"Everything is as it should be."

                                                                                  - Benjamin Purcell Morris

 

 

© all material on this website is written by Michael McCaffrey, is copyrighted, and may not be republished without consent

Shin Godzilla : A Review

****THIS REVIEW CONTAINS VERY MINOR SPOILERS!!! THIS IS NOT A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!!****

My Rating : 4 out of 5 Stars

My Recommendation : See it in the Theatre.

OF GODS AND MONSTERS

Shin Godzilla (Godzilla Resurgence), written and directed by Hideaki Anno (co-directed by Shinji Higuchi), is Tokyo based Toho studios 29th Godzilla film and its third reboot of the franchise. The film tells the origin story of Godzilla as he emerges from Tokyo bay and ravages modern day Japan. The film stars Hiroki Hasegawa, Yutaka Takenouchi and Satomi Ishihara. 

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Being the good Irish Catholic boy that I am, I usually spend Sunday mornings at Mass, but this past Sunday morning I attended a different kind of sacred ritual. Instead of Mass I went to the Royal Laemmle Theatre in Santa Monica, a sort of Church of the Sacred Nerd, and waited in line for the chance to get to worship God...zilla. God-zilla be praised as my waiting was not in vain and I was able to see the film which is in very limited release here in the states. I know that many will find my worship of Godzilla blasphemous, but when you dig deeper you discover I am not blaspheming at all.

As we are told in Shin Godzilla, the name "Godzilla" or "Gojira" as the Japanese call him, is literally translated to mean, "God Incarnate". The beauty of Shin Godzilla is that it recognizes the God encounter as a truly horrifying experience, not the new age, Mega-church, rainbow and puppy dog experience we Americans think it to be. The God encounter is undeniably terrifying, as God is capable of cataclysmic destruction without the least bit of effort. The Japanese have learned this lesson all to well over the years, from the annihilation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by nuclear bombs, or the fire bombing of Tokyo in World War II, to the recent devastation wrought by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami and the resulting nuclear disaster at Fukushima, the Japanese have seen first hand the power and peril of the God encounter.

I realize that most people think of Godzilla movies as a joke, and this thinking is strongly based in fact, as evidenced by the two atrocious American Godzilla movies (1998 & 2014), and a string of less than decent Toho Godzilla movies over the years. But Shin Godzilla is different, it is an actual, honest to goodness movie. Shin Godzilla, unlike its American counterparts, is entirely structurally and mythologically sound in every way. Yes, the special effects are not quite up to snuff at times, and there is a little bit of campiness to be found if you're looking for it, but with that said, Shin Godzilla takes itself and its subject matter deadly serious. 

Similar to the original Japanese Godzilla (1954), not to be confused with the abomination that is the American version of that film starring Raymond Burr from 1956, Shin Godzilla skillfully uses the myth of Godzilla to tell a wider and more important story. Shin Godzilla uses the Godzilla monster to tell the story of the suffocating and debilitating bureaucracy that has paralyzed Japanese government and society. And while these scenes of government ineptitude and impotence are funny, they aren't a joke. Shin Godzilla is meant to hold up a mirror to Japan and hold it accountable for its less than stellar performance in the wake of the earthquake and tsunami of 2011, and also praise it for the resilience and ingenuity of its people when unshackled by that bureaucracy.

Shin Godzilla is also about American imperialism and colonialism. Even seventy years after the end of World War II, the Japanese are well aware that they are still under the thumb and beholden to the Americans, who bully and cajole the world into bending to its will. In the film, Japan must acquiesce to America's demands or rebuilding the country after Godzilla will not be nearly as easy (and it wasn't easy) as rebuilding after the destruction of World War II. This is one of the main themes of the film, the Japanese search for its soul and spirit in the aftermath of devastation.

MAKE JAPAN GREAT AGAIN!!

It takes a wildfire for a forest to grow stronger, and so it is with Japan in a post-Godzilla, and post-American, world. Once the ruling class with all of their bureaucrats, technocrats and yes-man are burned to the ground, the true heart of the Japanese people can be revealed, the heart of a people with the Samurai myth entrenched deep within their psyches. Shin Godzilla shows us that the Faustian bargain the Japanese made post-WW II with the U.S. has left the nation a flaccid shadow of its former self, and Japan must grow a pair of balls if it wants to survive in the new world of the 21st century.

