Japan’s Toho Pictures launched a third reboot of their Godzilla franchise with this 29th installment (not counting two American-made movies). Shin Godzilla follows various political figures and public agencies as they deal with the arrival of a giant creature that crawls out of the ocean and starts wreaking havoc across the land. It grows and evolves into the Godzilla we all recognize, only meaner and more deadly than ever. On that note, Shin Godzilla succeeds — it delivers a good monster and enough mass destruction for all the popcorn munchers looking for a visceral experience.
But on another level, Shin Godzilla leaves me cold. The lack of a main character to follow and with whom to empathize hurts the first half of the movie. In that first half, the monster mayhem is kept to a minimum as we dart from one public official to another in a series of never-ending meetings. For its first forty-five minutes, the movie is disjointed and boring — unless bureaucratic red tape and political buck-passing ranks high on your drama meter. Following public servants removed from the action ends up being a novel approach, but monster movies are much more gripping when we’re with characters in the path of destruction.
The film begins to correct course, however, when a few of these political figures (nominally) become central to the story and witness first-hand Godzilla’s devastation. Only then does any real emotion come into play. The film’s centerpiece moment is a nighttime attack when Godzilla breathes fire across the cityscape and unleashes a deadly laser-fire ability to decimate the military. (Some visual effects are more convincing than others.) There’s also some poignant, albeit prolonged, talk about possibly destroying Godzilla with a nuclear bomb, a choice haunted by the 1945 atomic bombings at Nagasaki and Hiroshima.