Scrap and Rebuild
Scrap and rebuild. That's what Japan is good at. Maybe not an exact quote from the movie, but it is an integral part of the success of Shin Gojira. Over the past couple of decades, Godzilla movies, which used to be Japan's blockbuster franchise, have been gigantic flops in the box office. Sadly, that reflected the interest fans had in the series as it waxed old and desperately struggled to develop original story lines that could keep the monster relevant for up and coming generations. Even Gamera, another company's giant monster rival to the Godzilla franchise, was seeing more financial success and exciting its fan base all along the way. Hideako Anno, creator of Neon Genesis Evangelion, boldly dared to go where no other Japanese Godzilla franchise had dared to go before: Scrap the story line laid out by the 1954 classic and start fresh.
Godzilla fans have always enjoyed movies starring the big G even in his cheesiest, most pathetic attempts to capture their imaginations. Throughout the 90s, fans endured plots that were decent coupled with lackluster special effects. Throughout the 2000s, Toho tried its darndest to improve special effects while maintaining a solid plot. Although the new millennium's series broke new ground for the King of the Monsters, it seemed as though the attempt to rekindle interest in his character was too little too late. How many reboots via sequel to a classic film must you attempt before you start from scratch? For Toho, the answer would be 4 1/2 (the half comes from Godzilla x Mechagodzilla, from which it is really difficult to determine whether it is its own story line or if it picks up from an existing story line).
As the movie opened, mass confusion and panic ensues as bizarre catastrophes are happening off of the coast of Japan. At first, they think its some sort of natural disaster occurring in the ocean. Then they reveal that they believe it is a massive sea creature. At that point, fans recognize the fear that strikes the officials dealing with the revelation and you wait silently for that one word the brings clarity to the situation: "Godzilla." And you know what? It doesn't happen!
Instead what you get is panic, chaos, and a mad rush to figure out what to do about this strange creature that nobody has ever seen before. What's more, it becomes apparent that nobody had ever seen a giant monster before, period! This was a drastic departure from the horror that strikes the characters in all other Godzilla sequels when they realize that Godzilla has returned. No, Godzilla did not return in this movie, because Godzilla did not exist until this movie according to the timeline. The movie by Anno to start from scratch was incredibly bold and opened up the possibility for brand new surprises that nobody could have anticipated.
The first of which was Godzilla's first appearance. When they showed the first shot of Godzilla's full body, I was shocked. It did not look the way I was anticipating. It was strange, awkward, and absolutely horrifying. It was not the enormous lumbering behemoth we have all grown to love. It was an absolute abomination spewing blood out of its gills. Yes, gills! This new incarnation had gills! It was weird, but it was effective. The monster evolved throughout the movie until he reached a more recognizable form.
Second, the name of the monster is actually different. In the '54 original, the monster's name was Gojira, which was a made up name that combined the Japanese words for gorilla and whale. The monster's new name was, actually, Godzilla! I don't recall precisely where the monster got its name from, but its name was more so linked the the U. S. than Japan, which made its origin all the more fascinating. Anno capitalized on the reality that the first three letters of Godzilla, G - O - D, spell out the word God. Thus, he created a meaning for the name Godzilla which meant "God incarnate." Not only was the word more meaningful than Gojira,it is infinitely more horrifying because it becomes more than just another animal that needs subdued. Ironically, Gojira becomes the Japanese pronunciation of Godzilla, when originally it was the other way around.
Third, the movie had a political element that had not been captured since the first Godzilla movie which made it entirely fresh, relevant, and, often times, hilarious.
I previously wrote an article stating that this movie was the one fans were waiting for. Upon seeing it, I feel comfortable doubling-down on that statement. Although this movie was just a great movie all around, it was especially satisfying as a fan to see how far the creative team went to make sure that fans were not alienated from the more theatrical elements of the movie.
The soundtrack was compiled almost entirely of classic Godzilla tracks. Most obvious was the use of the soundtrack from the original Gojira. What made the soundtrack even better was that the movie utilized untouched versions of these songs to give the scenes a creepy weirdness that could only be rivaled by the '54 classic. As a true blue fan, I sat all the way through the credits to see if there would be any surprises to hint at what the sequel would be like (which there will most certainly be a sequel). No after credit surprises, but I was delighted to hear the theme from Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla 2 included as the last song in the credits. I was not anticipating it, but it totally fit the mood of the film and is a powerful score.
Godzilla and the scenes of destruction are awe-inspiring. You could tell that the directors took a hint from Gareth Edwards' Godzilla 2014, as Godzilla himself did not appear too often throughout the movie; but when he appeared, your jaw dropped to the floor. Godzilla's presence was overpowering. Not even in the 1954 incarnation did the viewer feel the absolute futility of the military as they struggled to subdue him. Everything literally bounced off of his hide until deep penetrating bombs were used by stealth bombers. The results of the tactic resulted in disaster. Leaving the monster alone resulted in mass destruction. Assaulting him resulted in facing the wrath of God. Godzilla unleashing his fire breath for the first time in this movie was awesome. It was an absolutely incredible sight to behold and proved the powerlessness of mankind's efforts to stop him.
The end of the movie was something entirely unique. The humans carried out a plan to subdue the beast that resulted in mass destruction and casualty. Even though the conclusion of the battle unfolded slowly and almost anticlimactically, it helped to accent the final scene of the movie. You leave the theater with a thousand questions which can only be answered by seeing the sequel.
Don't ask me how this one measured up to Godzilla (2014). 2014 was a masterpiece of its own. Shin Gojira, as well, was a masterpiece. If you asked me which movie better represented the original vision for Godzilla, Shin Gojira is the clear answer. I give props to The Return of Godzilla, Godzilla 2000, and GMK for restoring the vision of the monster's creators. None of them comes even close to Shin Gojira in truly capturing the horror of the 1954 film.