GODZILLA: FINAL WARS
Pros: Balls to the wall Monster Kung-Fu Spaceship action!
Cons: They really needed some of Akira Ifukube’s themes
When you get down to it, a Godzilla movie is a lot like professional wrestling – a shameless excuse to watch two large, strangely dressed men beating the crap out of each other for two hours. Both hinge on razor thin plots that exist solely to get the characters to the next action beat, both can be extremely goofy and over-the-top, and both can be outrageously entertaining when done right. And much like the pomp and circumstance surrounding the annual Wrestlemania, Toho caps off the Godzilla series with a badass 21st century remake of Destroy All Monsters – Godzilla: Final Wars. Is it a worthy sendoff? Lets find out. . . .
We open in heated battle at the Antarctica, with the King of the Monsters pitted against the Earth Defense Force battleship Gotengo (otherwise known as the battleship Atragon) under the command of Ultimate Fighting Championship star Don Frye. The ship is a nod to old school anime, specifically Space Battleship Yamato (AKA Star Blazers), with the vaguely ocean going vessel design to the spaceship, the huge Wave Motion like gun in the bow, and even the bridge configuration screams “Homage”. Intentional or not, it’s still a cool moment.
Anyway, the Yamato – um, I mean Gotengo takes some good pounding from Godzilla before fate intervenes. A large earthquake suddenly strikes, ripping the ground asunder and sending Godzilla plunging down a bottomless pit. One quick man-made avalanche from the Gotengo later and Godzilla is sealed in an icy tomb forever.
Well, probably not forever. You can probably guess how this turns out. . . .
Fast forward to decades later, in The Near Future, where peace reigns over the globe, with only the very rare monster attack – swiftly and neatly dealt with by the EDF and their monster busting techniques. I know, human military overcoming monsters? I’m as shocked as you are.
Of course things were not meant to last, as a large group of monsters suddenly appear in major cities across the globe. Rodan leaves New York in flames, a certain American CGI generated lizard stomps Sydney flat, the spiky ankylosaur Anguirus levels Shanghai, King Caesar gets the Okinawa shift, while Kamacuras takes Paris and in a bit of overkill, a trailer in Phoenix, Arizona is crushed by the tarantula, Kumonga.
In an unexpected scene, a chemical refinery gets smashed by the giant shrimp/lobster creature Ebirah who then gets jumped by a team from the EDF – on foot, no less – and actually manage to defeat the monster! But before they can savor the victory, the shrimp suddenly vanishes. In the sky is a vaguely disco globe Death Star looking mother ship piloted by a race of aliens called the Xilians, who claim to come in peace. They saying that the large scale monster attack is just foreshadowing of a much bigger threat yet to come – the rouge planet Gorath. Although the Xilian were able to deal with the monsters, only by combining their forces with earth can they hope to overcome the new danger.
Of course, anyone even remotely familiar with a Godzilla film knows how this will turn out.
Oh no! Despite the pretense of rendering assistance to the Earthlings, are really hostile alien invaders! Gorath (a nice tip of the hat to Toho’s 1962 film Calamity Star Gorath, by the way) is a complete sham, and the Xilians use their position of stealth to take over the minds of the EDF (save for Captain Don and his crew of plucky youngsters). Outnumbered and out of options, the crew of the Gotengo head for the South Pole to unleash the only weapon left to humanity: Godzilla!
They manage to free Godzilla from his icy prison just in time to face off for round one against Gigan. In an effort to stop Godzilla from reaching Tokyo, the Xilian commander sends all his monsters (including the previously unseen Hedorah and a resurrected and cyborged-out Gigan) directly into Godzilla’s path. Much chaos and battle ensues.
Once in Tokyo, the crew of the Gotengo assaults the Xilian mother ship while Godzilla deals with the alien’s ultimate weapon: Monster X! Inside Captain Don battles vaguely Matrix looking solders and the Xilian commander, Mothra makes a quick appearance, and Monster X’s ultimate form is revealed to be . . . well that would be telling, wouldn’t it? (But if you wagered the farm on King Ghidorah, you wouldn’t lose money)
The monster fights are generally well done and exciting, if a bit on the short side – although that last part is understandable, give the cast of thousands that the film sports. And you have to admit that a non-stop parade of monsters beating the hell out of each other pings the Coolness radar more than just a bit. The scene of Godzilla vs Godzilla In Name Only brought a smile to my face (The whole fight lasted 15 seconds, tops), and the fight between the EDF and Ebirah made me all tinglely inside.