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In the film we see that once Japan can get past its debilitatingly hierarchical political system and get back to the strength and greatness of its people, it will be be able to re-build from the ashes and rubble left in Godzilla's wake. Japan can become strong and independent once again and shake off the imperialism and colonialism of the west if they can only remove their self-serving and cowardly governing class. To put it in American terms, the Japanese need to "Make Japan Great Again!!", and Godzilla is their Donald Trump, who will burn down the establishment to make way for the Japanese to take back their country from its overlords and their self-induced malaise. The difference between Godzilla and Trump though is that Godzilla, being God Incarnate, is the unadulterated and terrifying Truth, whereas Donald Trump is the self-delusional lie, both the lie that he tells himself and the lie his followers tell themselves.

In Shin Godzilla, the options are clearly presented for the Japanese, they can fall under the rule of the U.S. and the U.N., or turn to other imperialist powers like Russia or China. Instead of following those paths the Japanese realize they must turn inward and conquer their fear and shame, and take their country back, not only from Godzilla, but from the west. This sort of self-determination and neo-nationalism unleashes a pride and self-sufficiency that can go one of two ways. It can either be turned into a confident and self-reliant patriotism, or it can become an arrogant and toxic imperialism hungry for conquest and control. The Japanese have known both forms of this pride, as has America. Shin Godzilla leaves me wondering where this national thought process will lead the current generation of Japanese who seem to be dying on the vine, a lost generation of sorts without even the will to reproduce or the imperative of the sexual drive.

"MAN IS WORSE THAN GODZILLA"

A female scientist in Shin Godzilla tells her compatriots that "Man is worse than Godzilla". This statement resonates with her co-workers who, even seventy years later, all hear the echo of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki ringing in their collective ears. Godzilla was born of those atomic bombs, both literally and figuratively, and as he stomps across Tokyo he leaves a trail of fire and devastation that looks remarkably like the destruction left in the wake of the firebombing of Tokyo in World War II.

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As former U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara once stated, "LeMay (U.S. Air Force General Curtis LeMay) said, 'If we'd lost the war, we'd all have been prosecuted as war criminals.’ And I think he's right. He, I'd say I, were behaving as war criminals. LeMay recognized that what he was doing would be thought immoral if his side lost. But what makes it immoral if you lose and not immoral if you win?" (The Fog of War). But to the victors of WWII went the spoils, and to the Japanese went the nightmare that still haunts them to this day.

The Japanese nightmare of World War II is embodied in Shin Godzilla by the "alternative" scientist who had discovered and studied Godzilla but whose work was covered up by the U.S., This scientist, Goro Maki, had lost his wife to radiation sickness from fallout of the Hiroshima attack. A tormented Maki commits suicide in Tokyo Bay by presumably jumping into the water. From the exact spot where Maki jumped into the water, Godzilla rises. In other words, Godzilla is born of the national and personal wound of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic attacks.

LEVIATHANS, ROUGH BEASTS AND THE SHADOW

As the film and Godzilla progress, his destruction looks disturbingly similar to that of the tsunami in 2011. Director Anno masterfully relates Godzilla to the most recent catastrophes in Japan, the tsunami and the Fukushima meltdown. It is easy for us in the west to forget, but over 18,000 people were killed by those events. That is six times the amount killed on 9-11. The Japanese psyche must be deeply scarred by that "God encounter" and the wrath and destruction it wrought. This is why Shin Godzilla is so effective, it uses those deeply ingrained scars and fears to reveal to the Japanese truths about themselves. Shin Godzilla teaches us that just as the God encounter at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 still reverberates in the collective consciousness of the Japanese today, so will the equally horrific God encounter of the tsunami and Fukushima in 2011 effect future generations.

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In Shin Godzilla, Godzilla is the long ignored psychological shadow of Japan. The beast is born out of Japan's anger, shame and guilt for its past hubris and both the sins it committed, the rape of Nanking for instance, and that were committed upon it, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The psychological shadow contains a great deal of energy and power, and when the shadow contents are consciously integrated, which they yearn to be, then that energy and power can be released and used positively. When these shadow components are not consciously integrated, but rather unconsciously vent, the effects are devastating. The shadow contents desperately want to be made conscious, and when they are ignored or repressed, they lash out. Godzilla is the ignored shadow lashing out in order to be recognized, acknowledged and finally integrated. 

