Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)

Class: Staff
Author: Anthony Romero
Score: (2.5/5)
December 1st, 2004 [Review May Contain Spoilers]

To sum up Godzilla: Final Wars in one word: disappointing. It's hard to place "blame" for what went wrong on Godzilla's 50th Anniversary film, as, to be blunt, many things go awry during the movie. Although chief fault should probably rest on the shoulders of the film's director, Ryuhei Kitamura, whose extremely fast pacing for Final Wars ultimately forgoes any opportunity to properly develop the movie. This ultimately leaves the viewer with a very shallow feeling by the time the final credits do roll. Not to undersell the film entirely, though, as certain aspects are done nicely. The story isn't bad, the special effects are generally good for a Japanese production, while the acting tends to be at least competent. Despite these somewhat positive aspects, though, there are many flaws to the film, such as director Kitamura's unnerving pacing, the complete lack of character development and Keith Emmerson's "made for TV" score for the film. More complaints with the production are to be had, though; another problem, that will likely leave many "die hard Godzilla fans" unsatisfied, is how the film burns through its cast of monsters quickly and, for the most part, without a memorable moment for quite a few of them.

The story itself tends to be interesting on occasion, although director Kitamura never gives it time to properly develop. The most intriguing part of the plot would have to be the inner turmoil within the Xilien ranks at the beginning of the film. The current leader, played by Masatoh Eve, feels that the conquering of Earth should be done in a non-violent matter, citing that force shouldn't be a first resort. On the other hand, another Xilien, played by actor Kazuki Kitamura, feels that they have the necessary technology to quickly enslave Earth and shouldn't bother trying to rule humanity through guile. After a nice sequence where it's revealed that the UN Secretary has been replaced by a Xilien in disguise, the Captain of the Gotengo, Douglas Gordon, barges in to chuck a dead Xilien, whose disguise has been removed, on the stage. Sensing that their current plan is in ruins, Kazuki Kitamura's character shoots his predecessor and announces his plan to take control. Unfortunately, from this point onward the film falls apart into an orgy of short lived monster fights amongst attacks from the tooth looking Xilien vessels and their mother ship: a ball like craft with three giant "spikes" at the base that allows the director to use a scene "inspired" by The Return of the Jedi where a fighter plane flies into a duct in the ship to take out the shield generator. In the beginning, the story starts out strong with a unique approach to the alien invasion plot and leaves room for satisfying scenes with the film's large cast of kaiju. The international feel to the film does pay off in spades on occasion as well, like Anguirus' attack on Shanghai, although a lot of the global feel tends to die off as the film progresses. Sadly, once director Kitamura puts the film into "overdrive" the story quickly takes a back seat, and the ending result leaves the viewer very jaded as it's hard to care about the human cast or the monsters in the film.

Although special effects director Eiichi Asada never quite captures the same level of quality that he did in the previous year's entry, Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003), his work here is still a notable grade above what the Godzilla series is used to. Those expecting a new level of excellence in regards to special effects, after hearing about the enlarged budget, will of course be disappointed. However, there was really no reason to expect such, considering that a great deal of Godzilla: Final Wars' budget was used for location shooting. That's not to say that the special effects aren't without their faults, as there are a couple of cringe worthy scenes like the fake looking tanks which assault Ebirah (a shame, as they tended to look much more convincing in the two Kiryu films) and the all too stiff flying Gigan prop. As a final complaint regarding the special effects, the ending shot that has Godzilla and Minilla swimming away into the sunset is a horrible composition, on par with Godzilla in Godzilla 2000: Millennium (1999) coming on land; the fact that the movie ends with such a horrendous shot is just astounding. For all the faults, though, there are a lot of scenes which are done very well. Monster X changing into Ghidorah, for example, looks good, while Mothra appears even better here then she did in the previous entry in the series. Some brief landmark destruction, such as the shot of the toppled Statue of Liberty in New York, also look great as well. In fact, Rodan's attack on New York, as a whole, is one of the better done sequences in the film, both from the SFX standpoint and the power of the scene itself. It's nice to see Rodan's shockwaves, which are created in its wake, actually animated, as opposed to the unconvincing shockwaves left behind by Rodan in the 1993 film Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II. Another thing worth mentioning is Zilla. While some of the daytime shots are unimpressive, a gross exception being the classic foot perspective of the creature, the night time footage tends to be good. No, it's no where near as good as what was seen in GODZILLA (1998), but it's better than what one would expect an all CGI monster to look like in a Toho film.

