Tuesday 18 June 2019

Capitulate to All Monsters!

Gojira (AKA Godzilla) (1954);
Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019);
Shin Godzilla (2016)

If anything demonstrates how much I hate the pathological insistence on not spoiling the plot of a film, it's how little has been said of any substance about Godzilla: King of the Monsters, and about why it's so bad, why it's so toxic, so radioactive if you like. No, since you asked, no, I did not like it. It enraged me in fact, made me losing-sleep-over-this angry more than any film in the last couple years

But here we are. I'm going to write about Godzilla: King of the Monsters. It will give away plot twists. It is full of spoilers, but nothing here will ruin things for you as much as actually watching the film. Because, as my pal Eve Moriarty recently observed, it is on brand for me to respond to getting upset about a film by watching two more films* in the series and writing 5000 words, I have also made this about that original 1954 Godzilla, and about Shin Godzilla, both of which are films I rate and liked a lot, but I give away the endings and plot twists of them too, but then I have to.

(*OK, actually five, but the three Netflix movies are another thing entirely)

So. Let's go back and start with first principles.

Up from the depths
Gojira, which everyone knows as Godzilla, is a 1954 Japanese film which spawned an industry (35 films and counting, a Hanna Barbera cartoon series, and Godzilla knows how many comic books), a movie so iconic, so important that it's ironically easy to forget that it's one of the greatest science fiction films ever made. Godzilla himself is a glorious creation, less dinosaur, more scaly, capricious, radiation-vomiting giant. If you haven't seen Gojira – and you should, but not the butchered 1956 American cut with Raymond Burr doing the narration, which takes out all the bits that matter – it's surprising to see how much sadness there is in this film, how much grief, how much anger. Gojira/Godzilla is an ancient beast from the depths. In Ohto Island folklore he is a divine horror, a vengeful spirit of nature (an old man talks about the old days, when they'd sacrifice maidens to him). To the palaeontologist, he's a survival of an intermediate period between the Jurassic and the Cretaceous, who leaves the bodies of squashed trilobites behind in his footprints. But he has been awoken by a nuclear test, and now he is radioactive, uncanny, furious. An American film in 1954 wouldn't assume you understand what fallout is, and have such a reasonable and realistic sense of how radiation works, but then in 1954, every adult in Japan knew about fallout.

Godzilla, then, is both a direct literal consequence of the Bomb, and a metaphor for the consequences of the Bomb. He is fire and fallout, he is explosive devastation so complete that you fear you can never rebuild. He is nuclear proliferation. And he is the world striking back at the horrors mankind has perpetrated.

And none of this is Godzilla's fault. Professor Yamane (Takashi Shikura), the paleontologist who pinpoints what Godzilla is, looks on the creature with compassion. He can't bring himself to want it dead. He points out that the reaction of the military to Godzilla will only make the creature angry. He insists there must be a better way. He is largely ignored.
A pivotal scene half an hour in has an official at an inquiry declaring that the truth about Godzilla must be covered up. A woman in the room berates him; he's an idiot, she says, the world must know the truth. People on trains say to each other, "damn it all, we're gonna have to go to the shelters again," and the bomb is on every one's lips. A weeping mother, clutching her children in the path of the beast says, "We'll be joining your daddy very soon." Children in a refugee shelter cry for dead parents. Devastation results.

Characters literally say "Godzilla is a product of the atomic bomb that haunts the Japanese people." And as counterintuitive as that sounds, Godzilla is both a weird horror and a hauntological one. When China Miéville tried to show how impossible it was to have a thing that was both weird and haunting, and presented the absurdity of such a thing with the concept of Skulltopus, he was of course being Eurocentric. Japan hasn't had a problem reconciling the two for 65 years, because Godzilla is exactly what Skulltopus isn't, a weird haunting that works.

If it's a bomb that defeats Godzilla, it's one made by a man with a literal, visible scar from the war, and it is made clear by Dr Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata) that the bomb he builds must never be used again. Serizawa is both emblematic of Japan's injury, and also Japan's shame. His reaction when asked about whether he had any German associates is flat denial. It's a lie, of course. Serizawa's work on a doomsday weapon is a terrible thing, a thing which causes untold environmental damage and explicitly portrayed as such. There is no glory in what he does. Serizawa fits the classic science fiction stereotype of the Maverick Scientist, but unlike the American version, so prolific in classic science fiction, it is made very clear that the Maverick Scientist is a bad thing. It's a Maverick Scientist who defeats the monster, but he does so shamefully and with a tool that should never have been used, and the film suggests (through Professor Yamane) that perhaps another way could have been found. It's Maverick Scientists who got us into this mess.

