and can’t recommend it highly enough. It’s a big change from previous films, for certain, but not an upsetting one. The film seems to have been a big hit, and the ending was quite ambiguous, making it likely that a sequel will eventually come. I am very excited to see what direction Toho goes in the next Godzilla film. The little kid in me just can’t wait to see this new, creepy Godzilla take on another monster, if indeed that’s the direction they go. But they might not. That’s fine too, as there are still plenty of interesting stories that could be told with just the Big G alone…
The Pop Culture League challenge this week is another great one. Here There Be Monsters! I knew exactly what I wanted to write about: the King of Monsters himself, Godzilla! I have been a big fan of Godzilla ever since I was a kid. My first exposure to the big G was at the public library, in the Crestwood Monster series of books. I read all those books over and over again, but Godzilla was my favorite. (I’m lucky enough to still have a set of those books today!) Godzilla made frequent appearances on Saturday TV, and I remember watching many of the older Showa series Godzilla films on a grainy black and white TV set in my bedroom. We also rented Godzilla ’85 several times in the late 80s.
Then, in 1997, a new Godzilla movie came out. It wasn’t great, by any stretch of the imagination, but it did get me to thinking about my favorite monster again. By 1999, I was married and had a five year old son. In October of that year, AMC ran its annual Monsterfest, and ran nearly all the Godzilla movies, including several that I had never seen before. It turns out that they kept on making Godzilla movies after 1985! I was thrilled to learn about this, and went online to find out more about them. Between our VCR tape of Monsterfest and obtaining a few releases on VHS (thankfully plentiful due to the marketing of the ’97 American movie), my son and I were able to watch all the movies in what is known as the Heisei era. We watched them time and time again, wearing out the tapes. When son #2 arrived, we upgraded to DVD and eventually Blu-Ray. We rewatched all the 90s era movies in preparation for the 2014 American Godzilla, and with a new Japanese Godzilla being released this year, I decided to go through my favorite era in Godzilla history one more time. Here are quick reviews and ratings of each of these great films.
The Return of Godzilla (AKA Godzilla 1985)
In 1984, Toho brought back Godzilla after over a decade off. No longer the good natured defender of Earth, this time Godzilla was back to his roots as an unstoppable destructive force of nature. I have, as of this writing, only ever seen the American release of the film, which added in Raymond Burr, just as the 1950s Godzilla did. We had this on VHS, but it was extremely hard to get on DVD. Just last month, the movie was released on Blu-Ray. I am looking forward to watching the original, un-Americanized version for the first time.
Rating: 3 out of 5 Dr. Pepper Ads
Godzilla vs. Biollante
This is a solid entry. A scientist merges Godzilla cells with those of plants, hoping they will be able to thrive in desert conditions. Terrorists attack, destroying the cells and, sadly, killing the scientist’s daughter. The grief stricken father merges her cells with those of a rose, in order to keep her soul around. He also manages to add in Godzilla cells, because why not? The resulting creature is a plant-Godzilla hybrid, which is one of the coolest looking monsters you will ever see. Eventually, the big G shows up, there’s a titanic tussle or two, and it’s over. Weird, and quite dark for the series, but very watchable.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Angry Roses
Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah
This is my personal favorite of ALL Godzilla films! It has literally everything. Time travellers from the future come to 1991 to meet an author. They plan to test his theory: Godzilla was a”Lost World” type dinosaur on a Pacific Island that mutated after exposure to radiation from nuclear weapons. They all go back in time, planning to destroy Godzilla before he is created. However, the future people leave behind three strange “pets”. Upon returning to the present, the critters have been mutated in Godzilla’s place, turning into King Ghidorah! The evil future people plan to use the three headed abomination to knock Japan down a peg, as they are the world leader in the 23rd century. The army uses a nuclear sub to recreate Godzilla (say what?), and the Big G and King Ghidorah fight! Godzilla wins, then attacks Tokyo. Everything looks bad, but then the sole friendly future traveller saves the day, piloting a cybernetically rebuilt version of King Ghidorah and drives Godzilla off. It’s absolutely nuts, from start to finish, and I love it.
Rating: 6 out of 5 Time Paradoxes
Godzilla Vs. Mothra: Battle for Earth
One of the things I liked about the Heisei era Godzilla movies was the continuity from one to the next. One of the major recurring themes is that humans are destroying the environment. Mothra appears in this one, returning after many classic appearances, in her traditional role as defender of humanity. Her darker foil, new character Battra, fights instead to defend the planet itself. The two come into conflict, because SYMBOLISM. Godzilla shows up, naturally, and he’s pretty much against both humans AND the earth. Mothra and Battra put aside their differences and take him on in both larva and flying form. The fight scenes in this one are particularly great. The fairy twins and their song are among our favorite parts of the entire franchise.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Gooey Webs
Godzilla Vs. Mechagodzilla II
I love robots, and I love Godzilla, so it’s no surprise that I also love Mechagodzilla. Toho triple dips here by bringing back two more classic monsters, in addition to everyone’s favorite metal dinosaur. Rodan returns, also evolving into a more menacing flaming form known as Fire Rodan (makes sense). You’ll either love or hate the third returning alumnus: baby Godzilla! I’m not a big fan of the tyke, honestly. I know it seems odd to say it, in a genre known for goofiness, but the baby is just a bit too cheesy for my taste. Still, this one has Mechagodzilla and some great fight scenes, so I’ll bump it up higher than it by all rights should be.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Adorable Roars
Godzilla Vs. Space Godzilla
After the last movie drew heavily from the roster of classic monsters, we have a new main villain in this one. Pay attention here, or you might get lost. So apparently some Godzilla cells from Biollante escaped into space, and made their way through a black hole. The cells came out and formed into an evil version of Godzilla, with all sorts of spiky glowing crystals on its body. Sound weird? That’s because it is. It doesn’t make much sense at all, but really, is that a bad thing? Baby Godzilla is unfortunately back and more cutesy than ever. I love the way Space Godzilla looks, and the human-controlled combiner robot Mogera is pretty sweet. Still, this is unquestionably the weakest entry from the Heisei era.
Rating: 2 out of 5 Skreeonks
Godzilla Vs. Destroyer
After years of absorbing radiation, Godzilla is overheating. If he goes critical, Earth will be destroyed in the ensuing explosion. Scientists develop a freezing ray and use it to cool off the Big Red G. Meanwhile, baby Godzilla is now larger and renamed Godzilla Junior. The main baddie, Destroyer, is composed of multiple smaller critters that merge and evolve in several stages. Junior fights Destroyer, who hurts the little guy badly just as Godzilla arrives, red hot and ready to explode. The big guy fights valiantly then goes into meltdown. The resulting surge of energy defeats Destroyer, and then Godzilla dissolves into goo. Suddenly, the radiation levels fall, reviving Junior, who is now full sized! This was lots of fun, and a great send-off to the series, for sure.
Rating: 5 out of 5 Freezing Lasers
In ten days, I will be watching the latest Japanese Godzilla film! It’s called Godzilla Resurgence, or Shin Godzilla. I’ve tried to avoid spoilers since its release in Japan over the summer. It’s a shame I have to drive three hours away to get to a theater that’s actually showing the movie, but that’s just fandom for you. I’ll be sure to write a review with my thoughts on the new movie here!
Here are some of the other league entries for the week, or you can check them all out here.