In terms of the the acting, while it's far from the best seen in the Godzilla series, it's at least adequate. It's really hard to gauge, though, as most actors aren't given a whole lot to work with here. There are no outstanding performances in the film, that is for sure, but then none of the actors bog down the film either. One thing that should be noted, though, is Don Frye's performance. It's not really great, by any regard, but it's a hell of a lot better than an English speaking character seen in a Toho film since the 1960's. Something else worth mentioning, that will be important for Toho fans of the "Golden Years", is the sheer number of Toho regulars seen in the picture. There are a lot of familiar faces here, some more recent stars like Koh Takasugi from the Kiryu saga and Takeshi Obayashi from Godzilla 2000: Millennium (1999), while others like Kenji Sahara and Akira Nakano have been in Godzilla films for quite a while longer. Showa, Heisei, Millennium, there is a good mixture of actors from all three Godzilla series here, which is a welcome addition to the film. As it would be an injustice not to mention it, the Xilien leader, played by Kazuki Kitamura, is amusing in the way that actor Kitamura plays the character so over the top, and manages to steal the film on a couple of occasions.

Despite the good aspects of the film, there is a lot here that goes wrong. Kitamura's pacing, unfortunately, leads the way in this regard. From the very beginning of the film, after the triumphant return of the "Toho Scope" logo, this problem can already be seen, as the introduction is edited together in such a way that I actually thought I was watching a trailer before the actual picture was going to start. The editing doesn't remain this bad, but it doesn't improve a lot either. The opening credit sequence, which is done with a color filter as stock footage from a variety of films are displayed (from Rodan [1956] to Prophecies of Nostradamus [1974] and nearly all of the Godzilla pictures), is edited in a similar fashion as the credits flash on for such a short amount of time that many names are impossible to read. In the editor's defense, though, they are in English, so chances are he had no idea how long it would take someone to read them. Hopefully this English title sequence was unique to the LA print, and a better Japanese title sequence, one that feels less like it belongs in a video game, will be used, although I doubt it. Beyond these early problems with the film, the rest of the movie feels like the director almost seems afraid to develop any aspect of the movie, instead content to jump all over the place. One second, there are people outside a radio station happily screaming "X", while the next it seems like the film's protagonists have already uncovered the Xilien's plan. The film just never allows the audience to get used to anything before quickly changing gears into the next portion of the plot. Sadly, this extends to the monster battles as well. As noted during Final Wars' production, battles in Godzilla films tend to drag on for too long. While that criticism is, without a doubt, true, Kitamura's "solution" is even worse. The director tends to go for battles that last 1-3 minutes long, often times the other kaiju never even gets a hit in on Godzilla before they are quickly destroyed. Yes it might have been funny that Zilla's battle lasted only a minute, but the fact is he is not alone as most other monsters in the film are dealt with just as quickly. It takes Godzilla fighting Rodan, Anguirus and King Caesar to get a decent four minute bout with the King of the Monsters, and even then the monsters only get a couple of hits in before Godzilla defeats all three with relative ease. Sorry, but fight after fight that are this short and one sided just aren't fun to watch. It isn't until the battle with Monster X does the film finally have a good fight, and even then Kitamura seems unimpressed as he cuts away for almost ten minutes, while the fight is taking place, to the Matrix rip-off happening inside the Xilien mother ship. On that note, I would have to tip my hat to Kitamura though. The man must have tremendous balls in order to so shamelessly rip off "The One" sequence in the Matrix, where Neo realizes his true power and stops the bullets in mid-air, although this time it's Shin'ichi Ozaki, played by Masahiro Matsuoka, who realizes his true power and stops a series of laser blasts in mid-air.