Gojira is a film with and about consequences, then. We see people blasted from their homes, ordinary sailors going about their business suddenly massacred by an inexplicable undersea creature. We see families huddled around officials begging to know about the fates of their fathers, brothers and sons. Godzilla affects people's lives, in the sense that he leaves people homeless and bereaved. He has consequences. And they are shown.

He is defeated, but the means of his defeat is as outlandish as he is, and we know that Godzilla will be back. As long as there is something for the human race to be ashamed of, Godzilla will be back.

And when he does come back, in those many sequels, an odd thing begins to happen. The more he comes back, the more he is cast as a sort of antihero, almost, often pitted in opposition to or set alongside other monsters, often worse monsters. In the age of nuclear proliferation, we learn to live in the shadow of the Bomb. I suppose that brings us to what I saw the other week.

Thirty stories high
Godzilla: King of the Monsters (which, confusingly but perhaps inevitably, is the American title of the original movie, the 1956 one with the added cut scenes and removed subtext) is the third go at an American Godzilla movie in the blockbuster age. Roland "Independence Day" Emmerich's 1998 version is terrible, a bad movie on its own terms anyway, but also literally nothing to do with the idea of Godzilla other than a giant reptile stomping cities, a giant reptile that doesn't even look like Godzilla, devoid of, well everything anthropomorphic about the creature, and everything uncanny. The creature Godzilla is traditionally weird, a fairly straightforward representation of where cosmic horror had gone by the 50s, a radioactive light show with weirdly human arms. Emmerich's Godzilla? He's just a big-arse colouring book dinosaur.

The post-2014 American Godzilla movies on the other hand are very clearly made by people who have seen the Japanese Godzilla movies, or at least they have closely watched the monster fights over and over, and fast forwarded through all the other bits.

Certainly, Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan and King Ghidorah, the four classic monsters of Godzilla: King of the Monsters, are loving recreations of the originals, and the CGI is beautifully rendered, so they have the charm of the practical effects from the classic movies, but they have a weight to them that's often missing with CGI, and they look suitably huge, suitably dangerous. I wish it wasn't so hard to figure out what was going on in the monster fights, and it would have been nice to get a better look at the different monsters (especially Mothra and Ghidorah) but the monsters are absolutely the best thing in this film, and the monster battles are the best parts. The monsters are brilliant. I unreservedly admit this.

Anyone who complains that the monsters are stupid hasn't seen a Godzilla film. Yes, they are silly, but they're traditionally a bit silly and the film manages the difficult job of getting the monsters recognisably part of the tradition while making them legitimately threatening. As far as the lore goes, as far as I know, it checks out. Mothra is approximately a goodie and Ghidorah turns out to be from outer space, for instance, and yeah, if you don't care about Ghidorah that's a stupid development, but to be honest, it's always been the case, and frankly it's the least stupid development in the film, since it's a stupid development that's in line with established lore.

I've interacted with folks who genuinely love this movie on the grounds that the monsters are ace. And that at least is a positive reading of this movie that I can get behind. I respect and sort of envy the purity of this take. Enjoying a movie is better than not enjoying it.

The monsters are undeniably completely ace (even if I wish you could see them a bit better). If the bits of the movie that have the monsters in are the bits you care about, and I say this entirely sincerely, you are in for a treat.

Me? It's all the other bits I have the problem with.

Breathing fire
So there's this organisation called Monarch, and their job is to keep tabs on all the places where giant monsters (kaiju if you like, but no one in this film at least uses that) are dormant. This includes Skull Island, as in Kong: Skull Island (2017), and originally shoehorning King Kong into to the Godzilla series to make another. fucking. cinematic. universe was one of the many things I was pissed off about with this film, but in doing even cursory research, I discovered that King Kong and Godzilla went toe to toe already a long time ago, and more than once, so I guess that checks out, and next year's Kong vs Godzilla film is no more than a rematch, so I'll shrug and let that one go.

