Hideaki Anno’s contemporary recounting revisits the premise of 1954 original: A huge, mysterious lizard-like monster emerges from the sea and begins battering Japan’s harbors and cities. The usual defenses do not work — in fact, the monster, nicknamed “Godzilla,” appears to mutate and grow bigger — so an ad hoc group of marginalized scientists and weirdoes convenes to figure out how to kill, or at least immobilize, Godzilla.
Scenes of the monster and the city-stomping special effects are entertaining, but not spectacular. This is less of an action-oriented monster movie than a larger critique of real-life problems. Just as the first Godzilla film used the uncontrollable-monster plot to reflect on the birth of nuclear warfare, Anno’s film taps a recent national disaster: Japan’s devastating 2011 earthquake and tsunami, and the resulting crisis at the Fukushima nuclear-power plant. Here, the destructive creature is a problem, but so is hierarchal government bureaucracy, whose layers of red tape and self-preservation render it virtually ineffective. (Official response is so ineffectual that Japan must accede to the unthinkable: requesting that American nuclear weapons be deployed.) The many scenes of lab-coated folks arguing might disappoint fans of non-stop-action monster films, but American viewers should note that a lumbering government response to a crisis isn’t a worry only for the Japanese. Plenty here for everybody to think about.