"Everything is as it should be."

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Godzilla: King of the Monsters - A Review

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****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!****

My Rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Popcorn Rating: 2.75 out of 5 stars

My Recommendation: SKIP IT. It isn’t awful, but unless you are an avid Godzilla and monster movie fan like me, there is really no need to make the effort to see this one in the theatre.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters, directed by Michael Dougherty and written by Dougherty and Zach Shields, is the story of the Russell family, Mark, Emma and Madison, as they come to grips with their grief and with famed monster Godzilla. The film stars Kyle Chandler, Vera Farmiga and Millie Bobby Brown as Mark, Emma and Madison respectively, with supporting turns from a cavalcade of actors such as Ziyi Zhang, Ken Watanabe, Charles Dance, Sally Hawkins, Bradley Whitford and O’Shea Jackson, to name just a few. Godzilla: King of the Monsters is the 35th film in the Godzilla franchise and is the third film in Legendary Entertainment’s Monsterverse (Godzilla 2014, Kong: Skull Island 2017).

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As I have stated before, I am a confirmed Godzilla fan. As a kid growing up, as all the other kids were going crazy for Star Wars…I was obsessed with Godzilla and Planet of the Apes. During my childhood, if on a Saturday one of the local UHF channels just happened to be showing a Godzilla movie, it felt like Christmas. As a kid I also maintained a treasure trove of Godzilla toys and that compulsion has stayed with me well into adulthood. As a young and eligible bachelor living the high life in Brooklyn in the 90’s and 00’s, I had a circular table in my living room that was covered with Godzilla action figures which I proudly dubbed “Monster Island”. As you can imagine it was a huge attraction that brought many ladies into my lair and acted as a powerful aphrodisiac upon them. Nothing gets panties to drop quicker than a prominent display of Godzilla figurines.

It was during this time that Hollywood ventured into the Godzilla waters with Roland Emmerich’s accurately titled Godzilla (1998). Being the idiot fan that I am I rushed out to see this Godzilla reboot as fast as I could. The film, which I’ve since re-named Ferris Bueller’s Godzilla because it starred Matthew Broderick of all godforsaken people, was atrociously bad.

It took another 16 years, but Hollywood got back in the Godzilla business with 2014’s also aptly titled, Godzilla, directed by Gareth Edwards. Once again I rushed out to theatres to see my favorite monster and once again I left the theatre deflated after suffering through a truly terrible monster movie.

For further proof of my Godzilla nerd-dom bona fides, one need look no further than the fact that I actually wrote a very controversial and polarizing piece of Godzilla fan fiction and posted it to this website to coincide with the release of Godzilla (2014). This piece was so culturally radioactive it was met with an avalanche derision and scorn, up to and including death threats.

In 2016, much to my relief the Japanese studio and originator of the Godzilla franchise, Toho, released Shin Godzilla. I am such a fan of Godzilla (and Toho), that I actually waited in line early on a Sunday morning outside the Royal Laemmle Theatre to get tickets to see it. Thankfully, this was an enjoyable Godzilla movie experience.

In terms of the recent Hollywood Godzilla franchise, the 2014 Godzilla was the first film in Legendary Entertainment’s Monsterverse, and it definitely got that franchise off on the wrong foot. It was followed by Kong: Skull Island, starring the dead-eyed and empty-headed Brie Larson, which was so awful it made my teeth hurt. Kong: Skull Island was so bad it did the impossible, it made Godzilla (2014) look like Citizen Kane in comparison. Which brings us to the most recent film in the Legendary Monsterverse…Godzilla: King of the Monsters.

After my checkered Godzilla movie-going past, you might have thought I'd be hesitant to rush out and see Godzilla: King of the Monsters, well…you greatly over-estimate my intelligence. While I certainly did not have high expectations, in fact, my expectations were incredibly low, that didn’t stop me from going to see the very first showing of the film on opening day…which ended up being a 4 pm show on Thursday afternoon.