Anyway, so there's this scientist who works for Monarch, Emma Russell (Vera Farmiga) and she lives with her daughter Madison (Stranger Things MVP Millie Bobby Brown) next to the spot where Mothra is about to hatch, and Madison, although she's like 14, gets to go into the controlled area and put her hands on things, which was only the first “what the hell am I watching?” moment of many. Emma's estranged husband Mark (Kyle Chandler) is supposed to be important to the plot, but he's basically a void, and I can't think of anything more about him to say, so I'll just acknowledge he's there, I guess.

Anyway, so Emma has built this device called the ORCA (I mean I'm assuming it's an acronym for something, but it could just as easily be something to do with whales), that allows you to talk to giant monsters in a limited way, which reminds me a bit of the thing the crew of the Calico used to summon Godzilla, in the Hanna-Barbera cartoon series that was on the telly when I was a kid.
(Not pictured: fancy Godzilla summoning machine.)
So just as Mothra hatches, a bunch of ecoterrorists burst in, led by Charles Dance, and murder everyone except Emma and Madison, who they take away along with the ORCA, which apparently they want to use to wake up all the monsters because that'll restore the balance of the world or something.

And of course no ecoterrorist in the world looks like Charles Dance doing his full Dad Lannister. And of course this is partly because there is no such thing as an ecoterrorist.

Let's unpack that. Ecoterrorists are a fiction. Green activists do not shoot people up with automatic weapons, they do not blow things up for the sake of the planet and they certainly do not get Dad Lannister to train up military squads of hard bitten shaven-headed meanies to massacre scientists. The closest anyone ever gets are hunt saboteurs and monkeywrenchers and to be honest if you think either of those groups count as terrorists you're either going to have to hit the books and look up the actual definition of terrorism… or you've got a reactionary agenda.

And that's it, isn't it? The very term "ecoterrorist" is reactionary propaganda. It is there to demonise green activists. And any film that has baddies who are ecoterrorists in it is either written by someone who has unthinkingly swallowed reactionary propaganda, and hell, there's no blame attached to that, we all do it to some extent, it's hard not to, or they're consciously reactionary.

And when it transpires that Emma is in fact in cahoots with the terrorists, then… OK, then it made me angry.
(Pictured: cahoots.)
It's a while since a movie actively angered me, actually made me feel ill will towards its makers. I go into films as much as possible expecting to at least find something to enjoy: "brilliant until proven rubbish" is my personal slogan. And although I admitted this to precisely no one, I was sort of secretly looking forward to this film. I was hoping it would redeem itself. I was rooting for it.

But the moment Godzilla: King of the Monsters tipped over from "a bit stupid and not making a whole lot of sense, but hey, brilliant monsters" to "making me want to kick a hole in the seat in front of me" was the part where Emma reveals the plan.

It is a stupid plan. It is supposed to be a stupid plan. It is well-meaning but idiotic, and blind to the untold death and suffering it will cause.

Why? Why would you want to unleash all the monsters and end postindustrial civilisation, reducing humanity to a prey species? What ideological aberration might cause you to embark on genocide?

Turns out it's a belief in man-made climate change. Literally, explicitly that. You believe in the anthropocene? You are ideologically on the same page as the sort of person who wants to kill half the human race with monsters.

Ironically, it seems that Internet fans have even complained about this. Apparently it's not enough that environmentalist views are presented as wrong-headed and dangerous – it seems that in the eyes of some fans, they'd rather not see them presented at all.

Which begs the question, have these people ever seen a Godzilla movie without fast forwarding to the monster fights? I mean, it's not subtle. Godzilla literally fights pollution in the classic movies, (and OK, pollution is a big goopy Smog Monster called Hedorah, but come on).
(Pictured: Godzilla literally fighting pollution.)
But no, King of the Monsters doubles down on it: no, we need Godzilla to be the radioactive alpha of these monsters, a suitable deterrent to three-headed alien interlopers.

