A few years ago the tokusatsu masterpiece Shin Godzilla reinvigorated and reinvented that franchise, delivering a very different kind of Godzilla movie that not only completely reimagined the monster and gave him his most visually impressive outing in a non-Hollywood film, but reframed the narrative as well. The story explored Japan’s response to disaster, slyly poking fun at bureaucracy and ultimately having the crisis handled not by government officials, but by a team of “freaks and geeks” uniquely able to come up with fresh approaches. It’s easily one of the greatest Godzilla films and probably my personal favorite — and I’ve seen most them.

Shin Godzilla has received a spiritual follow-up, getting play at this year’s Fantasia Festival and New York Asian Film Festival, with the similarly rebooted Shin Ultraman from the same creatives, and it’s by all reports fantastic.

But that’s not the movie I’m reviewing today.

The new sci-fi comedy What To Do With The Dead Kaiju? takes that clever theme of bureacratic limitations that Shin Godzilla so wonderfully explored, and absolutely smears the wall with it: The people in charge are hopelessly inept, endlessly quarrelsome, reliably self-interested, and unfathomably, irredeemably stupid.

The film plays almost like a sequel to your typical kaiju movie, picking up where it left off: an enormous Godzilla-esque monster has rampaged across Japan, razing cities and leaving disaster and despair in his wake before finally being killed in a deus ex machina plot device.

Now after the initial relief of the monster’s passing, it’s time to figure out what the heck to do with its gigantic, decomposing corpse.

The government officials tasked with figuring it out, though, definitely aren’t up to the job, consumed with warring opinions and objectives. Some are concerned only with the optics, trying to spin a PR win. Others want to preserve the unique specimen, not so much for science as to monetize it for tourism. All are consumed with first claiming, then refusing responsibility as the outlook veers from good to bad.

At its best, the film can be very funny and clever. There’s nothing subtle about the pathetic bureaucrats and their petty, self-serving ways, but it’s certainly amusing to see them react to varying and worsening emergencies, sometimes so stupidly that their dialogue elicits hearty chuckles.

After rushing to declare the deceased kaiju safe and give it the PR-driven name of HOPE instead of something appropriate like Megasaur or Spikezilla (or even something neutral like naming a hurricane), it’s soon clear that the rotting, bloating corpse is swelling with — and emitting — toxic gas. But it’s a disagreement among reports of whether the gas smells like feces or vomit that dominates national headlines, culminating in a press conference to address the question.

Unfortunately the film cashes in on the goodwill it builds in the first half, with an overly long runtime, diminishing sense of fun, and a deeply unsatisfying ending. The smartness and hilarity of the satire soon wears off and the characters are so farcically moronic throughout the too-long film that the joke not only wears thin, devolving to “pee-pee poo-poo” level sophistication, but also veers into some weird unreality. For example, it’s toward the latter half of the movie that the experts have the idea of transporting the corpse to the ocean. I’m no expert but it seems to me that would be, literally, the most obvious approach, and among the first ideas that any group of people, even really dumb people, would come up with.

In contrast to the bumbling ineptitude of the “experts”, the film does have appreciation for the boots on the ground, making it clear that it’s these characters who have a much better grasp on reality and how to best address the various crises and nuances of the situation (the smartest person in the entire movie is an ill-mannered demolitions guy with dreadlocks).

Overall I found the film somewhat disappointing after a promising start. It’s smart in some respects, but not as smart as it thinks it is — or at least, tries to be. As a fan of kaiju movies, this is a unique one and I’m glad to have it under my belt, but it’s not one I’ll ever feel compelled to return to.

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