As expected from the complete lack of pacing within the film, the cast of characters end up with almost no character development. Quite honestly, I found myself relating more with the cast of Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972) then anyone here. For example, let's look at the film's main character: Earth Defense Force Soldier Shin'ichi Ozaki. What is discovered about the character during the course of the film? Well it's revealed early on, according to another character, that he has "too big a heart". So how does Kitamura play with this? Hardly at all, as the only thing the character does where this would come into play is when he spares the life of his longtime partner who is being mind-controlled, which seems natural anyway. Beyond that, we learn nothing about the character's personality. What's all the sadder is that Ozaki is actually one of the more developed characters in the film. In fact, the only other character that is even noteworthy, in terms of development, is Gotengo captain Douglas Gordon. Surprisingly, Gordon is the most developed character in the film, although still not saying much, as we learn of his stance of winning a battle no matter the risk and attitude about acting first and then deal with the consequences as they come. Consequently, it's not surprising that Gordon will be most people's favorite character from the film. It's a shame that the rest of the cast is so thinly developed, though. A couple of the movie's more major characters do in fact die, and although the other actors might try to appear sad, the audience won't care in the least as one knows nothing about these characters by the time the movie does kill them off. There are a lot of lost opportunities in regards to the lack of development as well. A good example of this is the scene where the mutants are turned against the other humans by the Xiliens. This might have been a very powerful and disturbing scene if the audience had any sort of attachment to at least one of the mutants, and I should add that one of the film's more major characters (played by Kane Kosugi) is amongst those being controlled, but sadly this isn't the case and it would be hard for one to be impressed by the scene as is.

Unfortunately, the complaints just don't stop with issues regarding the pacing of Final Wars. In fact, after hearing composer Emmerson's work on the film, it's hard to imagine how he ever got the job. In his prime, the composer might have done some impressive scores, but seeing as how his last film score was for the 1989 movie The Church and after that he went to work on Marvel's 1994 animated Iron Man series, the composer is obviously a little rusty. The end result is an entirely unmemorable "made for TV" quality score whose only redeeming original track is a nice retro sounding theme that plays when the Gotengo takes off. It's a shame Kitamura felt that the film's composer should be outsourced from Japan itself, as there are numerous Japanese composers who have never touched the Godzilla series that would have likely turned in a much better score for the film, like composer Masamichi Amano just to name someone off the top of my head. If there is one nice thing to say about the soundtrack, though, it's that two great Masaru Sato themes were picked as stock music. The two pieces in question are Minilla's theme, from Son of Godzilla (1967), for when Minilla first appears, and Sato's Mechagodzilla theme, from Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974), which the two guys who are watching over the frozen Godzilla are listening to. So at least it's a nice change of pace to see two of Sato's better tracks appear as stock music here, as Sato's themes haven't appeared in a Godzilla film since his departure from the series in 1974.