Later in the film, it will look like Godzilla is dying. He's been hit by the Oxygen Destroyer bomb which was supposed to kill Ghidorah. Our heroes will follow him under the sea, through Hollow earth tunnels, into what's basically Atlantis, and although not named it's not the Plato Atlantis, it's the Graham Hancock ur-civilisation, which I've spent far too much time writing about the reactionary roots of, so let's just leave that one because that's another couple thousand words anyway. Anyway, so in order to wake up Godzilla and save the world, Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe, playing a character with the name of the scientist in that very first Godzilla movie, and literally no other similarity apart from "male Japanese scientist") sacrifices himself by setting off a nuclear explosion.

The central point of Ishiro Honda's 1954 Gojira is that nuclear testing is a bad thing, that the nuclear age is an age of unleashed monsters. A nuclear test at sea awakens the creature and it rampages. Godzilla is then, the consequent destruction and terror of the nuclear age.

Now, in 2019, we need to awaken the beast with an undersea nuke. We need Godzilla. Godzilla is still radioactive. He is still a thinly veiled metaphor for nuclear-fuelled destruction, but in 2019 that is presented as a good thing.

In 1954, Godzilla is Hiroshima. In 2019, Godzilla is a necessary deterrent.

(Rodan, the mischief monster.)
It's weird, because in so many ways, King of the Monsters treats Gojira and its successors with extreme reverence. Witness the charming, spot-on recreations of Godzilla and his monstrous chums; the namechecks and callbacks (Dr Serizawa, an Oxygen Destroyer, Ghidorah's pseudonym Monster Zero, the Mothraettes); and the Godzilla Theme, in 1954 full of menace but here, not for the first time, used in a celebratory way, in the bit where Godzilla gets his mojo back. Godzilla's back: they're playing his song.

It's a great theme, by the way, one of the iconic movie themes, one of those themes that you can slot the title into, and your brain almost inserts lyrics:

Gojira! Gojira!
Death-ray breathing giant monster
Gojira! Gojira!
Bad for urban infrastructure
Gojira! Gojira!
Flattens Tokyo in a rampage
Gojira! Gojira!
Does a lot of property damage

… yeah.

Maybe not.
Anyway. My friend and occasional co-writer Monique Lacoste, who encouraged me to write this post in the first place (so it's her fault), made the very interesting point in that conversation that there have been a lot of what Monique calls "ideological retcons" recently. These are remakes of films with troubling left-wing subtext removed or reversed. In the 2014 remake of Robocop, for example, the evil arms corporation is only a rogue branch of a responsible and benevolent larger one. While Richard Donner's Superman (Christopher Reeve, the best Superman) stops fighting in Superman II (1980) when it looks like a bus full of school children might be harmed and never kills, Zak Snyder's Randian Superman (in 2013's The Man of Steel, and bloody hell if you're going to pick one of the traditional sobriquets of Superman, why not pick the most fascist-friendly one, right?) causes vast amounts of collateral damage and summarily executes his antagonist.

And coming back to the kaiju: the Oxygen Destroyer is of course the bomb that kills the original Gojira; it's the work of the original Dr Serizawa, and like his more recent namesake, he sacrifices himself. But that first Serizawa explicitly dies so that the secret of the Oxygen Destroyer – and the corporate shame it represents – will die with him. He dies so that his bomb will never be used, and he dies so that Gojira will be laid to rest. The horror and shame of creating another doomsday weapon is too much for Serizawa to bear, and so he ensures that when Gojira is laid to rest, that will be the end of it.

It isn't, of course, because the horrors of the atomic age are out of the bag, and cannot be put back in again, and Gojira/Godzilla will proliferate, whether you want him to or not (and maybe there is something to be said here about how fantastical and outlandish the solutions for his rampages are, but more about that later).

Godzilla: King of the Monsters, then, takes the fun bits of the Godzilla movies – kick-ass monster fights and buildings getting stomped – and doesn't just change the subtext of the original idea, it reverses it. Climate change believers, eh? The sort of nutters who'll unleash monsters on the world. What we need is a monster deterrent. The Bomb is Our Friend.

