GODZILLA KING OF THE MONSTERS #29: GODZILLA: FINAL WARS [2004]

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HCF REWIND NO. 212: GODZILLA: FINAL WARS AKA GOJIRA: FAIMARU WOZU [Japan 2004]

AVAILABLE ON DVD

FEATURED MONSTERS: GODZILLA, MINILLA, RODAN, MOTHRA, GIGAN, HEDORAH, ANGUIRUS. EBIRAH, KING CAESER, ZILLA, MANDA, KUMONGA, KAMACURAS, KING GHIDORAH, MONSTER X

RUNNING TIME: 126 min

REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic

 

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In 2004, The Earth Defense Force, which includes mutants with special abilities, is created to protect Earth against all the monsters that are ravaging it. Its best combat vehicle, the Gotengo, corners Godzilla at the South Pole and buries him under the Antarctic ice, freezing him alive. Forty years later, the EDF is is still battling monsters. Mutant soldier Shinichi Ozaki and UN biologist Dr. Miyuki Otonashi are sent to research a mummified space monsters. The Shobijin, Mothra’s tiny twin fairies, reveal that the monster is Gigan, an alien cyborg sent to destroy Earth 12,000 years earlier but driven away by Mothra. Suddenly, kaiju appear and attack major cities before aliens called Ziliens make them disappear. They warn that an asteroid called Gorath is headed for Earth….

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A great many fans despise Godzilla: Final Wars, though I think it’s a blast. It’s essentially a semi-remake of both Invasion Of Astro Monster and Destroy All Monsters, but with elements of some American films especially The Matrix, all done in a flashy music video style which is very different to the old-school style of virtually other Godzilla film [the only other two which deviate from the usual style are Godzilla Vs Hedorah and especially Godzilla Vs Biollante]. It’s understandable how many fans don’t like the approach, while the film is clearly made by a director who doesn’t have much love for Godzilla even if it was made by Toho as a celebration of their kaiju output to celebrate Godzilla’s 50th birthday, but it’s so damn entertaining that for much of its length its problems don’t matter too much, and how can a kaiju fan not like a movie which has fifteen monsters [beating Destroy All Monsters], many of whom are creatures who haven’t been seen on screen since their debut films. Yes, fifteen monsters, a fact which doesn’t make the two hour plus running time [far more than any other Godzilla film] seem very excessive anymore, though a major flaw with the film is that it still tries to pack in too much and rushes some things too much while wasting time on unimportant stuff. Maybe, if taken as a Godzilla film, it’s not that great – for a start, after the opening scene Godzilla doesn’t show up till over an hour later. Take it as a silly, over the top science fiction actioner with a shit load of monsters though, or even more than that take it as a drunken party celebration, and it’s a real fun ride.

As they announced this film, Toho also said they would not make any more Godzilla pictures for at least a decade, though recently there have been rumours of more Japanese efforts, Toho, who still have the right to make their own Godzilla movies, obviously going to keep an eye on how well the new American Godzilla is received. They gave Godzilla: Final Wars a bigger budget and a longer production schedule than normal, and a director, Ryûhei Kitamura, who was ‘hot’ at the time. Wataru Mimura [Godzilla Vs Mechagodzilla and several Millennium Godzilla films] and executive producer Shogo Tomiyama wrote the story, from which Isao Kiriyama produced a script, though Kitamura rewrote it, changing some of the monsters – Destroyer, Gorosaurus and Mechagodzilla were originally going to appear – and altering Godzilla from being the Junior that becomes a Godzilla at the end of Godzilla Vs Destroyer to the 1954 creature as well as adding much non-monster material. For some reason two scenes featuring Hedorah were cut, though it looks like some other material is missing too. Rather than premiering at the Tokyo International Festival like every Godzilla film since Godzilla Vs King Ghidorah, Godzilla: Final Wars was first publicly shown at Grauman’s Chinese Theater on the same day that Godzilla got his highly publicized star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Sadly Godzilla: Final Wars sold the least tickets since Terror Of Mechagodzilla in 1975, which still holds the record for least successful series entry.

Godzilla: Final Wars opens with the Gotengo, which is the flying supersub Atragon from the 1963 film of that title though is never called that in this film, battling Godzilla and encasing him in ice ala Godzilla Raids Again, while the music starts off as King Kong Vs Godzilla’s Godzilla theme before segueing into Keith Emerson’s very different musical backing. The scene is good but extremely short, a problem with many of the action scenes in this film. Then we have a brilliant title montage flashing tiny clips of Godzilla from many of the films, after which we see the Gotengo in action again, only it’s 40 years later and the opponent is Manda, the giant sea serpent and the old Atragon opponent. Footage of the monsters Varan, Baragon, Gaira, Gezora, Titanosaurus, Megaguirus, and Mechagodzilla in fake Godzilla form, showing how monsters have constantly attacked Earth, makes this film one that exists in the same universe as most other Godzilla films, certainly all of the Showa pictures. Then more monsters start attacking major cities in the present, and it’s so cool to see Anguirus in Shanghai, Rodan in New York City, King Caesar in Okinawa, Kamacuras in Paris, Kumonga in Arizona, Zilla [i.e. the 1998 American creation!] in Sydney and Ebirah near Tokyo, the latter then rather too easily wasted by some EDF mutants in jumpsuits in probably the first scene which is too stylised for its own good, such as having stuff flying about where Ebirah hasn’t even been.