Godzilla's destructive power is heightened by his radioactive core. This radioactive core, just like the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, when unleashed leaves a trail of deadly fallout behind them. Godzilla and the atomic bombs not only kill in the moment, but for years and decades to come. This means that even when Godzilla is gone, he will not soon be forgotten. Like all powerful elements of the shadow, Godzilla forces the Japanese to acknowledge him consciously and to never be able to push him back into the bay, a symbol of the unconscious. 

Like the Behemoth or Leviathan of the Old Testament, Godzilla is a symbol of the terrifying power unleashed when we have a God Encounter. Shin Godzilla is like the Book of Job, with Japan being Job and Godzilla being God's psychological shadow. Godzilla is a reminder to the Japanese, and all of us, that while we may think we are in control, we aren't. Not even close. Godzilla is a symbol of the powers out of our control, and of the darkness that is rising in our world that will engulf us all sooner or later. Our collective shadow, and Godzilla, will not be ignored much longer. Like the reptilian beast that lurched out of a black pool in Orlando to snatch a little Nebraska boy a few months back, Godzilla is coming out of the depths to remind us of our fragile place in the world and the universe. And we aren't going to be happy when we are forced to reckon with the fact that our rightful place is not at the top of that totem pole. 

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, Shin Godzilla is not only a terrific Godzilla film, it is a very good film. While it doesn't boast the high end special effects of the U.S. Godzilla films, it certainly outdoes its American counter parts with in-depth storytelling, acting and directing. While some non-Godzilla fans may not be able to get past the perceived silliness and campiness of a monster movie, those with the ability to suspend their disbelief and enjoy well done cinema will be left very satisfied by Shin Godzilla. The film is in very limited release in the U.S. so I recommend you see it in the theatre while you can!! 

©2016

 

Batman v. Superman : Dawn of Justice - A Review

****WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS!! CONSIDER THIS YOUR OFFICIAL SPOILER ALERT!!****

MY RATING : 2.5  OUT OF 5 STARS

MY RECOMMENDATION: SEE IT IN THE THEATRE, ESPECIALLY IF YOU LIKE SUPER HERO FILMS. IF YOU ARE LUKEWARM ABOUT SUPER HERO FILMS, WATCH IT ON CABLE/NETFLIX.

 

"LOW EXPECTATIONS ARE THE KEY TO A HAPPY LIFE." - METO EVERY WOMAN I HAVE EVER DATED.

As a general rule I never read movie reviews before I see a film. In fact, I don't even like to see trailers because studios so often undermine the power of a film by giving away its content in trailers. When I see a film, I want to see it with as close to virgin eyes as possible. If I don't understand a film, I will take the time to actually see it again. I love film so I don't mind investing time into it in trying to understand the art and craft of it all.  I understand that I am an outlier in this area as most people look upon films as consumers looking upon a product they may potentially buy, so they want as much information as they can get before hand, not afterwards. This is why studios reveal so much (too much!!) in trailers, they want to give as much of the film as possible in a two minute movie because they believe that audiences want to know what they are getting.

In regards to Batman v. Superman : Dawn of Justice, I found it very difficult to keep my cinematic virginity oath by avoiding news and information about the movie before I saw it. One reason this was such a struggle was that I saw the film just this past week and it was released two months ago, so I am definitely way behind the times. Another reason is that for the last two months my internet homepage has been giving me headlines telling me how awful critics thought the movie, and Ben Affleck were. I never read the articles, but I certainly got the message from the headlines, Batman V. Superman was an epic failure and Ben Affleck was back to his old tricks of ruining movies. And thus…my low expectations were unconsciously inseminated, then gestated for two months and were consciously born this past week.

When you have low expectations, anything good that happens is a pleasant surprise and you find yourself more grateful for things than if you had expected them. And so it was with my experience watching Batman v. Superman. I expected it to be really awful…and it just wasn't. Maybe it isn't as good as I thought it was, but it was certainly better than I ever thought it would be. And guess what…you know what made the film good…I hope you are sitting down for this…it was Ben Affleck's intricate, internally detailed and vibrant performance as Bruce Wayne/Batman. I know you think I am bullshitting you, but It's true, I promise, I am not in any way, shape or form, bullshitting you.

