'Shin Godzilla' is the 'Dunkirk' of Godzilla movies

Smashing as many satirical targets as it does skyscrapers, this Japanese reboot is more than a monster movie.

Richard Trenholm Former Movie and TV Senior Editor
Richard Trenholm was CNET's film and TV editor, covering the big screen, small screen and streaming. A member of the Film Critic's Circle, he's covered technology and culture from London's tech scene to Europe's refugee camps to the Sundance film festival.
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Richard Trenholm
3 min read

Forget the Hollywood remakes. The real Godzilla is back doing what it does best: stomping on Tokyo. "Shin Godzilla" unfolds at a breakneck yet precise pace, nailing you to the urgency of the moment in a way that recalls Christopher Nolan's breathlessly ticking "Dunkirk".

Released in Japan and the US in 2016, "Shin Godzilla", which means "Godzilla Resurgence", stomped onto DVD and Blu-Ray in the US on 1 August and has a limited run in UK cinemas on 10 August.

This Godzilla -- or Gojira, to give the creature its proper Japanese name -- is a proper monster. It's not a friendly buddy who turns up to grapple with another, more threatening creature. It's a genuinely scary force of nature, with no easily discernible motive or weakness.

The towering, fire-breathing creature is brought to life by computer-generated imagery, but the lurching performance-capture and the beast's deliberately rubbery texture hark back to older movies that relied on a man in a suit. That gives this incarnation of Godzilla an unsettling physical weight you don't often get with CGI creations. At the same time, the monster's bulging eyes, blood-red tissue and various evolving states make it seriously unnerving.

When Godzilla emerges from Tokyo Bay, skyscrapers topple. Tanks and helicopters and drones swoop in. Cars and boats and trains are tossed through the air. The action set pieces are stuffed full of cry-smashing carnage.

But unlike in Hollywood disaster movies, there isn't any running around from hairbreadth escape to hairbreadth escape. Most of the film plays out documentary-stye in meetings and conference rooms -- it's more like "The Thick of It" or "Veep" than a monster movie, as politicians and bureaucrats dissemble, bicker and pass the buck in comical, satirical fashion. 

And like Christopher Nolan's precision-engineered war film "Dunkirk", "Shin Godzilla" doesn't attempt to fill in backstory for its characters. Instead, it's all about the moment. We learn nothing about characters' families, hopes or fears; we're pitched into this national emergency and stay with them as they react.

Like "Dunkirk", the result feels clinical and devoid of emotional connection for much of the film. 

However, as the disaster unfolds, an emotional connection does form. The ensemble of characters pull together to face the towering scaly threat, setting aside their differences and embracing co-operation while outsiders protect their own selfish ends. It's really satisfying to see a team of smart, resourceful scientists working together to develop scientific solutions, a bit like in"Apollo 13" or "The Martian".

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"Shin Godzilla" feels like "The Thick of It" or "Veep", only with 100 per cent more skyscraper-smashing monsters.


The original, 1954 "Godzilla," from Japanese studio Toho, evoked fears of nuclear and radioactive Armageddon less than a decade after the American bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the new film updates its concerns for today. The first Toho film to reboot the creature's origins, "Shin Godzilla" heavily alludes to the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster that followed the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011, fiercely indicting hidebound bureaucracy and obstructive self-interest while celebrating the heroes who did what had to be done.

The film crackles with other possible satirical readings, like criticism of the US-led international community's charging into sovereign nations guns blazing, or gentle ribbing of Hollywood remakes. You could even read Godzilla as an authoritarian dictator, a force of destruction that its victims nonetheless are drawn to worship for his sheer scale.

There's a lot going on in "Shin Godzilla". It's not just any monster movie. 

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