Despite these other aspects, I'm sure that a lot of the more "die-hard" Godzilla fans are more interested in how the monsters themselves are handled. Well my response is, not much better. I'm sure it's well documented already that Hedorah is given a very small role in the film: the creature is tossed on land, with Ebirah thrown into him, and then blown away by Godzilla's ray. His part is small enough that if one has seen the footage of Hedorah in the trailer, you have basically seen his role in the film. Baragon, in Destroy All Monsters (1968), is given more screen time in fact. However, since people were already prepared for that, and since there isn't much to talk about anyway, I will try to deal with the other monsters in the film that failed to impress. Mothra would be another shameful example of this. The gigantic moth shows up on screen, causing the Xilien leader to smirk that another monster is coming, as Mothra then does battle with an improved Gigan. The battle is short, as Mothra gets one of her wings cut very fast, but I will have to sadly admit that its one of the better fights in the film. Mothra does come out with one moment of dignity, where she gets to knock over both Gigan and Monster X. Her death though is where most people should find a problem in regards to the character. Yes, the well documented "Fire Mothra" scene is in fact Mothra's death, as she is ignited by Gigan's laser beam and then rushes herself into Gigan, killing them both. Mothra's self sacrificial death isn't the problem though, what is, is that no one even mentions that she is gone. It goes completely unnoticed by the entire cast that Mothra, who was the only other monster except Godzilla who was fighting the Xilien invaders, has perished. It's just so poorly done that I was amazed that Mothra was actually dead, and half expected her to show up later on. Was it too hard for the director to cut to an actor crying out, or to at least see a tearful close up of the Shobijin? Beyond Mothra, Gigan, another supposed monster with a good size role, has a surprisingly little amount of screen time. He appears very late in the film, attacks the Gotengo briefly and then Godzilla, their fight consists of Gigan shooting out his claw "hooks" so he can pull in Godzilla to slash him with his chest until he gets his head quickly blown off. While Gigan's first form is given about as much screen time as most of the other monsters, it still isn't a whole lot. Gigan's second, chainsaw hand, form then appears to do battle with Mothra during the climax. Unfortunately, the monster kills himself, as Gigan fires off two disc shaped razors at Mothra, who unleashes scales, as they miss and then boomerang back at Gigan and slice off his head. Intentional or unintentional laugh I don't know, but Mothra then collides with Gigan's beheaded body to destroy what's left of the creature. On another note, if there are any fans of Ebirah out there, they will likely be disappointed, as the giant crustacean is almost killed by five mutants, three with rocket launchers and two with handheld masers, before Ebirah is teleported away by the Xiliens. The monsters in Final Wars, for the most part, appear to be easily killed, and in the end are often done so quickly by Godzilla. Even the giant Keizer Ghidorah is defeated quickly, as his heads are easily severed when Godzilla's ray manages strikes one. I suppose one can't mention the monsters of Final Wars, though, without bringing up Minilla. He starts out the film human size, as his scenes are the only ones in the entire movie which actually slow down the pacing of the movie. Unfortunately, the scenes send the film to a screeching halt instead. To sum up Minilla, his only purpose in the film is to look cute and to do the sappy "don't shoot" scene, where he is mimicking a little boy who is doing the same thing to his grandpa who wants to shoot Godzilla with his rifle.

One last point about the film, that I reluctantly bring up, are the deleted scenes seen briefly during the credits. These sequences aren't accompanied by sound, and only brief portions of the scenes are shown, amongst other shots that did make it into the film. The reason why I reluctantly bring this up is that whenever most people tend to hear about a film having a lot of deleted scenes, they seem to rally behind this notation that had they been included the film would have been better. This might have been the case, I'm not in a position to say otherwise, but I would assume that there were good reasons for why they were cut as well. Some of the noteworthy edits include Hedorah attacking a city at night and Mothra flying home to Infant Island, a scene which was likely cut as it just doesn't make sense that Mothra would have survived but have been absent during the entire Keizer Ghidorah fight.

In conclusion, it's not so much that Godzilla: Final Wars is a disappointing end to the series, although I doubt there won't be more Godzilla films eventually, or that its disappointing to see all the lost potential in what the film was trying to achieve. More to the fact, Godzilla: Final Wars is simply just a disappointing monster movie. My standards for the production were very low as I walked into the theater, which is how I ended up loving Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. (2003), and even then I felt let down. Of course, some fans and non-fans alike will probably love the film. For those people who tend to fast forward past human development scenes, they will likely enjoy Final Wars tremendously, as Kitamura has basically done most of the work for them.