And I mean, I could go on about the other ways I felt that the film is bad, like the things that happen just so plot can happen (like the part where the bad guys leave the ORCA literally lying around so Madison can steal it). Or the worse things, the misanthropic things, like the horrible way it misuses and discards great actors – Ziyi Zhang! David Strathairn! Bradley Whitford! But especially Sally Hawkins, not so much wasted as trodden on. No, I mean literally trodden on, suddenly and unceremoniously. Like, splat. It adopts some of the worst action movie tropes, like how scores of good guy soldiers die horribly, but it's still a basic win because Millie Bobby Brown is all right and… Actually, you know what, Millie Bobby Brown needs to be protected at all costs, so I'll let that one go. But! The point is, it's full of daft plot developments and ropey writing, and OK, I don't actually much mind daft plot developments and ropey writing as long as a film's heart is in the right place.
(I mean, yeah, OK, keep Millie Bobby Brown safe at all costs. Please.)
This film's heart is not in the right place. It's a callous film, one that showers us with death and doesn't really let us see the death, doesn't let us mourn. There's this one bit where they save a little boy from a town devastated by Rodan, and a bunch of other random survivors, and the focus is tight on this kid, and we're supposed to feel good that they saved him, except that he has no voice or name and when his purpose is done he's forgotten, and never mind the slaughtered majority, never mind the grief of an entire community crushed, and fried, and eaten. It's more or less exactly like Iraq/Afghanistan War propaganda: we've blown up this whole city but here is this cute kid liberated from the Saddamiban so you know this is worth doing (run along, kid! If you wind up radicalised in ten years, well that's your fault).

But time has moved on, surely? This is where cinema is, now, right?

I mean, it's not like anyone made a Godzilla movie in the last ten years where all the people on the ground are there and the basic anti-nuclear wrath-of-the-planet message was still intact, right?


His head in the sky
Have you seen Shin Godzilla (or Godzilla: Resurgence, depending on where in the world you saw it)?

I mean, that sounds like a silly question, but it came out in 2016, and even got a Western cinema release, so actually it's probably a recent Japanese Godzilla film that a non-fanatic might have seen. To be fair, it was the first Japanese Godzilla film for ages, and it signalled, as I understand it, a back to basics move for the franchise. While there's a strong case to be made that King of the Monsters is very much in keeping with the tradition of the later Godzilla movies, Shin Godzilla is a reboot of that original 1954 movie, and that means mainly that Godzilla is not a character, so much as a metaphor for radioactive disaster and a context for a human drama.

And that means that you can have a Godzilla film that doesn't have a whole lot of Godzilla in it, or at least no more than the 1954 one, which also doesn't have a whole lot of Godzilla.

This sounds a lot less fun than it is.

But Shin Godzilla is absolutely gripping, right from the start, energised with a desperate urgency, throwing this crowd of characters at you, their names and jobs written on the screen.

A disaster hits the sea near Tokyo. An inexplicable waterspout, seismic activity in impossible places. Cabinet meetings are held, ministers and civil servants discuss what to do, and meanwhile ordinary people panic. It's weird that the best, most gripping bits of a Godzilla movie are the bits where people talk about solutions in cabinet rooms and navigate law and bureaucracy to make solutions happen, but then this is sort of the point of Shin Godzilla: secret monster-containing agencies, Maverick Scientists and Lone Men Who Know The Truth aren't really equipped to fight a kaiju attack. And that's partly because none of those things exist.

Now, OK, neither do 300 foot tall radiation-vomiting monsters who chew up Tokyo, Boston and Barrow-in-Furness Bus Depot, but weirdly, kaiju are more realistic than these other things. Because kaiju can't exist, and they're uncanny, and they're coded metaphors for things that can only exist in fiction, they work in film because we know they're imaginary. The Maverick Scientist, and That One Man Who Knows the Truth, and the Top Secret Good Guy Conspiracy, they're different because if we're not careful, we'll catch ourselves wanting to believe in them, and that there are forces out there that want us to believe in them, just as we swallow the idea that ecoterrorists are a thing that exists. And in a lot of ways, they're more dangerous myths than Godzilla himself.
(And he's pretty damn dangerous, let's face it.)
Shin Godzilla, then, sets the record straight to some extent. Because if ever Godzilla/Gojira crawls out of the sea and starts chowing down on Tokyo – this time he's awoken by dumped nuclear waste, and that reference to an irresponsible nuclear industry can only recall Fukushima – it isn't going to be the Maverick Scientist or the One Man Who Knows the Truth who's going to have to deal with it. There is a Maverick Scientist, and he even had a go at stopping the creature, but although his research might be useful, he's literally dead before the show starts. It can't be him. It's not his job to fix it. No, it's up to the wonks.

