Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)

Class: User
Author: Tim85
Score: (3/5)
February 25, 2006 [Review May Contain Spoilers]

2004 was the year of Godzilla. The year marked a milestone for the big G; his 50th anniversary. Across the country several film festivals were held in honor of the monster, and the long awaited release of the original uncut Godzilla (1954) was shown on the big screen in the U.S. for the first time. The year also featured an honor that was long overdue in many-a fans' eyes: Godzilla got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (the 1st and only monster to receive this honor). That night (in Hollywood as well) also premiered Godzilla's 50th anniversary film: the Ryuhei Kitamura directed Godzilla Final Wars; and the controversy began. Even though the plot is well known, I'll still do a short synopsis.

After Godzilla is buried in Antarctica by the Gotengo, the world is plagued by repeated attacks from giant monsters due to repeated warfare. Mutants (humans with super abilities) appear as well and are recruited to fight the monsters for the Earth Defense Force (EDF) called Organization-M. Their greatest enemy, the King of the Monsters himself: Godzilla.

As years pass, suddenly a worldwide epidemic of monsters appear: Rodan in New York City, Anguirus pops up in Shanghai, King Caesar attacks Okinawa, Kumonga appears in Arizona, Zilla shows up in Sydney, Ebirah causes havoc in the Tokai Petrochemical Complex, and Kamacuras buzzes Paris. Soon aliens (known as Xiliens) appear and eliminate the monsters. They have come to warn that a giant asteroid called Gorath threatens to destroy the Earth and that they have a solution. After some snooping, it's revealed that the Gorath is a fraud and that world leaders are being replaced by Xiliens! After their ploy's revealed, a young officer takes control and unleashes the monsters and UFO fighters on the world; destroying the civilization of Earth.

A small group of survivors (lead by Captain Douglas Gordon) realize humanity's only hope is to wake up Godzilla (the lesser evil) to take care of the monsters and the Xilains. They use the Gotengo to fly down to the South Pole to do just that and to lure Godzilla to the Mothership in Tokyo. On their way from the South Pole to Japan, Godzilla decapitates Gigan at the South Pole, fries Zilla in Sydney, flings Kumonga in New Guinea, and in Kazanura, Japan, skewers Kamacuras. Impressed with Godzilla's strength, the Controller dumps Rodan, Anguirus, and King Caesar at Mt. Fuji to battle Godzilla; but they don't fair any better as they end up piled on top of one and another.

Meanwhile, the Gotengo crew is captured by the Xiliens while attempting to destroy the Mothership. Godzilla blasts Hedorah and Ebirah out of Tokyo Bay and thrusts them across the city with his atomic ray. An asteroid called to Earth by the Controller earlier arrives and Godzilla destroys it above the city with his ray; revealing its contents, a new creature called Monster X. Godzilla soon realizes that this monster won't go down so easily. Mothra arrives to help but the Controller intercepts her with an upgraded Gigan, which leads to a four way melee. Eventually, Gigan is decapitated again (this time with his own discs) and Mothra finishes Gigan, sacrificing herself in the process.

Ozaki and the Controller do battle until Ozaki realizes his true power and mortally wounds the Xilien Controller. The defeat causes the ship to self-destruct! Everyone escapes aboard the Gotengo in time as the Mothership is destroyed. Godzilla soon gets a bigger problem when Monster X becomes Keizer Ghidorah! The three-headed creature throws Godzilla around like a rag doll with its gravity beams and proceeds to suck the life force out of the King of the Monsters. Ozaki uses his newfound Keizer power to give Godzilla energy to finish off Keizer Ghidorah. After defeating the dragon, Godzilla attempts to destroy the Gotengo once and for all when his son Minilla intervenes and calms the monster. Godzilla and Minilla swim off into the sunrise after a hard, long fight.

The human acting is, for the lack of a better term: there. Ozaki (played by the band TOKIO's drummer Masahiro Mitasuoka) is a mutant with a heart that gains the ability to save the world. That's pretty much it. The trend of putting popstars in lead roles is something that's really not a good idea. Then again it's better than using popstar status as a reason to make a movie (From Justin to Kelly, anyone?) However Ozaki does provide a truly funny moment in the beginning. When he finds out he's going to be a bodyguard for a biologist, he comments that he'll probably be old and argumentative. He turns around to the stunning Miyuki Otonashi (model Rei Kikukawa) and she apologizes for being those things. The look Ozaki has when he realizes he stuck his foot in his mouth is absolutely hilarious. Miyuki Otonahsi doesn't fare any better. She seems merely to be the scientist of the group and the love interest for Ozaki (but that part's left to interpretation). Major Komuro (Jun Kunimura) is simply Captain Gordon's right hand man on the Gotengo and an unfortunate individual who always seems to be on the bad end of the deal in a fight.

