Director: Ryuhei Kitamura
The reason why Godzilla film #28 is called ‘Godzilla: Final Wars’ is because Toho decided that this was going to be the last Godzilla movie they were going to make in a while. Reportedly, when Toho released Godzilla: Final Wars in 2004 their plan was to stop making Godzilla movies for 10 whole years; so this was going to be the last Godzilla movie at least until 2014-15 or something. Godzilla was going to go into hibernation so to speak. So of course Godzilla: Final Wars had to be extra special. After all, it was with this film that they were commemorating Godzilla’s 50th anniversary since his first appearance in Gojira (1954)! So this film was a “see you later” to Godzilla, at least until he is resurrected again for a new era of films, because lets face it, nothing is going to stop Godzilla from reemerging.
Godzilla is resurrected from an icy grave
On Final Wars giant monsters are attacking cities from all over the world. They are popping up in places like New York , Australia and Shanghai , but have no fear! By now, humans are so accustomed to being attacked by giant monsters (hey, it’s been 28 movies after all!!) that they’ve created their own anti-monster unit called The Earth Defense Force or ‘EDF’ for short. This unit is made up of genetically enhanced humans that have special abilities like augmented strength and agility. These ‘mutants’ have been born and raised to protect the earth against monsters, which keep popping up all over the place. Why are so many of these creatures suddenly appearing in different countries? Could it have something to do with the alien spaceship that’s hovering around Japan ?
So this was to be a special Godzilla movie because it was the 50th anniversary of Godzilla and it was going to be last Godzilla film in a while, so Toho wanted to go out with a bang. The result is this huge monster bash, where practically every monster that Godzilla has ever fought shows up! This sort of thing where a bunch of monsters show up in a single Godzilla film had been done before in a Godzilla film called Destroy all Monsters! (1968). By the way, the story for Godzilla: Final Wars is extremely similar to Destroy All Monsters, right down to having mind controlling aliens as part of the plot. On Final Wars, the aliens are called Xillians, and like most aliens in Godzilla films, at first they seem benign then they end up being evil. As I continue watching Godzilla movies I’ve come to the realization that somehow an alien race always ends up appearing on these films. This angle of alien spaceships controlling the giant monsters is something that Hollywoodhas always tried to avoid in their attempts at making Godzilla films. Director Jan De Bont (Speed, Twister) was going to include Aliens on his proposed Godzilla film, but that film never came to be. I guess Hollywood considers this angle too cheesy.
The director of this film is Ryuhei Kitamura, the director behind Versus (2000), Alive (2002) and one of my favorite horror films from 2008, the hugely underrated Midnight Meat Train (2008). I’ve seen enough of his films to know that he loves manga style action, in other words, nothing that adheres to reality. His films are always filled with comic book style action and fights, lots of characters striking poses and trying to look cool; Godzilla: Final Wars was no exception. The Earth Defense Force is composed of these mutants that love to have Matrix-style fights that take up way to much time in the film. Actually, this would be a good time to mention that this film focuses a hell of a lot more on the humans and their matrix style fights then on the monster fights. A really good Godzilla film will try and have both a good storyline for the humans, while at the same time including good monster fights, playing a nice balancing act between the two; but never forgetting that the main reason why people have put their butts in the movie theater is to see big monsters fighting! Did Final Wars achieve this?
Well, yes and no. On the monster side of things, we do get tons of monsters on this film. A lot of them had been absent from Godzilla films for years and years, so I’m guessing Godzilla fans must have been truly excited to see all these old monsters reappearing on the big screen. Unfortunately, their appearances are really short as are the fights between the creatures. Again, the film seemed more focused on ripping off The Matrix. Just when you think you’re going to get a good monster fight sequence, bam, the film cuts back to the aliens and the mutants doing their best Neo impersonation. And speaking of impersonating characters from The Matrix, one of this films major faults is that they spend too much time with Matrix style fights! This is something I’ve noticed about Godzilla movies, they always seem to rip off some Hollywood film. For example Godzilla vs King Gihdora (1991) has a Terminator style cyborg infused into its storyline, Godzilla vs. Mothra: the Battle for Earth (1992) has an Indiana Jones type of character. Actually that one has a whole sequence that was lifted form Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom , almost shot for shot! On Final Wars, the director was sucking both of the Wachowski brothers dicks. You know how in The Matrix neo stops bullets mid-air with the power of his mind? Well on Final Wars one of the characters stops laser beams in mid-air with the power of his mind! Filmmakers behind Godzilla films need to remember, we came to watch big monsters brawl, everything else is secondary! But not on this one, on this one the director wanted to show how well he could direct action and fight sequences. And to be honest, the film does have some nifty action sequences in it For example, we get an extended motorcycle chase sequence that stands out. While watching it, I couldn’t help but notice how many shots the director stole directly from John Woo films. That motorcycle sequence reminded me of scenes from John Woo’s Hard Target (1993) and Hard Boiled (1992).