And Shin Godzilla is a film about wonks doing their job, and being confused, and flailing around, and infighting and jockeying for position, and trying to figure out what the hell they're going to do about the giant monster stomping Tokyo, and how to evacuate millions of people, and where to put them when they're evacuated, and how this is going to look to the Americans (who are, inevitably, dicks about it, which anyone who's paid any attention to US foreign policy in the last thirty-odd years could tell you). The nearest thing to a hero is Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa), and he is a policy maker, a career politician who organises a task force. His goal is mainly to be PM in ten years. But he's got a job to do, and he's got a bunch of people on side. Yaguchi's ultimate (almost) defeat of Godzilla is a team effort, and his main talents are things like paying attention, and being a good manager.

I think it’s the first movie I’ve ever seen where all the goodies are in a crisis room and someone suggests to the boss he really needs a shower and gives him a fresh shirt because he is indeed getting a bit ripe. There's a bit where Ms Ogashira (Michiko Ishikawa), the Deputy Head of the Nature Conservation Bureau, figures out that Godzilla is radioactive, and everyone just laughs her off, except that a few minutes later, one of the tech guys makes this big theatrical deal of discovering that Godzilla is radioactive, and Yaguchi just says to him, "So she was right," and the guy has to apologise, and moments like that show you who you're rooting for.
("Wait. I don't have BO. Do I?")
One thing the film does loads is flash up the names of the places and characters, and tells you the character's job on the screen. It adds to the very clean, very documentary-like look of the thing, and also helps you keep track of the dizzying array of wonks and attachés. We get Yaguchi's name flashed up three times; each time he's got a new, more important job. It's a neat touch, a simple way to show us he's going places.

A character says "Who wants responsibility at a time like this?" and it's a sort of programmatic statement for the whole movie. The chain of command is clearly sketched out. A bunch of artillery is about to shoot at Godzilla. But then they see civilians. They call their CO. The CO calls the Defence Minister, the Defence Minister informs the PM, and the PM has to make the call as to whether he'll let them be in the crossfire. He tells them to stand down. And this is the right decision, and presented as that, especially since later they discover that conventional arms don't do a damn thing against Godzilla anyway. And the film's full of decisions like this, and their consequences.And yes, this means we're back with consequences. We're back with a reboot that doesn't look a whole lot like Honda's peerless classic, but which nonetheless is in its spirit.

Other characters don't get as much time, but they're just as deftly sketched. The PM and half the cabinet all die when their helicopter gets in the path of one of Godzilla's death rays, and the next in line is an agriculture minister, and he gets put under pressure by the Americans to allow them to nuke Tokyo. And nuking anywhere is a big deal. Nuking Japan? It’s utterly shocking, and the film sells this. The idea that you might drop a third nuke on Japan is utterly unconscionable, and the "oh shit" reaction from everyone who hears about it is palpable. It matters. It's the worst thing in the world. Or rather, it's the worst thing in the world apart from an invincible radioactive death-ray vomiting monster stomping your capitol. So what do you do? The acting PM signs off on it, and his immediate response is to protest that he doesn't want this to be his legacy. And that's so human. It's so right.

Godzilla: King of the Monsters has this one unintentionally terrible moment (out of the many, obviously) where a fighter pilot ejects from his ruined plane, only to be literally chomped out of the air by Rodan, and it's framed as a visual gag, and the only thing that could make it worse would be if Rodan licked his chops or something afterwards. You're supposed to laugh.

Shin Godzilla doesn't do that. People die suddenly, but it's never in favour of a joke. Near the beginning you see a family in an apartment frantically trying to get their kid ready to flee, except the next shot is of Godzilla blundering into the apartment block, and you see the split-second moment that these people all die, screaming, in terror. It is brutal, and brutal in the right way.
(Pictured: wonks.)
The various politicians and wonks fight to make sure as many people are out of danger as they can manage. They abort a whole military operation because of a lone straggler, and if you think the British or American military governments would do the same, you haven't been paying attention.