One of the standout players here is Don Frye as the rough, gruff, and battle-hardened Gotengo captain Douglas Gordon. Many viewers complain about Frye's acting but they forget: HE'S NOT AN ACTOR! However, he DOES have screen charisma, which is not necessarily a bad thing, and is a good start to an acting career. Another complaint is his lack of emotion during intense scenes. Well, there are battle-worn military people out there that can witness the world falling down around them and still not be bothered. Gordon's badass charisma, combined with Frye's gruff line delivery, steals the show from the main hero Ozaki (which actually wasn't that hard to do). Conan O' Brian has a saying: “the eye goes to Goldblum”. In Godzilla: Final Wars; the eye goes to Frye. The other standout character is the Xilien Controller played by Kazuki Kitamura. His over-the-top performance is actually more believable (and more entertaining) than most screen villains. His attitude, comments, and motions are all things that such an evil villain as this is expected to do.

With this film being a tribute to Godzilla; actors from all three series makes appearances that range from brief cameos to main roles. No matter how small the part, the returning actors are a welcome sight among the newbie players that make up the main character list. Akira Takarada, who's been in kaiju eiga since Godzilla (1954), puts on a great show as Secretary General Natarou Daigo and doesn't look a bit like he's pushing 80. Kumi Mizuno (Commander Namikawa) still looks amazing for her age and is a nice harking back to Godzilla's golden age. While Kenji Sahara's (another longtime kaiju eiga face) role as Professor Jinguji is small, it's still a pleasure to see him again. Other small parts are also played by familiar faces. Akira Nakao (from the late Heisei series and the Kiryu Saga) plays the original Gotengo Captain and his right hand man aboard the ship is played by Koichi Ueda; a man who's been in every Godzilla film since Godzilla vs. Biollante (1989) but is more recognizable from his roles in the Millennium series. Even some faces from the aforementioned series appear in Godzilla: Final Wars. Takeshi Obayashi (the man who attacks Secretary Diago) was in Godzilla 2000: Millennium (1999), Masatoh Eve, last seen in Godzilla vs. Megaguirus (2000), plays the Xilien General that gets killed by the young officer. Koh Takasugi, Lieutenant Togashi in the Kiryu Saga, appears as the captain of the Karyu warship. Masami Nagasawa and Chihiro Otsuka reprise their roles as the Shobijin from a year before in Godzilla: Tokyo SOS (2003).

The human action in this film is some of the best seen in Godzilla movie. Unfortunately, it's mostly taken from The Matrix, Star Wars, and X-Men. Two scenes that really stand out are the cop and gangster pimp scene and the boy chucking the Gamera toy in the fireplace. The cop and gangster pimp (there's something you don't say everyday in a Godzilla flick) scene in New York is one of the top most entertaining scenes in a Godzilla movie. The scene was played as satirical, and it comes off great. However, one will notice that lines sometimes don't match the lip movement. Well, that's because the actors originally used authentic New York language and they had to dub out the words (though even people who can't read lips well can figure out what they're saying). If one doesn't know the reason behind the dub, it would not be held against them for thinking that this is another tribute to Godzilla's olden days. Of course who can forget the boy in Vancouver who tosses the Gamera toy in the fireplace? While this scene could be interpreted as a pot shot at Gamera (considering his rap for being a Godzilla rip off for the longest time); it can also be interpreted as a pot shot to what the Godzilla fandom has turned into, which is something that's not too far off from the truth, whether fans want to admit it or not. While played for laughs, this scene most likely make people flinch (especially figure collectors) for how he treats his toys.

A surprise to first time viewers is the amount of English that is spoken in Godzilla: Final Wars, which helps the international feel of the film. While one can expect English to come from sources like Don Frye or the kid in Vancouver, or from characters in New York City, Sydney, and Arizona; a crewmember of the Gotengo is an English speaker. During the monster invasion, there is English heard in the EDF Headquarters. English is also heard from people chanting “We love X!” after the Xiliens show up (the reaction is something that would not be surprising if that was to happen in real life). The two guys looking after Godzilla at the South Pole are English speakers. The song “We're all to Blame” is sung in English in the film. Kazama, the Xilien Controller, and Major Komuro all go from Japanese to English and back again in some scenes. Thankfully, the English is spoken clearly and is not disturbing to the ears like that heard in Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II (1993).