"DO YOU BLEED?" - BATMAN

When I heard that Affleck had taken the role of Batman I thought it was a very bad idea for both him and the film.  Affleck had worked so hard to rise up from being a punchline at the nadir of his acting career and reinvented himself as a respectable filmmaker and passable actor. I thought he was squandering all of the good will he had worked so hard to generate by chasing the "movie stardom" dream that had been the cause of his previous great downfall. Chasing stardom and money was what had scuttled Affleck's promising career once before, and I was sure it was going to do the same thing again. But, to his credit, Ben Affleck proved me a fool because he is damn good as Batman. I think it is his best performance…ever. Which, you know, isn't a very high bar, but he brings a brooding gravitas to the role of which I simply didn't believe he was capable.  Affleck's performance throughout is solid, but his inner rage and fury during his fight with Superman is absolutely dynamic. Affleck imbues Batman with such a tangible psychological wound that it gives him a visceral and volcanic rage, which erupts during this epic superhero brawl. Affleck's magnetic and potent performance is shocking considering his tepid work in most of his previous films. 

Sadly, the "Ben Affleck is dreadful" meme is out there in regards to his work as Batman. Prior to seeing the film, I saw headlines and videos mocking Affleck for having stepped in it again with Batman V. Superman. Maybe it was my exposure to this criticism which lowered my expectations for his work, which is why I was able to appreciate him so much in the role. Who knows? Regardless, if Ben Affleck keeps doing the strong work he did as Batman in future films, the critics will eventually quiet themselves. With all of that said…as much as I disagree with the sentiment, I found this video to be absolutely hysterical.

As much as I enjoyed the film, is Batman v. Superman perfect? Hell no. Director Zack Snyder can be pretty heavy handed at times, the abysmal Man of Steel being a perfect example, and he loses control of this film in the last quarter, but even with all his faults, he has a distinct visual style that works well here. Snyder also does a good job of keeping the storytelling coherent, which is no small accomplishment considering he is juggling multiple important narratives (Superman, Batman, Lois Lane, Lex Luthor, Wonder Woman etc.) that he must weave together. He does so, not seamlessly, but well enough for the film to make sense both internally and externally.

HELLO DARKNESS MY OLD FRIEND

Another key to the film's success is that it is dark…relentlessly dark. And it never wavers from that dark vision. It is a credit to the filmmaker that, unlike in the recent Captain America movie, Batman v. Superman sets its heavy tone and commits to it, taking its subject matter very seriously. The film is a dark psychological study, and I found it to be authentically compelling. There are no witty one liners to water down the mood, and no winks and nods to the audience that this is all in good fun. Batman v. Superman is not in good fun, it is deadly serious business, which to me is the film's great strength, but may also be its greatest weakness in the eyes of critics and a large part of its audience. 

On the downside, one of the glaring problems with the film is that in the final quarter of the picture, it sort of goes off the rails when the hybrid villain appears and we get a generic city destroying, knock down, drag out donnybrook. The hybrid monster is supposed to be a hybrid between General Zod and Lex Luthor, but it really looks more like a hybrid between the most recent Godzilla and the Hulk….and not in a good way. The whole fight sequence with the hybrid is dreadful, this is director Snyder at his worst, and should be cut because it feels as if it is from a very different, and very horrible film (like Man of Steel!!). The fight between Batman and Superman, which precedes the hybrid nonsense, feels epic and climactic and should have closed the movie. That said, even the Batman-Superman fight had a flaw, namely that there is a huge emotional turning point for Batman at the end of the struggle that felt rushed, watered down, and ignored, which was not because of Affleck's striking performance, but rather Snyder's weak grasp of dramatic storytelling. It is a shame because there could have been a truly powerful moment captured there, but Snyder was in too much of a rush to get to the hybrid battle to let the audience sit with Batman in the apex of the deep torment that Affleck had so finely crafted from the very beginning of the film. 

Another problem with the film is Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor. Eisenberg is a good actor (see his work in The Squid and the Whale and The Social Network ), but he is distractingly bad as Luthor. The performance is shallow and showy, and Eisenberg feels small in the part. I understand what Eisenberg was trying to do, he was playing a wounded child, but he wildly misses the mark with his work. A more grounded and energetically focused performance, as opposed to the energetically frantic one he gave, would have given Lex a menace and power that were lacking and sorely needed. When you are walking among giants like Batman and Superman, you better bring a villain who can hold his own…Eisenberg's Lex Luthor fails to do so.

