Thursday, July 13, 2017

Is Shin Godzilla the Best Kaiju Movie Ever?

Since it was first talked about based on initial pictures and concepts, people were hyping the shit out of Toho's newest kaiju film. Some claimed it would be the best Godzilla film ever, others said that it may just end up being the best kaiju film ever made. And now, after seeing the film, I'm here to analyze the hype and see if I think it really delivered. I mean, hey, what better way to kick off the much delayed Kaijuly of 2017 than with the most talked about kaiju film of last year?

Even though the most talked about one this year hasn't even came out yet.

So, let's acknowledge the basic idea that has caused a divide in the ranks of kaiju fans over the years, which is the idea that something involving kaiju from Japan is inherently better than something made elsewhere. I...absolutely disagree and even outright loathe this train of thought. Giant monsters (i.e. kaiju) have a long history in various places in the world, both in film and in folklore. This has lead to various films about such monsters over the years. Yes, some are better than others, but the origin of them does not mean that they are better than others by definition. People have varying visions and ideas regarding what they want out of these movies. Personally, I like to see heroic giant monsters (or robots) fighting other giant monsters. Even better, get me a giant monster team-up film and I will lose my shit in a happiness cloud.

Hold on, I need to go change these pants.
Now, in truth, when people make this claim what they're actually trying to say is that they believe Godzilla movies made in Japan are better than the ones made here in the states. Now, to be exact, there are two actual American made Godzilla films. One is a completely separate entity that many fans have come to appreciate the existence of while also laughing at its obvious flaws. The other one? 2014's Godzilla from Legendary that kicked off the Monsterverse. I absolutely love that film. It is so seeped in the history of the character and the design of him in it is a clear homage to the various designs over the years. It is a film that not only honours the Big G, but also delivers a great tribute to the longest running and most iconic era of the franchise, the Showa era, when he was often portrayed as being more heroic and man's hubris was often seen as being a bigger threat.

Seriously, Godzilla literally fought pollution. Suck it, Captain Planet.
But the problem comes down to perception. Some people look at these films and only see the surface level, which is giant monsters duking it out. And while that is fun, it's not the whole show. There are stories being told that flesh out the world and offer poignant commentary on actual problems facing us. The original film was made as a commentary film on the dangers of nuclear war, for fuck's sake. Ignoring these things means you're ignoring a big part of why they work. You cannot offer a film that is literally nothing but monsters punching the shit out of each other. There needs to be more. Gareth Edwards' film offered a tale of governmental secrets endangering the world and of those in power being too quick to pull the trigger on something the deem as scary. Godzilla doesn't attack anyone until he's attacked, causing disaster and making it take him longer to confront the threats he came to combat.

"It's not attacking us....KILL IT!!"
The flock of people who put the movie down because it wasn't made in Japan was (and still is) ridiculous. And what did many of these same people have in common? They gave Shin Godzilla a right good knob-polishing of kaiju proportions. Now, my personal view regarding Shin Godzilla was that it looked and sounded interesting. But, the more I found out about it, the less I wanted to see it. It kept getting touted as this movie that was going to redefine the genre and delve into making Godzilla scary again and I was just left feeling a bit bewildered. Was he not already scary? I mean, sure, he saves the Earth all the time, but he's also a giant god lizard that roams the ocean. Giant things in the ocean scare the living shit out of me.

Yeah, you probably will not be seeing me do any kind of Subnautica playthrough. Whole lotta nope there.
I didn't understand why Godzilla needed to be scarier, but I am open to new ideas. I wanted to be fair and give the film a fair shake. After all, I often preach that it's important to judge a film on its own merits as well as what it delivers in fan-service when it is a reboot/remake. And yes, make no mistake, Shin Godzilla is by definition a reboot even more-so than the Legendary film is. It seems to outright ignore any film that came before it short of maybe the original, which honestly did not endear me to it at all. I like history in my franchises. If you're going to reboot something, fine, but start from scratch or else all you're doing is ignoring other filmmakers and their hard work.

For better or worse, a reboot should succeed or fail on its own.
But, as a movie I did enjoy Shin Godzilla. It had some very interesting subtext and using our titular monster as an allegory for the more recent disasters that hit Japan was clever. But...I have some issues with it too. Most notably, I am not a fan of the design of him. After all the build-up, all the talk about how scary this version was going to be, I prepared myself for a design that would stick out and really be a memorably creepy look. Then I saw him and...he had googly eyes. Googly little eyes and a big goofy grin. I honestly laughed out loud for a few minutes the first time I saw him prior to watching the film. Am I seriously the only person who thinks he looks ridiculous?

He looks like the sort of kaiju who would often say "HYUK" in casual conversation.
Not only that, he has this thin burnt crispy looking thing going that makes him look less scary and more ouch. Like, I look at him and just think he needs medical attention. Someone needs to call Medical Jet Jaguar, because I am honestly worried about what kind of pain the big guy is in here. After seeing the movie, my initial impressions...worsened. He actually looked even goofier at many points and I just kept snickering through this very serious film. To put that in perspective, I honestly rarely start guffawing during a viewing of kaiju films. There are exceptions, sure, but the reasons are fairly obvious in those cases. Like say, if one of the monsters has big puffy eyes, bright red hair, and looks like he's gonna cry constantly.

Cue that sad Charlie Brown theme.
As good as good as the story is and as interesting as the ideas are, I kept finding myself taken out of the film because I'm sitting here laughing at this big doofy looking burn victim of a monster. He doesn't scare me and, while I understand the threat he represents, I just feel disconnected as a result. Not to mention that the film seems to focus less on the hubris of man facing nature's wrath and more on glourifying man. While we do often have heroic human characters, the message is generally never positive in regards to the actions of man as a whole. We fuck things up, we destroy and devastate the environment we live in, and the Earth sends out its defense mechanism to make us look bad when our bullshit comes back to haunt us. Here it feels clear that the monster is the villain. Now, sure, there is some commentary regarding the government, mostly about how the older generation mishandles disasters and makes them worse. It's not a new acknowledgement, but it does make sense with the aforementioned disasters our monster acts as an allegory of.

Bureaucracy sucks and the old are shitting on the future. Yay.
To answer the initial question here, no, I do not think Shin Godzilla in the best kaiju film ever. There are things in it that are downright confusing and overall it is honestly a very strange sit for a fan of giant monsters like myself. It's not a bad film, but it's not in my top ten by any stretch. It simply doesn't leave me wanting to see it again, nor is it something I feel covers new ground. In reality, it feels like a modern day reimagining of the original film. A monster representing tragedy for a damaged nation, allowing commentary without flat out pointing fingers. Maybe if it had more giant pollution monsters or three-headed god dragons from outer space or sentient robots named after large cats.

Man, the Godzilla movies are an amazingly weird menagerie when you think about it.
Some may cry bias, as I do show a clear preference for the Showa era, but that doesn't mean I am not fond of anything newer. Again, I really love the 2014 film and the clear admiration it has for the franchise. I also did like some the other more recent (if you can call decade old new) Godzilla films Toho put out...not Final Wars...the other ones. This just wasn't my cup of kaiju tea and that's okay. We're all different and not everyone will like the same things. Shin Godzilla is, once more, a very good film. It's just not the best kaiju film and that's fine too. Being the best isn't everything. Sometimes it's simply enough to be you...even if you do have googly eyes. Later days, bleeders.

Keep on rolling.

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