The thing about some of these Godzilla films is that the human side of the story isn’t very well developed, humans have at times been reduced to mere by standers who stand in awe at the big monsters fighting, others will involve humans into the plot line a bit more. Often times the human side of the story is badly acted or written and you cant wait for it to be over so you can get to the monsters fighting. On this one, we get The Earth Defenders going up against the beasties, which I have to admit was a pretty original idea. Sadly, we only get to see the Earth Defense Force fight against a monster once in the whole movie. You’d think that the director would take the opportunity to have them go up against Godzilla himself or something. Personally, I would have loved that! To unite the human side of the story with the monsters instead of having them act as separate entities, the way it happens in most of these Godzilla movies. Even though the Earth Defense Force doesn’t directly go up against Godzilla, at least the filmmakers had a cool concept to play with this time around. I haven’t seen all of the Godzilla movies, but I’d say that this was a pretty novel approach. I just wish they’d taken it further!
Since this is the last Godzilla movie in a while, I thought it would be only natural to compare how Godzilla started out like in way back in Gojira (1954) and how he is in his latest and most modern incarnation in Godzilla: Final Wars (2004), a pitting of the old vs. the new. I guess the biggest change between the two is the tone of the films. With it’s dark shadowy look and the ominous quality with which the creature was handled, the original Godzilla was closer to a horror film. The monster was kept in the shadows and had an evil aura to it. These new movies seem so bright and colorful in comparison. Not to mention that Gojira played its storyline pretty straight, a trait I enjoy from the older Godzilla movies. Even though with Gojira director Ishiro Honda was making a movie with a potentially silly premise, he treated Godzilla with a modicum of seriousness. He knew the premise was cheesy, but he directed a film that took itself seriously. When compared to the old films, these newer films feel more like a Manga or a comic book come to life. A lot of these newer films don’t take themselves too seriously; Final Wars is a good example of that and that aint a bad thing in my book. I enjoy both styles of Godzilla, the more serious one seen in Gojira and the more comic book style films we see today. It’s interesting to see the changes in tone and structure that these films have gone through across the years. But by far, for me anyways, this is one of the coolest looking Godzilla's. Very agile, he looks lean and strong when compared to the suits used in the older films.
Finally, there was only one thing that I absolutely despised about Final Wars. I’m talking about the inclusion of ‘Manilla’, a.k.a. ‘Godzuki’, a.k.a. Godzilla’s son. Jeezus, this to me is the one and only Godzilla character I genuinely loath. Final Wars is the first time I’ve ever seen Manilla in action, but I gotta tell ya, the first impression is that it looks too freaking silly. It’s so obvious that it only exists to sell toys to kids. In Final Wars, the character doesn’t even figure into the story properly! In fact all of the scenes involving Manilla seem to have been squeezed into the film at the last moment. All he does is drive around with an old man and his grandson until the end, when he finally does something. Manilla’s scenes with the old man and the kid completely take you out of the movie! Some cool monster fight is happening, and suddenly we cut back to Manilla, the little kid and the old man driving around their pick up truck. I didn’t enjoy this character or his scenes at all; he could have easily been exorcised from the film. But I guess, since they wanted to bring in as many Godzilla characters as possible into this 50th Anniversary film, then that’s why we are forced to see the little monstrosity. But aside from that, this movie is a fun watch. It is every bit as over the top and fast paced as you’d expect a Godzilla movie to be. It borrows heavily from everywhere, Hollywood , Chinese Cinema, and even older Godzilla movies like Invasion of the Astro-Monster (1965), in which the earth is also threatened by evil aliens and their dirty tricks. By the way, that’s the next Godzilla film I will be reviewing, be on the look out for that review!