Artist. Designer. Awkward wad of nerd. Fights off existential terror and self-loathing with Godzilla films.

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"Truly a god incarnate."

Shin Godzilla opens very much the way the original 1954 film and the 1984 reboot Return of Godzilla do: with a boat out on the water under mysterious conditions. These two films are referenced the most out of the franchise, and not just because they're the only other movies in which Godzilla doesn't face another monster.

That said, it's still a big departure from the rest of the franchise, and that's most obvious with the King of the Monsters himself. This really is the weirdest iteration of Godzilla to exist, which is an odd thing to say because he's never really been weird, has he? You know what you're in for when you see Godzilla most of the time, it's usually a pretty safe bet what you're going to see in any of the other movies, but here writer/director Hideaki Anno, co-director/special effects director Shinji Higuchi, and designer Mahiro Maeda have purposely set out to subvert your expectations. It's a breath of fresh air, and this strange new monster's physiology is a major component of the movie. A lot has changed over the years, there are all sorts of tools available with which to learn just what a monster like Godzilla would be should it exist, and the movie gives us a keen understanding of how this horrific creature functions. As for his purpose...that's a little more unclear.

The movie primarily follows a group of politicians and a team of outcast experts put together to figure out how to stop Godzilla. While it would've helped to have more perspective from regular people caught in the disaster, the constant meetings, press conferences, and time spent huddled around laptops sorting through new data never feels stale or boring. For the first two acts, things move at a breakneck pace in spite of the government's failure to cut through the red tape of bureaucracy and come up with a quick solution to the giant monster that's come ashore. Dialogue is spat at a remarkable speed in time with the rapid cutting that's come to be expected from Anno's work, and board meetings start to feel more like action sequences. It can be a lot to keep up with, I admit. As quick as everyone moves in their scramble to stop the slow, lumbering beast, they're still not fast enough.

Shin Godzilla also features the most tactical and coordinated JSDF attack against a giant monster seen in any of these films, followed by bombing assistance from the United States in what quickly becomes the movie's finest setpiece. It was around this time that it dawned on me just much of the sound design was pulled from older movies. The first time Godzilla roars, it's unmistakably the low, gut-wrenching sound from 1954, created by Akira Ifukube's gloved hand on a contrabass. The sounds of artillery, Godzilla's slow stomping, and crumbling buildings sound mostly like old recordings, and a good chunk of the soundtrack is made up of old Ifukube scores. As one of many nods to Neon Genesis Evangelion, the song Decisive Battle is remixed a handful of times, too.

There are issues: yes, Godzilla doesn't get as much screentime as most of us fans would like. As mentioned before, the lack of any ground-level characters caught in the middle of Godzilla's rampage would have been nice, and the film isn't as dark or apocalyptic as the trailers and Shiro Sagisu's original music let on. The English speaking actors are just as awkward as in older movies in the franchise. The last act slows down for breath, and starts to feel a bit deflated compared to the rest of the film. All that said, there's still a lot to enjoy and this is definitely the most interesting and exciting take we've seen in a really long time. While the events of the movie are definitely similar in structure to the original film, this is very much for better or worse Hideaki Anno's film, and as such it feels like a lengthy episode of Evangelion with many of his obsessions on display. It feels like the movie he's been waiting his whole career to make. That he had so much creative freedom to make the movie he wanted is kind of an anomaly given Toho's track record, but the franchise is all the better for it. This is exactly the kind of personal, unique take on Godzilla that we need more of.

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