Friday, September 23, 2011

Review: Godzilla Final Wars (2004)

Godzilla, standing amid the aftermath of doing his thing.

Godzilla: Final Wars was the last Godzilla movie in the current Millennium series of films. Right off, I have to tell you that this is not a great film. It’s barely a good film, but it’s mighty fun to watch.
The movie was released to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the original Gojira film, which began the many-storied Godzilla franchise. And as such, the movie is a virtual homage to Toho Studio’s science fiction/daikaiju (giant monster) output over the past half-century. The film itself is a melange of remakes of several previous Toho movies, notably Monster Zero and Destroy All Monsters!
The story is pretty simple: The movie opens with the crew of the Gotengo managing to trap Godzilla under tons of Antarctic ice back in 1954. More monsters began appearing after that, and a race of mutants with vaguely-described physical enhancements also came into existence, working alongside humanity to protect the planet.  In 2004, all of the world’s monsters start attacking for no apparent reason. Then a seemingly-benevolent alien race from Planet X captures them all, and seeks to help Earth because a runaway asteroid is on a direct collision course with the planet. After a group of people discover something’s not on the up-and-up with the Xians, the monsters are released and the aliens reveal their plan to take over the world and use the human race for food. The rebels take off in a flying submarine to release Godzilla from his Antarctic prison, who proceeds to kick kaiju ass and the aliens are defeated. I could’ve labeled this “SPOILER ALERT,” but let’s face it, you know everything’s gonna be the status quo at the end.
I know, I know ... the story sounds rather trite and childish. Well, so what? If you want highbrow storylines, go rent some Kurosawa. Final Wars is merely a celebration of a genre that has given a lot of pleasure to a lot of kids (and kids at heart) for the better half of a century.
Let’s look at the special touches in this movie:
  • The storyline is a combination of the movies Monster Zero and Destroy All Monsters!, both of which are near-classic giant monster slugfests.The Xians are very similar to the Kilaaks from DAM in motives, and the original Controller of Planet X is grabbed very much like the leader of the Xians was in MZ.
  • The monster tableau is almost the same as DAM, with a few of Godzilla’s other foes tossed in for good measure. Rodan, Gamackeras (the giant insect), Spiegas (the giant spider), Angillas, King Seesar, Ebriah (the Sea Monster - a giant shrimp/lobster), and Hedorah (the Smog Monster) all cause a lot of fun damage, as do two versions of the buzzsaw-bellied Gigan. A good number of the monsters are computer-generated this time around, rather than being regular puppets or man-in-a-suit-asauruses.
  •  Mothra and the tiny Twin Fairies make an obligatory appearance.  It's just not a Japanese monster movie without a pair of twins of indeterminate age to control a giant moth.
  •  The American version of Godzilla is acknowledged in the form of Zilla, who gets easily trounced by the real thing. “Stupid tuna-eating monster!”
  •  As in DAM, the flying fiery UFO from space turns out to be something else  ... Monster X, who transforms into King Ghidorah.
  • The plot point about an asteroid on a crash course with Earth was taken straight from the movie Yosei Gorasu, a sci-fi flick about a planet named Gorath that was going to play billiards with Earth. As over the top as this movie is, Gorath was prevented from destroying the world by moving the whole Earth out of its orbit with giant rockets. Again, I know, I know. But it’s another fun movie, so go watch it!
  • There are cameos of monsters from a number of lesser-known kaiju eiga, including Gaira from War of the Gargantuas, Baragon from Frankenstein Conquers the World, Titanosaurus from Terror of Mechagodzilla, Varan from Varan the Unbelieveable. Gezora (the giant, walking squid from Yog, Monster from Space), Manda, Destroyah and Megaguirus. Most of these cameos are film clips from the original movies.
  • The plot weaves in a lot of stylistic elements from The Matrix movies with a dash of X-Men. The main weapon of the defense forces, the flying, drilling, submarines, are taken directly from the movie Atragon, as was the monster from that movie, Manda, which is taken out of play by the Gotengo right after the opening credits.
  • The day is proverbially saved by the appearance of Godzilla's son, Minilla. He's too cute for words as usual. 
  • The cast is filled with Japanese stars of previous kaiju eiga, including Kenji Sahara, Kumi Mizuno, Masakatsu Funaki, Akira Takarada and Jun Kunimura.
I'm sure it sounds campy to anyone who isn't a fan of the genre. But you know what? It's fun! This film is a lot more enjoyable than some of the big-budget sci-fi blockbusters that tainted American screens back in 2004, like The Day After Tomorrow or I, Robot.

One has to always remember that, with one exception, giant monster movies are supposed to be just unbridled fun to watch. They aren't high art, and they don't have to make perfect sense. Godzilla: Final Wars is an hour and a half of simply pleasure that any fan should take the time to experience.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting critique. But we any of the "mutants with vaguely-described physical enhancements" female? And if so, pray tell what were their new features? Were they akin to the creatures portrayed in my ultra low-budget action film, "Porn-o-saurus?"