By Bob Grimm
I’m enjoying the new Godzilla TV show, Monarch: Legacy of Monsters, on Apple TV+. (Kurt Russell is god.) The new Godzilla x Kong trailer, the preview for the next overblown Godzilla film from Legendary Entertainment, looks OK.
But nothing in the Godzilla realm beats what is currently playing in movie theaters, the absolutely marvelous Godzilla Minus One.
The latest from Toho Studios, this Japanese film—the 33rd Godzilla movie from the studio—set right after World War II is not only the best Godzilla movie ever made; it’s one of the best monster movies I’ve ever seen. Godzilla is as terrifying as ever; the acting and underlying story are first-rate; and the message about the aftermath of war and dealing with our internal fears is done astonishingly well.
Godzilla has always been depicted in varied ways. There have been the campy efforts, like the color man-in-suit Godzilla films from the 1960s and ’70s, and Roland Emmerich’s goofy 1998 American effort. There’s also been semi-serious fare like the original 1954 movie and Gareth Edwards’ 2014 reboot that got the ball rolling on Godzilla and his cronies in the modern era.
Godzilla Minus One is a real movie, with real heart and real scares. Every time Godzilla shows up in this movie, it’s a cinematic event like no other. My mouth was agape, and I stopped breathing at times. In short: He freaked me out!
A failed kamikaze pilot (Ryunosuke Kamiki) named Koichi makes a pitstop on a remote island after the war, and falsely says his plane needs repairs. Shortly after his arrival, an angry-as-all-hell Godzilla comes ashore at night and destroys the military outpost. Koichi returns home to his ruined homeland, where he befriends a single mother (Minami Hamabe) and tries to piece his life back together.
Nope. Godzilla isn’t done with Koichi—and he’s got some city-destroying to do. The film is as much an allegorical look at postwar Japan as it is a monster horror show. Both elements work supremely well, making this a nuanced, balanced kaiju movie few people could’ve been expecting.
This is not a film where there’s any question whether Godzilla is good or bad—he’s a complete asshole in this movie, a deranged dick of a monster whose destructive path leaves no questions. The world set off nuclear bombs; they’ve woken his ass up; he’s going to annihilate anything in his path.
Godzilla’s CGI look in this movie has a hint of that classic “man in suit” appearance at times. That’s not to say he looks goofy; he just has a posture at times, when he’s sort of strolling, that like old-school Godzilla. That changes when he goes into action, when he’s just plain pointy, ugly and gross. His atomic breath, his bowel-shaking roar and that whipping tail are all put to full effect in this movie. He feels like he could rip through the screen.
Here’s the kicker: This movie cost a reported $15 million to make. It cost less than 10 percent of 2014’s Godzilla (not even adjusted for inflation), while Godzilla: King of the Monsters cost about $200 million in 2019. Wow, Hollywood, that’s something to scratch your head about, because this $15 million movie looks better than any of those films, and the writing is far superior.
Godzilla Minus One is now the gold standard for kaiju movies, the one by which all future and past films will be judged. This is an instant classic.