Godzilla Resurgence; The Return of Toho's King
The Godzilla franchise is arguably one of the longest running and prolific film franchises of all time. Since his first movie, an allegorical tale by Toho Co. Ltd of the terrors and devastation of the atomic era, in 1954, the monster has served as both destroyer and defender of mankind over the span of 30 films, as well as helped to a series of other monster movies sharing the same cinematic universe. This year, Toho is blowing the dust off their famed creation, bringing Godzilla back to the silver screen with Godzilla Resurgence, a reboot to the franchise and the first Toho-produced Godzilla movie in twelve years.
As a long time Godzilla and kaiju fan, my excitement for this new movie is tremendous, but my excitement is tempered by curiosity. Will this appeal to me the same way that the earlier films in the franchise have? Will the tone set be fitting? And will this Godzilla be able to survive this reboot and bring on a new series of films in the franchise?
The Hiatus, Legendary Films, and Return
In 2004, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the character, Toho released Godzilla: Final Wars, pitting the title monster against a series of enemies lifted from the Showa era of the film franchise as a nod to long-standing fans. Mixing in aliens, mutated humans serving as super soldiers, and science fiction tropes pioneered in films like Star Wars and The Matrix, Final Wars served as a fun yet underwhelming experience, and wasn't quite what die hard fans of Godzilla really expected from the film. Nevertheless, the symbolism of Godzilla swimming out into the ocean at the end of the movie is clear, for he was swimming into a hiatus that would last for twelve years.
Twelve years, at least as far as Toho-created Godzilla movies are concerned, that is. In 2014, Legendary Films released Godzilla, an American reboot to the Godzilla franchise and the second American Godzilla movie to be made, following the poorly received 1998 film by Roland Emmerich. This Godzilla, while having no relation to the Toho franchise or the earlier American release, served as a faithful adaptation and successor to Toho's. Rather than repeating the same grievous error that the Emmerich "Godzilla" made, Legendary Films created a design for their Godzilla that, while distinct, captured the overall tone that the Japanese monster maintained over the years, which was welcoming to fans of the original franchise. Additionally, the "Legendary Goji", as he has come to be nicknamed, was quickly thrust into an Earth's protector position, echoing the stance that the monster frequently took throughout the Showa and Heisei era films.
All in all, the Legendary Films Godzilla was a welcome treat for long-time Godzilla fans. Though the overall lack of screen time for the titular monster and the choice of CGI for bringing him to life left some fans a bit disappointed, it was still a very respectable entry, and with it being ten years since the release of Final Wars, having such a faithful adaptation of Godzilla back up on the big screen was exciting to say the least.
It was due to the success of the movie that Toho decided that the timing was right to reboot their Godzilla film line. However, this Godzilla will not be connected to the Legendary Films cinematic universe being developed, and instead will be an independent film line running concurrently with it. Distancing itself from its American counterpart, Godzilla Resurgence looks to bring back the practical effects of "suitmation" that have long been a staple of the franchise for sixty years and usher in a new era for the legendary "King of the Monsters".
A Look at the Trailer
The trailer wastes no time in setting a dark and ominous tone, with Godzilla letting loose with his iconic roar as a chorus of voices sing a haunting theme to a somber orchestral piece. Reminiscent of a scene in the original 1954 Godzilla of a school choir following Godzilla's attack on Tokyo, we're immediately conveyed a sense of power and foreboding with the musical accompaniment to the trailer, emphasizing the destruction being shown.
Our first good look at Godzilla appears soon after, as the towering monstrosity slowly lumbers through buildings seemingly oblivious to anyone or anything in his way, before the trailer cuts to various human characters of multiple walks of life as they seemingly strive to cope with the situation. Military and government officials discussing plans, civilians fleeing, and the armed forces mobilizing to futilely stop Godzilla, all set to chilling vocals.
I can understand why some might say that the trailer isn't showing much, I feel that it shows just what needs to be shown. The serious tone that the movie is wanting to convey is clear, Godzilla's design and behavior are given enough spotlight to give us a good feel for both, and it shows that the human element, something that sometimes gets swept aside in kaiju movies, is being properly represented.
An Analysis of the New Design
Speaking of designs, we're finally given our first look at the new suit in motion, and it is quite clear that this version of Godzilla is unlike anything we've had before. While Godzilla's appearance has changed a number of times throughout the years, from the "soft and friendly" look of the late Showa era to the more feral look of the majority of the Heisei and Millenium movies, this new design departs from those standards considerably. Scarred black flesh mottled with glowing red patches, twisted and mangled remnants of arms, and a head marked by dead eyes, a grimacing mouth, and rows of jagged teeth give him an almost demonic, hellish appearance.
Despite not knowing much in the way of details or specifics of the movie yet, this design for Godzilla speaks volumes of what he may have experienced prior to the events of the movie. The scarred skin and the mutilated arms in particular suggest burns or some other form of severe damage, with the glowing either being due to his radiation or effects of whatever inflicted the damage in the first place.
Returning to the series' "suitmation" effects gives this Godzilla a very stiff appearance in comparison to the recent Legendary Films Godzilla. While most would instantly proclaim this being proof that CGI is better, in this situation, the stiffness works to the design's benefit. Given that this Godzilla is, at least currently, meant to be physically damaged and scarred, one would not expect the same range of motion that would be available to an uninjured creature. Additionally, the slow movement, in conjunction with the emotionless expression, helps to convey that the monster isn't so much a living creature as much as it is a force of nature. There's no use trying to reason with it or stop it, and the only course of action is to just get out of its way. It's an uncaring, unfeeling tower of unbridled force; a characteristic that has long been absent in the "King of the Monsters"
Unfortunately, what makes the design unique also hinders it should Toho use it for any future films they may create. Unless this version of Godzilla only appears in solo outings, it'd be inevitable that they'd bring in some opponent for him to fight, and that's where I see issue with the design. While he often uses his atomic fire, Godzilla has never been one to back down from melee combat, often attacking by biting, clawing, or using his mass as a battering ram. This Godzilla, in his current state, lacks far too much to be able to effectively do that, with his arms in particular being little more than worthless appendages. The design works fine in this movie's storyline, but should Toho intend to introduce adversaries for Godzilla to fight in upcoming movies, then I can't see this design, as it stands, persevering.
Though I'm wary on the future of this particular design for Godzilla, the trailer has me excited for the movie as a whole. I think that Toho is making the right choice with how they're re-launching the franchise; giving us a familiar story while changing Godzilla in a significant way. It will be interesting to see how well they balance the old with the new, as I feel that leaning too much to one side or the other could really hurt the film. I'm also looking forward to seeig if they try to convey an allegorical message like the original 1954 Godzilla did, be it also one regarding nuclear weaponry or a different theme altogether.
As excited as I was years ago when the first teasers for Legendary Films' Godzilla began popping up, it pales to the the thought of finally getting to see a new Toho-produced Godzilla movie after all this time. While the Legendary Goji was a fine monster and worthy of his namesake, there's something about the classic effects, with a real person inside the suit, destroying miniature sets, that is so appealing in a nostalgic way that it can't be replaced. Will Godzilla Resurgence live up to my expectations as it paves way for the relaunch of the franchise in Japan? Only time will tell!