I snuck out to see Godzilla Minus One (which I have been quite excited about for a while) and it might be the best movie I’ve seen this year. I realise that’s a fairly bold claim, plus I can’t really remember which other movies came out in 2023 (the whole 202x timeframe is a bit blurry), but it certainly blows any recent Marvel/DC blockbuster effort out the water.
SPOILERS FROM HERE ON OUT SO HERE’S THE TRAILER - LOOK AWAY IF YOU HAVEN’T SEEN IT
It’s more war story than monster movie and yet, set at a time when Japan had literally been throwing its citizens lives into the war effort, it’s very much a story about choosing to live, choosing to survive. It’s shot in lots of muted earth tones, most of the movie takes part in the months after WWII and in areas of Tokyo that were levelled by air raids, the inhabitants all dealing with survivor guilt (and the trauma of just figuring out how to survive with nothing), and then finding community and family wherever they can. It definitely tilts more toward Saving Private Ryan than Pacific Rim. It’s these sections, set in the days between the Godzilla attacks that really get you, really make it all count. The criticism of the Japanese and US governments not standing up to the challenge, and the resulting self-organisation of the people who take on Godzilla (and their frankly too-good-for-a-Godzilla-movie plot to get rid of the beast) are all more resonant because by the end everyone (with one notable exception) has already made the choice to fight in order to live, and you’ve seen the how and why of those choices.
Having T-rex sized proto-Godzilla show up early on was interesting, particularly as it’s movement and appearance are much more Jurassic Park (or 90s Ferris Bueller Godzilla?) than the classic Toho man-in-suit - it’s almost like they’re winking at the audience slightly, saying, “yeah, we know the world moved on”. When the big fella arrives he’s a mountain, ponderous and weighty and unstoppable. He plods in the old way (there are a couple of shot-for-shot nods to old Toho movies), and then he lashes out in ways that the man-in-suit never could and it’s glorious. And the atomic breath finally lives up to it’s billing here.
Yeah, there are a few dodgy CG particle effects here and there (there’s a lot of ocean in this movie) but it looks fabulous. The fact it’s a tenth of the budget of the average Marvel flick doesn’t show at all. And a lot of the shots in the movie must have been FX - the depiction of mid-40s Japan on-screen is utterly seamless.
But the look and direction are secondary to some amazing performances and a genuinely good plot. It’d be a great movie without the word Godzilla in the title. I always think the sign of a good film is whether or not you’re still thinking about it the next day. It’s been two days and the film (and the original Godzilla theme which they use liberally throughout) have been living in my brain rent free.
Loved it. It doesn’t need a sequel, but if they do one, I’m there.