"MORTALS, BORN OF WOMAN, ARE FEW OF DAYS AND FULL OF TROUBLE." - THE BOOK OF JOB

The myths and archetypes on display in Batman v. Superman speak to all of us on some level. In some ways, at its core, Batman v. Superman is a comic book version of the Book of Job, with Batman taking the role of Satan (God's shadow), and Superman the all-powerful God (God's ego) duped into a battle with his darker self at the expense of mankind. 

From a psychological perspective, Batman, Superman and even Lex Luthor represents the various masculine wounds that men in our time carry with them and often pass down to their sons. Batman is the psychological shadow, a man, whose sense of self and masculinity is deeply wounded by the martyring (and thus absence) of the mother and father archetype in his life. Superman is the ego/messiah with a mother and father wound of his own, having been adopted by earth parents after his Kryptonian birth parents rejected him. Yes, his Kryptonian parents did it for his own good, but that disconnect with his home planet and parents dwells in Superman's psyche. Superman's struggle with the anima, the feminine, is also on display in the form of his relationship with his mother Martha and his girlfriend Lois Lane, as is Batman's in his absence of any genuine connection to a female in his life, including his late mother Martha. Even Lex Luthor, the tormented little boy, struggles with the masculine wound given to him by his own cruel father. These three men represent the different paths that can be taken when a boy is left to make the journey to manhood with the father archetype being absent because of martyrdom, paternal rejection or the father being wounded himself. All three men live in the shadow of their fathers, Batman/Bruce Wayne runs his father's company and tries to avenge his death, Superman wears an "S" on his chest, the symbol of his father's hope, and Lex Luthor tries to live up to the expectations placed upon him by his own wounded father. These men are all sides of the same multi-dimensional masculine wound coin, expressing their pain in different ways.

The myths of Batman and Superman, and the archetypes that they embody, are the reasons why these comic book stories resonate so deeply with wide swaths of the population. Batman v. Superman has gotten pretty poor reviews yet is on the cusp of making a billion dollars. Captain America : Civil War will no doubt do the same. These super hero stories can be fun to watch and entertaining, but they also speak to us on a deeply unconscious level. These stores also speak to us from our collective unconscious, telling us things we know but struggle to articulate.

For instance, is it a coincidence that in an election year we have two superhero movies about internal conflict between superheroes? In Batman v. Superman we have iconic heroes Batman and Superman squaring off, and in Captain America : Civil War we have two groups of "good guy" heroes doing battle. And also notice that these heroes are divided by contrasting color, Batman is blue, Superman red...Captain America blue, Iron Man red. This is not coincidence…for we as a people are at war with ourselves. In the wider world, civilizations are clashing, see the struggle for Islam to come to terms with modernity as an example. And in the west itself, societies are turning on one another…look no further than the rise of nationalist movements and parties of both the right and left in Europe along with the fraying at the seams of the European Union. Here in the U.S. the rise of Donald Trump in the U.S. is an example of that same clashing impulse. These civilizational battles are what are unconsciously on display in this years crop of super hero films. These films are an expression of our collective unconscious, which is explored and discovered by artists (writers, filmmakers etc.), who become artists in the first place because they are inclined to spend so much time in and around the unconscious, both collective and personal. (I have much, much more to say on this topic…trust me...but that is a posting for another day). Regardless, as mindless as these super hero movies may appear to be, and some of them are really mindless, they do have deep mythical and psychological meaning to us, which is why I appreciate it so much when these type of films take their super hero subject matter seriously.

"FOR WE WERE BORN ONLY YESTERDAY AND KNOW NOTHING, AND OUR DAYS ON EARTH ARE BUT A SHADOW." - BOOK OF JOB

In conclusion, much to my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed Batman v. Superman : Dawn of Justice. Call me crazy, but I thought that the film and Ben Affleck's performance were well worth the price of admission. I realize I am in the minority on this one, and as my email inbox constantly reminds me, whether the subject be Chris Kyle, John Oliver or Terence Malick, I am almost always in the minority. It doesn't bother me though, as I myself have unlocked  my own super power, a key to eternal happiness…The Power of Low Expectations! Hey, if The Power of Low Expectations can do the unthinkable and make me really like a Ben Affleck/Zack Snyder film, then it really is a super power to be reckoned with!! With a true magic elixir like The Power of Low Expectations, I could be capable of anything!! Or nothing at all!! Either way I'll be happy…and that's all that matters…right?

©2016