Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)
Written by Danny Toth
Godzilla turned 50. Cool new toys stocked the shelves in Japan and the US alike. An awesome as hell video game swarmed the popular modern game systems. He got his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Festivals and parades celebrating a half-century of the leviathan covered the streets of Las Angels. Films were being released overseas in their original Japanese languages and prints (as well as an uncut, un-Burred GODZILLA from 1954 I was fortunate enough to see in a theater) on DVD. The party was in full-swing. All that was needed now was a film to put the icing on the cake.
To do this, Toho placed the biggest budget for a kaiju film on the table, and carelessly nudged it over to cult film director Ryuhei Kitamura (known for action-packed, plot-less films VERSUS and AZUMI). He was the most popular filmmaker in Japan, and planned on leaving for Hollywood soon. Everyone was thrilled to hear this news and figured this 50th anniversary Godzilla spectacle would be a grand epic.
Cult film directors do have the ability to make great epics. Sam Raimi (EVIL DEAD I & II, ARMY OF DARKNESS) did a splendid job on the two SPIDER-MAN films. Peter Jackson (DEAD ALIVE) wowed audiences with THE LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy and, most recently, a modern remake of KING KONG. Perhaps Toho kept all that in mind.
GODZILLA: FINAL WARS was to be the DESTROY ALL MONSTERS of our generation. It packed in 15 monsters to ravage the world over (including Godzilla’s American incarnation and the mysterious “Monster X”), many which haven’t been on screen since the 1960s or 70s, was scored by American rock artist Keith Emerson, and starred many names popular in the Japanese media (oh, and professional fighter Don Frye). This was the formula for an instant success.
Yeah…that’s what we all thought.
Truth is, FINAL WARS is a far cry from what I would expect for G’s 50th birthday, or any Godzilla film in general. The first twenty minutes or so are promising enough, but the movie quickly takes a nose dive into the realm of pointless.
Here’s the plot in a nutshell:
Godzilla is trapped in ice (ala GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN). Humans and mutants form an Earth Defense Force to keep the planet safe from monsters. The Gigan mummy is found. Monsters attack the world. Monsters go away because of fashionable aliens (X!). People love the aliens and want an alliance with them. Aliens are evil. People die. An hour long motorcycle scene happens. The new X leader releases all the monsters again. Big American colonel says he wants to get Godzilla out of the ice to kill all of the monsters after being trapped for 40 years.
The survivors take the warship Gotengo and get G. G awakes, fights monsters, heads for Tokyo. Survivors board alien mothership. They talk and talk and talk. Godzilla and Mothra struggle with an improved Gigan and this “Monster X.” Humans and aliens fight. Humans and aliens still fight. Godzilla fights. Mutant and alien fight for the longest, longest time. Godzilla fights a bit. Mutant and alien fight for even longer…and longer…and longer. Humans defeat aliens. “Monster X” briefly becomes Kaiser Ghidorah, an over-the-top version of G’s three-headed foe. Godzilla wins after a battle that lasts a few minutes. Everyone meets up with each other. Godzilla and Minya go home.
So…keeping up with me?
FINAL WARS is extremely fast-paced. But this isn’t a strong point. Way, way too much time is spent on the humanoid characters we care little about. When one is killed off, we feel no sadness because development was so damn poor. Don Frye, though being acclaimed critically, is nothing when compared to the likes of Nick Adams (although I own a movie called COLLINSVILLE II, which has a sheriff who makes Frye seem like James Stewart). The plot…though pretty much laid out a paragraph or so earlier, is thin at best. What is explained is not explained in terms you can understand. Things happen that have no relation to anything else.
The monster scenes, though, are very impressive. What we actually do get to see with the real stars of the film doesn’t let you down. Rodan looks real good, especially compared to when we last saw him in 1993. Kumonga is a fun monster to watch (which is only for a few minutes). Ebirah shows up in an awesome showdown at a power plant. Angilas, who we haven’t seen since 1974, is an awe-inspiring addition to the roster. The brief scene with Manda is a visual masterpiece. Even King Seesar is pretty cool, though I wish we would’ve seen more of him. I even enjoyed seeing the American Godzilla rip apart Sydney (and eating punks!).
