Thank the lord for the linear thrill ride of “Shin Godzilla.” In a world where white supremacists are on the march again and our president threatens entire countries over Twitter, Godzilla is a more consistent beast. He’s a walking anti-nuclear metaphor, a kaiju born of the United States’ wartime brutality. Hideaki Anno’s monster, however, is entirely different. He’s a walking nuclear meltdown, fed by the same power that brought down the Fukushima Daichii reactor in 2011.
It’s an altogether darker premise than many Godzillas before. What’s interesting is how Anno deals with that darkness. Without giving much away, “Shin Godzilla” emphasizes the power of teamwork without being hokey and manages to be witty along the way. The levity is a welcome addition as Gojira here, or “God Incarnate,” is even more terrifying than his progenitor. He starts wide-eyed and waddling out of the water, leaving ruin in his wake. But that’s all he seems to do: move.
The government sits by and watches, mostly helpless. Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa) was the first in it to attribute a natural disaster to the beast, so he becomes the de facto leader of various emergency response measures. He’s the only consistent player in a sea of faces and names. If “Shin Godzilla” is anything, it’s thorough. Ultimately, most of the characters aren’t too important. Godzilla is the main attraction.
The movie is more dialogue heavy than you might expect. Anno could have used some more editing on his script. At 2 hours, it feels overlong, more often bogged down by the technobabble than clarified. To his credit, though, Anno has a killer eye. Conversations are shot like action scenes so they’re rarely boring.
Just as exchanges, though, they’re verbose. As Anno showed with “Neon Genesis Evangelion,” he’s an expert at deconstructing characters’ and exposing their depths. Not one to underperform, however, Anno plays up the movie as anti-bureaucratic. When Godzilla arrives, it takes the government two hours to figure out what kind of response to mount. The actual response takes much longer as each directive passes through an endless lattice of government workers and decisionmakers.
They talk about so much yet accomplish so little. This isn’t necessarily because they’re inefficient, Godzilla just doesn’t fit into any institution we have. In “Shin Godzilla,” he’s a different beast for a new, more dire era. Those in power can work together to stop him and save their country, but the damage has already been done, and Gojira never stays away for long.