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My basic takeaway from King of the Monsters is this…it isn’t good…but with that said I also must admit… it could have been a hell of a lot worse. The biggest problem with the Hollywood Godzilla movies is that they use Godzilla as a prop for human drama as opposed to using humans as a prop for Godzilla drama. These movies spend so much time trying to get us to care about stupid people doing stupid things instead of just giving us what we came to see…Godzilla. I mean, Godzilla’s name isn’t above the title…IT IS THE TITLE.

To King of the Monsters credit, it does give us much more Godzilla than its predecessor did…but that isn’t exactly a high bar as Godzilla (2014) had so little Godzilla it should have been titled Waiting for Godzilla. Why studios need to stick to the usual formula of spending time trying to get audiences attached to second rate actors like Kyle Chandler or Vera Formiga is beyond me. You can show them, and spend a wee bit of time developing them, but then just leave them to try and survive the ultimate god encounter…namely…Godzilla.

King of the Monsters goes through the motions of trying to be a real drama, and uses certain cliched narrative devices…over and over and over and over again…in an effort to give deeper meaning to the monster festivities, but this all rings monotonous and hollow. It is like the film gets stuck in a plot loop and can’t get out of it so it simply repeats the same dramatic pattern every half hour except with different characters.

The cast are all fine I guess. I mean, I totally get how difficult it is to act in such an absurd movie with such terrible dialogue, so I cut the cast excessive amounts of slack. That said…the ever-awful Bradley Whitford does his very best to ruin the movie all by himself. Whitford is so repellent a screen presence he needs to be thrown into a volcano and sacrificed to Rodan for the good of all humanity.

On the bright side, 15 year old Millie Bobbie Brown is a really good actress. Brown has hit it big after her captivating work on Netflix’s break out hit Stranger Things. Brown’s greatest asset is that she is alive on screen and pulsates with a palpable humanity. She is also very beautiful, and I have to admit I find myself very concerned for her well-being, as Hollywood is a tough town for anyone, nevermind young people, and it is riddled with predators who use their power to prey upon the young and the weak. It is disconcerting to see Brown being “sexxed-up” by the industry and her handlers, and I only hope she can keep her wits about her as success can be very disorienting at such a young age.

Another plus is seeing Ziyi Zhang in a prominent supporting role. Zhang, who you may remember from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, is a beguiling beauty and formidable actress and it is a shame she has been missing from American cinema for so long.

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As for the monsters…well…the results are mixed. Godzilla looks great, really great, and we do get to see more of him and his rampages than we did in Godzilla (2014), but not enough of him. The other monsters, King Ghidorah, Rodan and Mothra are all just ok. I actually thought Ghidorah was pretty underwhelming visually especially compared to the dragons on Game of Thrones, which surprised me as you’d expect a feature film to have better effects than a tv show. Rodan also felt a bit off visually and that was a disappointment as he has historically been a good foil for Godzilla.

Mothra makes an appearance and is also not the most captivating visual presence. To be fair though, I have never liked Mothra at all. I always thought it was moronic to have a moth be this powerful being…I mean…it is a fucking moth for goodness sake.

The visuals of King of the Monsters are, much like its predecessor, decidedly dark, although this time around there is a higher level of clarity and coherence with the cinematography. We do get to see some clear shots of Godzilla and have a better idea of what is happening during his big fights, but I could use a hell of a lot more of it.

There are a few notable shots in the movie as well…including the usual iconic posing from Godzilla himself. There is one gorgeous shot of Ghidorah that is bursting with symbolic and thematic power, where Ghidorah spreads his wings atop a mountain with a cross in the foreground, that is really well executed. But then the impact of that shot was diluted when the filmmakers made the curious decision to literally show it about four more times.

The plot of King of the Monsters is riddled with illogic and inconsistencies and makes little to no sense. The movie also has little sense of time and space which can make it somewhat dizzying affair. The reality is that the film needlessly tries to explain everything and by doing so just confuses things even more.

In conclusion, if you love Godzilla movies you will find this one to be passable but not particularly great. If you are lukewarm on Godzilla movies and are looking for some mindless fun…stay away from this one as it is a little too mindless and a little short on fun. At the end of the day, Godzilla: King of the Monsters isn’t good enough to do anything more than preach to the most adamant of the Kaiju faithful.

©2019

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