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The headlong pace slows a little for a while as we get a retread of Invasion Of Astro-Monster’s plot of supposedly friendly aliens actually being up to no good, though this time around it reminded me more of the TV series V, especially with the way the aliens are unmasked. There’s a lengthy chase and fight on motorbikes which is fun but totally pointless, a scene which is one of several which could have been cut so the film could spend more time on what many want to see – the monster fights. There are a huge many of them as a freed Godzilla brawls with virtually all of the rest of the monster cast in various cities like in a computer game [in fact two Godzilla games did obviously influence this film]. The high points are when Godzilla despatches Zilla in a moment guaranteed to have every fan of the ‘true’ Godzilla cheering [“I knew that tuna-eating monster was no good” says someone], and when Godzilla fights Anguirus, Rodan and King Seezer in a hilarious Showa-style battle which includes the others playing ball with a rolled-up Anguirus, but Godzilla never really seems threatened in these all-too-brief fights, while the monster action is partly drowned out by by the blatant pillaging from The Matrix [star Masahiro Matsuoko even looks like a Japanese Keanu Reeves], Independence Day and even Return Of The Jedi. There is some decent martial arts fighting, but one feels that Kitamura is more interested in this kind of stuff than the monsters, especially poor Godzilla. At least towards the end Tokyo really does look like it has been destroyed, while there are some great gems for fans, like when a young boy playing with kaiju toys throws Gamera [Godzilla’s giant turtle box office rival] into a fireplace!

The Godzilla suit, the slimmest since the 70’s, expertly combines the looks of all three eras while adding a few unique bits like larger ears. Toho managed to reduce the weight of the suit by almost 44 pounds, allowing Tsutomu Kitagawa much more movement and flexibility. Most of the other monsters are very similar to their original designs, though a few, like Mothra, are sadly all-CGI. The Son Of Godzilla turns up in his ugly Showa design. He gets some cute moments with a small boy, but as with so much else this element of the story is rushed. King Ghidorah shows up at the end but unfortunately this is the worst Ghidorah design ever, with short necks and awkward, uncoordinated movement. Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S.’s Eiichi Asada returned to do the special effects for this movie, and some of the model work and matting is first class, but the huge amount of effects work required means that there’s far more CGI than before and some of it, especially an awful scene when vehicles and people are blown into the air, is really substandard, though this doesn’t actually jar too much with Kitamura’s trendy direction, replete with quick edits, slow motion and showoffy anime-style angles. The decision to shoot it in HD, then add film grain, is baffling, though the film looks decent, and certain things such as the Zilean mothership show some originality in design even when the film often seems like the result of an overexcited child who wants to cram all that he or she thinks is cool into a make-believe movie.

Leads Masahiro Matsuoko and Rei Kikukawa are overshadowed by Don Frye who plays the Gotengo commander and gets lots of enjoyably corny lines, and Kazuki Kitamura as the alien leader who looks and acts like he’s on LSD. Showa stars Akira Takarada [who was in the 1954 Godzilla], Kumi Mizuno and Kenji Sahara have welcome and substantial roles, though only Mizuno appears to be really enjoying herself, and six Millennium and four Heisei cast members appear too. The score by Emerson, Lake and Palmer’s Keith Emerson is as unlike Akira Ifukube as can be, but the techno style backing really goes with the film, especially when some electric guitars kick in with cheesy glory. It’s not one of the best Godzilla scores but is one of the most fun. The American rock bands Sum 41 and Zebrahead each contribute a track and their stuff fits the film two. Godzilla: Final Wars makes some big mistakes and attempts to do too much. Watching it is sometimes akin to watching three or four science fiction and kaiju films all at the same time. However, its relentless abandon, its cheerful incoherence, and its pulsating energy do make for quite a thrilling experience. The last Japanese Godzilla film at the time of writing could have been more, but it will definitely do for now.

Rating: ★★★★★★★½☆☆

 

So that’s it for the Godzilla series, and I hope I’ve managed to convey my deep love for these films whilst being critical when I feel I need to be, but as you know there is a certain US movie coming featuring the King of the Monsters. I have a feeling that this will be the non-Japanese Godzilla film that we deserve. Whether it will do the business at the box office is another matter – giant monsters don’t seem to have much appeal for many these days, though buzz is very good. You will be able to read my thoughts on Gareth Edwards’s Godzilla when the film comes out, and I’m counting the days!

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About Dr Lenera 1979 Articles
I'm a huge film fan and will watch pretty much any type of film, from Martial Arts to Westerns, from Romances [though I don't really like Romcoms!]] to Historical Epics. Though I most certainly 'have a life', I tend to go to the cinema twice a week! However,ever since I was a kid, sneaking downstairs when my parents had gone to bed to watch old Universal and Hammer horror movies, I've always been especially fascinated by horror, and though I enjoy all types of horror films, those Golden Oldies with people like Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee probably remain my favourites. That's not to say I don't enjoy a bit of blood and gore every now and again though, and am also a huge fan of Italian horror, I just love the style.

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