In today’s postmodern world it seems that fans have more power than ever. If a trend goes viral on a forum or comment section, it is not unusual for producers to take notice. A good example of this occurred in 2012 when director Michael Bay announced that his reboot of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles would depict the turtles as aliens. The announcement was met with vicious reactions as fans criticized Bay for tampering with Turtles mythology. These complaints did not go unnoticed. In 2013 Bay stated that the Turtles would not be aliens and would instead be their traditional mutant, reptilian forms. If fans want something, creators can comply. However, granting the wishes of fans may not always have good results.
In a way, Shin Godzilla is a very respectful Godzilla film, as it consists of many familiar motifs from previous films. Although some fans thought that these references from the classic Godzilla weakened the film, it is for this reason I think the 2014 reboot is stronger than Toho’s 2016 attempt.
I’m not going to argue that the 2014 version is a flawless masterpiece and the Toho version is mediocre. I believe both films have their strengths and weaknesses, but I will argue that in terms of story, character and originality, 2014’s Godzilla is the better film.
2014's Characters Are More Relatable
Writing a monster film must be difficult, as the only appeal of the genre is watching giant creatures destroy cities. How do you make an emotionally engaging narrative with compelling characters when all the audience wants is monster action? You need a story and human characters because if you show nothing but monsters, the audience will get bored very quickly. So, any monster film that even attempts to get the audience invested in the characters deserves some degree of credit.
The characters in Godzilla, while a little two-dimensional, have desires and weaknesses. Joe Brody, played by Bryan Cranston, is a particularly compelling character. He is a man traumatized by the loss of his wife and is obsessed with finding out the cause of the power plant disaster that took her. While the other characters aren’t as compelling, you understand Brody’s motivation and pain and empathize with him.
The characters in Shin Godzilla do not seem to have any weaknesses or personal desires. I am aware the film is supposed to be a parody of Japanese bureaucracy, hence the reason why characters’ desires are more political than emotional. While I can imagine Japanese audiences are familiar with their country’s politics, Western audiences that are used to narratives driven by humans' wants and desires wouldn’t be as engaged. So, in terms of characters I think Godzilla is more effective.
2014's Story Is More Original
It should be noted that Shin Godzilla does contribute some originality as a complete reboot of the series, ignoring even the first film from 1954 and showing the most radical and most terrifying design of Godzilla himself. The film’s premise however is reminiscent of many previous films. The plot depicts the government and military’s efforts to destroy Godzilla. This is the premise of the 1954 original, the 1985 reboot and the 1998 American version.
2014’s premise is a little more creative. The plot involves two brand new monsters, the MUTOs, rampaging across the world to reach San Francisco to breed. Meanwhile, Godzilla emerges and follows the beasts, fighting them to the death and restoring order to nature. With the extra monsters, the film has more tension and conflict. Shin Godzilla may be original in design and continuity terms, but by conceiving and showing its own monsters I think the 2014 version displays more creativity.
Shin Uses Too Much Stock Music And Sound Effects
This is where Shin Godzilla’s loyalty to tradition has a relatively negative impact. The new soundtrack for the film composed by Shiro Sagisu is incredible; it conveys a deep feeling of dread and terror. It’s the perfect music to play over Godzilla’s rampage. The soundtrack also includes some songs composed by Akira Ifukube from the first few Godzilla movies. These are not remakes or updated versions, but the original recordings of the songs. Shin should be complemented for including some of Ifukube’s music, as his compositions were vital to Godzilla’s cinematic identity.
Unfortunately, Ifukube’s tracks feel very out of place in the film next to Sagisu’s recent tracks. Hearing music that was literally recorded in the '50s in a film made in 2016 makes for an awkward viewing experience. Alexandre Desplat’s score for the 2014 version, while not as memorable as Sagisu’s, is completely original. None of Desplat’s music is undermined by out-of-date recordings of songs.
Godzilla’s roar is treated similarly in Shin. Once again, the film deserves credit for paying homage to the 1954 film, but hearing an old sound effect come from the mouth of a modern, digital puppet doesn’t make for a convincing effect. Godzilla’s roar in the 2014 film is a new, updated version. It undoubtedly sounds like Godzilla, but at the same time sounds more natural and organic than previous versions.
Depending on what lens you view the films with, you will find strengths and weaknesses. In terms of political commentary, Shin Godzilla is the better film. In terms of action, Godzilla is the best. Through this lens however, considering the characters, stories and soundscape, I think 2014’s Godzilla is the strongest film.
Which film do you think is the best? Let me know with a comment!