Friday, June 19, 2009

Godzilla: Final Wars (aka Gojira: Fainaru uôzu) (2004)


Has any film missed the point so spectacularly as Roland Emmerich's 1998 big-budget, CG-filled Godzilla? Fans of Gojira are a forgiving lot, having watched the King Of The Monsters go from a manifestation of post-Hiroshima nuclear paranoia in the 1950s to a kid-friendly superhero in the incredibly goofy 1970s iterations, but watching Matthew Broderick run away from Jim Henson's Godzilla babies was too much for even the most forgiving Godzilla lover. Thankfully it was only a year later that the Millennium Series of Godzilla films began with Godzilla 2000, eventually culminating in Ryuhei Kitamura's Godzilla: Final Wars, at this point the final Godzilla film that has been produced.

In many ways Kitamura has a similar objective to Emmerich in his approach towards the Godzilla mythos: to combine the elements that people love about the monster (which envelops all of his eras) with high tech special effects and an interesting science fiction story to give the big guy an appropriate (if temporary) sendoff. Of course, Kitamura has a rather distinctive (derivative) style of his own, so there's plenty of The Matrix and X-Men in here for good measure. Also there are lots and lots (and lots) of monsters. Lots of 'em.


Here's the line-up:
Gigan, Kumonga, Kamacuras, Rodan, King Caesar, Angurius, Hedorah, Ebirah and ZILLA (the U.S. Godzilla who Kitamura said took the "God" out of Godzilla", and is totally CGI in this film as well).

We also get the mysterious Monster X (who might have a connection to a fan favorite monster), as well as appearances by Mothra and (sigh) Minilla.

You would be forgiven for not being able to keep all of these monsters straight, and it's hardly necessary except for fans to see some of their favorites tackle with the big green one for the last time. Unfortunately for these fans, Godzilla makes short work of his foes in nearly all encounters, and some fan favorites get a bit shorted.

But what about the story? In the future Earth is protected by the Earth Defense Force who employ the M Organization, a collection of mutants with superhuman speed and strength, to protect the world against massive threats (usually in the form of giant ridiculous animals of some sort). When several of these monsters start attacking major cities at once the EDF seems to be out-matched, until a helpful group of aliens (called Xians) beam the baddies away before landing on Earth to talk of peace and friendship and all that good stuff. The End.

Or, more accurately, they are soon revealed to be EVIL, and threaten the world with monster attacks all over the place. And not only that, they also have the ability to control all of Earth's mutants (except Ozaki, our stoic hero)! Looks like we're screwed. Except Ozaki breaks the jailed, bad-ass Captain Gordon (MMA Fighter Don Frye) out of jail to help, and he comes up with a corker of an idea: Why not wake up Godzilla to take care of the monster threat? Before you know it, it's time to Destory All Monsters, and Godzilla (let by Gordon in his Atragon ship) begins trashing anything in his path. Also, Godzilla's kid gets in some wacky adventures.


Many Godzilla purists, if you can imagine such a thing, have taken issue with Kitamura's kitchen-sink approach to Godzilla: Final Wars, and one can easily see why. While obviously a love letter to Godzilla and its history, it's also comically flashy with modern Wire-Fu and Matrixy effects in nearly every scene. Frankly, it all sometimes seems like a bit much, particularly in a Motorcycle fight scene that manages to be even more ridiculous than the one in Mission Impossible II. It's all quite entertaining, but it takes focus away from the often meandering plotline and, even worse, from the big guy that everyone has paid to see. I give Kitamura credit for trying to beef up the human story in the film, since these scenes are often the dullest parts of earlier Godzilla films, but they sometimes feel like they've dropped out of a different film completely, and grow a bit tiresome.

The monster battles, short as they might be, are really quite impressive. The suits have been re-designed to be lighter and allow more movement, and (generally) subtle CG help helps give the creatures movement and flexibility well beyond that of their initial appearances. In one memorable fight Angurius, King Ceaser and Rodan (all previously friends of Godzilla) attack the big guy at once, Angurius rolling into a ball to attack before being used as a projectile in an impromptu soccer match. Godzilla leaves his former comrades laying in a heap (literally) in a scene reminicent of the lighter battles in the 1970s Godzilla films.


In fact, Kitamura seems to have trouble deciding just how lightly he wants to take the material. There are plenty of wisecracks (mostly from Frye's Captain Gordon), and nothing is taken too seriously, but the tone is inconsistent. One scene in New York city between a police officer and a pimp is eye-rollingly bad, and the acting by english-speakers as a whole is pretty incompetent. Frye seems to be trying hard, and he has a really fun part, but he's much better at looking like a bad-ass than delivering his lines. I suppose it wouldn't be a Godzilla film if there were not at least a few unintentional laughs.

The Sony DVD of Godzilla: Final Wars features the film in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, and the film looks absolutely terrific. Kitamura was afforded a comparatively large budget for the film, and while the effects can sometimes be a little iffy, the money is definitely up on the screen. Some mention must be made of the extremely unusual soundtrack by Keith Emerson (of Emerson, Lake & Palmer). The synth soundtrack strangely brings to mind Emerson's work for Dario Argento, and is a strange match for giant monsters, but it's still certainly interesting and only occasionally distracting. There's also a rock song by Sum-41 on the soundtrack that gets pretty primo billing in the opening credits for some reason.

Special features are unfortunately rather sparse. There are trailers for Final Fantasy VII, the 50 Years Of Godzilla collection, Steamboy, Dust To Glory, Madison, and Mirrormask. As well there's 18 minutes of Behind The Scene footage which shows a few flashes of interesting material, but is unfortunately missing any narration to put the material in context. Considering that the film was made to mark Godzilla's 50th anniversary, a bit more effort would have been appreciated.


A supremely goofy and overstuffed mess of a movie, Godzilla: Final Wars still succeeds by being nearly throroughly entertaining, and by showing respect for all aspects of the series' past. Not necessarily a good place to start for those wanting to get into the films for the first time, it marks a successfuly resting spot for modern Godzilla films until the inevitable next series comes along. Flashy and fun, it's certainly worth out for fans of giant monsters and destruction.


Ash said...

I saw this film a few years ago, so my memory of it isn't the greatest, but I basically remember Don Frye and waaaaay too much focus on the human members of the cast. I barely remember any monster-smashing action.

ColinB said...

I guess I come in under the category of Godzilla purist. I remember being totally psyched when I first heard of the film. I was a big Versus fan so the idea of Kitamura directing the film had images of him using his style of action in massive monster battles. What I didn't expect was the sheer amount of cyber-ninja wackiness and as Ash said, the monster fights were fleeting and mostly forgettable.

Now here's the thing, the movie was really no worse then some of the other Godzilla movies (ironically, most involving Minilla), but this is supposedly the "Last" Godzilla movie. I thought the franchise had been a good run from Godzilla 2000 onward, so it just seemed like a horrible way to cap things off.

Doug Tilley said...

I did certainly find that the monster fights were unnecessarily abbreviated to allow for (comparatively) uninteresting human fights, but Kitamura does still bring some neat ideas to the actual monster fights. I'm glad they gave the most time to the final Monster X fight, though it really doesn't kick into high gear until *spoiler* Ghidorah appears. I do think it was a case of quantity over quality, something that Destroy All Monsters does much better, but I also think the non monster stuff is more interesting than 90% of Godzilla films, even if i'd rather be watching monster battles.

Greeku said...

Excellent Blogging. It was very thrilling to watch that movie. I have huge collections of Godzilla Toys with all different figures and styles. That monster looks damn good. Very heroic too.