However, even the monster footage has its flaws. Godzilla, being it his 50th birthday and all, just doesn’t get nearly enough screen time as he should. Mothra, though looking the most realistic she has ever looked, doesn’t make much of an impact like she’s supposed to. Hedorah, the Smog Monster, has less screen time than Baragon did in DESTROY ALL MONSTERS.
Despite having an awesome as hell update for 2004, Gigan made a unsatisfying return. All that trouble to make him look cool, and the monster suffers two deaths (that’s right…two) because he doesn’t know how to make good choices in battle. He didn’t really have a chance to be imposing. Now, the Kamakaris is hard to discuss. The CGI mantis looks good. However, the prop used for the monster fails to even achieve the realism of the ones from 1967.
Is that everyone? No.
You can’t have a Godzilla bash without King Ghidorah. So, a new version called Kaiser Ghidorah is introduced after “Monster X” mutates. Trust me…it was more vicious and cooler looking in its early stages. Kaiser Ghidorah is extremely bulky, almost immobile, and shows up too late to be considered the “final foe”. Running on four legs may have worked with the Death Ghidorah in MOTHRA (1996), but this Kaiser Ghidorah, with his limited screen time and useless wings, just doesn’t cut it. An easily forgettable kaiju, if you’d ask me. But, on a positive note, seeing “Monster X” become Kaiser Ghidorah was an impressive moment.
Now…as for production value; GFW has some real nice sets. Designs for pretty much everything looked great. A lot of eye candy, but it’s just too much sweeter than it needs to be (not the good kind of sweet though). Kyle Cooper’s (SPIDER-MAN I & II, SEVEN) opening title sequence truly fits the occasion, with the exception of him putting his name on longer than any other credit. However, it is my complaint that too much of the budget was wasted on location (like the New York pimp vs. cop skit), sets, unbearably long motorcycle scenes, and ripping off STAR WARS, INDEPENDENCE DAY, X-MEN, and, mostly, THE MATRIX. This detracted from all of the good monster scenes they could’ve made longer and better.
Music wise, Keith Emerson does an on-par job here. Although he collaborated with two Japanese composers in this project, he is topped billed in the musical score. Oddly enough, it fits well with the film, and is how I’ve always envisioned a modern Godzilla film score to be. To be honest, I have the soundtrack and I listen frequently…more than I choose to watch the film itself. But…for poo-poo, American pop/rock band Sum 41 were allowed to write a song for GFW. I hate Sum 41, but wasn’t too mad when I heard this news, since it gets Godzilla out more into American heads. But, I was pretty pissed when the song was roaring when Godzilla wastes the US kaiju. All that waiting and wanting to see it happen…it lasts but a few brief seconds (literally) and has that shitty song blaring in the background. What a disappointment.
Back to the acting; slow, okay in a few spots, and off guard are a few ways to put it. The only great performances are from either veterans of the series, or from the enemy Alien X. The young Xillian controller is a real riot. Stomping his feet and yelling like a little kid whenever he loses a monster to Godzilla is quite amusing to watch. He perfects his role and overplays his part, having fun with it rather than taking it seriously. Laughing at others’ misfortune, being cocky, and referring to humans as “domestic animals” all make him the most noteworthy actor in the whole film. Got to love ‘em.
In conclusion, FINAL WARS just didn’t work for me. Too much was focused on what the film shouldn’t have been about. I even paid $30 for the four-disc set with all those cool special features and the soundtrack (from Video Daikaiju, none other), and felt a bit let down. Even so…I’m a film buff and a die-hard Godzilla fanatic, so I have no intentions on getting rid of it. But yeah…the soon-to-be Mrs. Toth and I watched it together when I first got it, and ended up shutting it off about a third of the way through to watch Weird Al’s UHF. Let’s just say she found UHF a lot more stimulating than FINAL WARS. In truth, GODZILLA: TOKYO S.O.S. is the 50th anniversary movie, and GFW was made to cash in on it. Godzilla should’ve taken a year off so TOKYO S.O.S. would’ve had a bigger budget (although the film as it is was nothing but great fun) so it can get the respect it deserves in the first place.
Oh well. Not all special occasion films can be as good as promised.
Written by Danny Toth