In Tokyo Bay, a pleasure boat is found drifting with none of the crew or passengers aboard, and the authorities wonder what has happened to them as they investigate, finding no signs of life other than a pair of glasses or an origami flower, raising more questions than answers. As the boat is scoured, suddenly a loud explosion is sounded in the water, a plume of foam about a hundred feet high, and in the nearby underground tunnel there is a breach in the roof that causes it to be immediately closed. An emergency government meeting is held to discuss this matter, but one voice is not listened to, that of Rando Yaguchi (Hiroki Hasegawa), who is convinced a sea creature is the culprit...
Considering the title of this, you would be correct in imagining this was indeed a monster movie, but Shin Godzilla (originally Shin Gojira, naturally, meaning New or God Godzilla) had bigger fish to fry than settling for mayhem on an unprecedented scale, for it was taking aim at more targets than simply a giant lizard that crawls from the sea and starts smashing up Tokyo. Just as the atomic bombs that struck Japan were the impetus for the first Godzilla in 1954, another nuclear-based calamity was on the mind of this, the 2011 earthquake that almost caused a power station to explode, and was still struggling to be contained by the authorities at the time this was released.
The Fukushima disaster, which although could have been worse was still pretty contaminating, showed up the powers that be in Japan as a bunch of know-nothing bureaucrats for many of the disgruntled populace in the Land of the Rising Sun, and this film was one of the highest profile takedowns of that mindset. Actually, director Hideaki Anno, who had made his name with the highly successful Neon Genesis Evangelion franchise back in the nineties, was so keen to score political points that Shin Godzilla proved extremely divisive, since many fans of the series, of which this was the official Toho Studios reboot, wanted their beloved giant lizard wreaking havoc and nothing but for two hours.
So when they got, say, about a quarter hour, twenty minutes of the big guy doing so and the rest was a combination of satirical and earnest message-making with the non-monstrous characters having heated, Aaron Sorkin-style discussions in boardrooms, that was not what they had in mind when they were more entranced by Destroy All Monsters or Godzilla vs The Smog Monster, or even the more recent Toho outings of the nineties cycle. On the other hand, if what you wanted were those intelligent conversations where problem solving was judged more important than the public relations engine, then you would get a whole lot more out of this, especially as it was a Godzilla work that took itself, and its creature, as seriously as many fans would be wont to take it unprompted by the tone of these films themselves.
If you wanted the villain (and he was back to being the bad guy) toppling buildings and firing off his death ray, you got that too, with interesting variations as he started off emerging from the sea as a malformed abomination complete with mad, staring eyes and an oddly revolting design, then managed to evolve into the Godzilla we all knew. Or rather, the Godzilla with the new design, again sort of disgusting in its texture and a mean look in its eyes, intended to make him scary again; it was almost entirely CGI for the first time in a Toho movie - the two previous Hollywood efforts had used that to render their beasts - though curiously made to look rubbery in keeping with tradition, the effect genuinely strange and even unsettling. That was when he was on the screen, for as mentioned there was an abundance of Yaguchi trying to persuade his peers and elders of the correct manner to go about neutralising a menace that could evolve into something even worse if they do not stop it. If Shin Godzilla didn't quite come off, it was a brave try at finding a novel approach. Music by Shiro Sagisu.