Given the non-stop monster mash, Final Wars must have cleaned up, right? Godzilla going out on a bang? Well, not exactly. The film opened December 4th 2004, coming in 3rd for that weekend, utterly crushed by the Incredibles and Miyazaki’s Howl’s Moving Castle. Eventually the film recovered 12 million at the box office, well below the 20 million dollar budget that was spent. So what went wrong?
I think the problem lies in the Ryuhei Kitamura’s inconsistent nature of the movie (bordering on schizophrenia, almost). He tries to play it seriously – the opening is a very tense, very effective scene – and then undermines it with goofy scenes of the Xillian commander throwing a temper tantrum because Godzilla just whupped one of his monsters. Ok, when you have an alien leader dressed like a member of Devo as a genre convention, you’re already treading on goofy ground. There’s no need to pump up The Wacky by including a Loony Tunes slide whistle sound effect when a characters hat gets blown off by Rodan.
I say borderline schizophrenia because while it’s a Giant Monster movie we’re watching, the fate of the movie doesn’t hang with the monsters, but with the actions of the humans. They drive the narrative forward (occasionally with long action sequences – which would be fine if they were fighting monsters instead of aliens) while the monsters are reduced to set pieces and window dressing. They’re very thrilling and well executed window dressing, but the focus is all wrong. Godzilla should not be a co-star in his own grand finale.
Oh, and this isn’t a problem that probably contributed to the downfall of the movie at the box office, but I cant let this pass without mention. The soundtrack was composed by composed by Keith Emerson – yes, of Emerson, Lake & Palmer. And no, it’s not a good score in the slightest. He may be Classic Rock’s greatest keyboardist ever, but his soundtracks suck. In fact, even more than the strange direction choices, I would say that this is the weakest portion of the movie. Not even a hint of the Godzilla theme in the end credits? The man should be flogged!
THE GODZILLA SCORECARD –
THE WINNER IS:
Going the distance for 15 rounds, the WIIIN-AH and still CHAMP-EEEEN! Godzilla! King of the Monsters!
AND NOW YOU KNOW:
After the aliens have been vanquished, both Godzilla and the humans square off, preparing to do battle. The voice of reason, strangely enough, comes from the Kenny and his friend Minilla saying that that forgiveness has to start somewhere, and that war has to stop someday. Ok, it’s cheesy as hell coming from a rubber suit and a kid in short pants, but they mean well.
THE KENNY FACTOR: 13%
Appearing early on in the movie (and for several scenes seemingly detached from the plot), there is indeed a kid in short pants who encounters Minilla and a backwoods Japanese yokel. It’s not necessarily annoying (and it does tie into the ending), but it does come from left field with a WTF?!?
THE END. . . .?
Both sides – human and monster – stand down, Godzilla lumbering back into the ocean with a change of heart (???). And of course we have the upcoming Godzila 2014, proving that you just cant keep a good kaiju down!
THE DVD –
The original DVD releases of the Millennium Era Godzilla movies, the Columbia/Tristar 50th Anniversary versions, were all plagued by a host of problems – pan and scan video on one, dubtitles on another, end credits edited out on a third – so right there getting all new, correct versions should make any kaiju fan happy. The fact that print for Final Wars looks goddamed gorgeous is a added bonus. We get a great looking 2.40:1 ratio transfer that’s rock solid on all levels, from color to clarity. We also get a crystal clear remastered soundtrack with both the original Japanese and the International dub – both in 5.1 surround sound.
THE EXTRAS –
We get a double feature with Final Wars of 2003’s Godzilla: Tokyo SOS (AKA Godzilla × Mothra × Mechagodzilla: Tokyo SOS), and along with the movies, we get a download code for your very own digital copy. We get the original theatrical trailer, and some B-Roll footage from behind the scenes – always fun to watch a man sized Godzilla stomp about a studio set.
Would it be better if we got Godzilla Historian commentary like we did on the Classic Media discs? Perhaps a franchise retrospective from the last 50 years? Of course – but honestly, this is way more stuff than I was expecting. Hell, Toho wouldn’t allow Media Blasters to put a front end menu screen on their release of Destroy All Monsters!
THE LAST WORD –
When you get right down to it, a Godzilla movie doesn’t need to be realistic or exceptionally deep, it just needed to be entertaining. With wall-to-wall monster action, high flying kung fu, mutant armies, gun battles, aliens dressed like Devo, sword fights and flying battleships. To that end, Godzilla: Final Wars delivers the entertaining in spades. Is it the best Godzilla movie in the canon? Naw, but it’s still a hell of a sendoff!
I give it 4 out of 5 Devo-like Aliens