There are parts that aren't so right, but these are quibbles, surface details that don't detract so much as remind you that this is a fantasy. The idea that it's the French who get the Americans to hold off nuking Tokyo for a day to give Yaguchi and his team a chance to make their play is a bit of a stretch, inasmuch as if anyone is ever going to convince the Americans to do anything, it's not going to be France. And then there's the American Attaché to Japan (Satomi Ishihara). And she's Japanese American, and fluent in Japanese, which, OK, isn't too unbelievable, except they picked an actor whose English isn't actually very good and heavily accented, and her performance is sort of strange as a result. It takes you right out the film whenever she's on screen.

Much closer to being something more than just a surface-level performance flaw or minor script quibble is Yaguchi's plan. Essentially it involves chucking enough drone bombers at the surrounding area that Godzilla falls over and quickly squirting a paralysing poison (a "freezing coagulant") in his mouth via cranes connected to tankers full of the stuff. It's a ridiculous plan, utterly insane. And well, here's the thing: you can't beat Godzilla.

Godzilla is by his very presence a corner you can't write yourself out of. Godzilla is an aporia. Godzilla is uncanny, Lovecraftian even. In his original appearance, he's destroyed, yes, but it ends with Professor Yamane saying words to the effect of "As long as we're going to be testing atomic bombs, there's totally going to be another one of these" (and it's really that direct). In Shin Godzilla, he's the bomb and its consequences, and he's also the Fukushima accident and the consequences of that, and he's the 2011 tsunami and what happened there, and the dedicated army of bureaucrats and politicians doing their jobs are a fantasy of what people should have done and what should have happened in those real crises. That's as much a benign fantasy as the idea that you can postpone Godzilla just by drugging him. Nuking him will just make him bigger and angrier, anyway. You nuke the Kami of Nuclear Proliferation, you know what you get: you get mutually assured destruction.

In Godzilla: King of the Monsters, the fantasy is more toxic, and that's partly because they pretend it isn't: they do nuke him, and he does get bigger and angrier, and then he pays that nuke forwards, becoming a walking Ground Zero, who somehow doesn't cause all the protagonists to die of flashburns and radiation poisoning (a mistake that Ishiro Honda would never have made).

Godzilla is a goofy made-up monster that is nonetheless the symbol of something real and terrifying. Godzilla is the apocalyptic destruction we are wreaking on ourselves. Godzilla admits no reasonable solutions, only ridiculous ones. Squirting a paralysing poison into his mouth is really not a whole lot more sensible than stomping him with an Oxygen Destroyer Bomb or distracting him with an oversized packet of Chewits. And all of these solutions are temporary anyway (even the Chewits).
(Don't knock it. Apparently they're even chewier than Barrow-in-Furness bus depot.)
And a ridiculous solution is the only way Shin Godzilla can have even a semi-happy ending. Because in the real world, Godzilla is here and is not going away and he's going to doom us all. As he was in 1954, Godzilla is described in Shin Godzilla as a kami, which is almost but not exactly a god (but let's describe it as almost cognate with a "god" anyway, it's easier), a spirit of the world, except that he's the kami of mankind's destructive impulse. He's the kami of nuclear fission. He's the god of the mushroom cloud. And nothing that ever happens is Godzilla's fault, any more than it's the bomb's fault for being constructed, any more than it was Fukushima's fault for going critical, any more than it was the nuclear waste's fault for being dumped.

And to be fair, this is what keeps the film from going entirely off the rails at the end, because the solution is indeed temporary: we end with the discovery that the paralysis is not going to last. They've got no more than a few weeks before Godzilla wakes up again. They've done nothing except put off Godzilla for a bit. And it's left there.

I'll be honest, nearly everything I hated about King of the Monsters I liked in Shin Godzilla. King of the Monsters had better monsters (although the various stages of Godzilla in Shin Godzilla are pretty good), but that's it. I feel very strongly that Shin Godzilla is a much better film, if not in technical terms, in terms of its heart, in terms of the thought and care put into it. It's not perfect, and its human characters are really no less fantastical, but while one foists on us bad guys who don't exist outside of the reactionary imagination, the other shows us the ideal world fantasy of what a government should be doing, ordinary people acting in the way they would if our system worked the way we wanted it to.

In the end, though, you make your choice. Godzilla is big enough to survive whatever movie we throw at him. Possibly too big. Much too big.