While the musical score doesn't sound like your average Godzilla score, remember: this isn't your average Godzilla movie. The musical score was sort of a mixed bag. Some were great, most were uneventful. Among the great ones is the “King of the Monsters” theme that comes up at the movie's opening. When this score kicks in, the viewer knows that this is not going to be the average Godzilla movie. The theme that plays during the opening credits is catchy and fits the montage of Godzilla clips and close-to-impossible-to-read credits. The theme that plays when Godzilla is awakened from his icy tomb fits the mode that Godzilla's back. “Kazama's Sacrifice” appears several times, but it fits each scene it appears in. It adds to the already hectic battle with Ebirah. When the Gotengo launches to free Godzilla, it adds to the “Let's go save the world” feel to the scene. And of course when Kazama crashes the dogfighter into shield generator, it makes the audience briefly feel for Kazama even though his character is not well developed. The most controversial music in the movie is the theme that plays during the end credits. While it's not as bad as most people make it out to be, it's probably due to it being repetitive; being the only song played during the long credits. One of the more popular songs heard in the film is the song “We're all to Blame” by Sum41. When the song is heard by itself, the lyrics fit with Godzilla's message but one wonders how it'll fit in the movie. When one hears it during the brief Godzilla vs. Zilla scuffle, oh it fits all rights. Of course, as a tribute movie, there are themes from the Akira Ifukube and Masaru Sato. Godzilla's theme from King Kong vs. Godzilla (1962) is heard when the film opens. Music from Son of Godzilla (1967) is heard when the old man and his grandson discover Minilla, and the guys looking after Godzilla in Antarctica are listening to a theme from Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (1974).

Special effects are a mixed bag too, unfortunately. Some are absolutely marvelous: like Rodan's attack on New York City. The sight of the Statue of Liberty is ruins with catch any American's attention. The Xilien general showing the asteroid Gorath (from the movie of the same name) hitting the Earth was spectacular. Also the scene where Godzilla destroys the asteroid sent to Earth was breathtaking. The transformation of Monster X into Keizer Ghidorah was awesome and terrifying. The Gotengo and the other airships were realistic and truly different. However there were some bad shots too. The fake tanks during Ebirah's attack are rather obvious. A lot the matte shots of explosions was easily distinguished. Of course there is stock footage (probably another reference). The smokestacks being destroyed during Ebirah's rampage were from the movie Conflagration (1975); a scene used in two previous Godzilla movies: Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991) and Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla (2002).

Now for the main event: the kaiju. Some of the major complaints are the short fights and the screen time that some monsters received. This is another instance of “can't please everybody”. With so many monsters, some are going to get the short end of the stick when it comes to screen time and fans of the monsters that do will not like it, but that can't be helped. Anyway; on to the reason for this movie: Godzilla. This Godzilla has the moves of Showa, the power of Heisei, and the look of the Millennium series. His movement in this film is more lifelike than some of the bulkier suits. Another tribute to the King of the Monsters is the many styles of Godzilla's roar. A harkening to the Showa series is the portrayal of intelligence that the monster shows during the battle at Mt. Fuji. The red ray that he uses to finish off Keizer Ghidorah was last seen in the Heisei series. The close up of Godzilla's eye with fire burning in it is downright chilling. In general, this is truly a badass Godzilla. Rodan, last seen in Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla II (1993), is more life like with the use of CGI and suitimation, unlike the unconvincing marionette from the aforementioned movie. The animation for Rodan's sonic waves is also better than in his 1993 appearance. During his attack on New York his flight was realistic in that he flapped his wings. During his battle with Godzilla, Rodan suffers again from SWIF syndrome (stiff wings in flight). The fight that Rodan was involved with does reminisce of the fights from the 70's such as Godzilla versus Gigan and Godzilla versus Megalon. Mothra makes a return appearance. Even though fans claim she's overused, it still wouldn't be a tribute without her. Her look hasn't changed from Godzilla: Tokyo SOS (2003) and her battle with Gigan is not only one of the better battles in the movie; but is a reference to her relationship with Battra in Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992). Her turning into Fire Mothra was well animated. She's also involved with a cut scene that has caused some controversy. During the credits there is a scene with Mothra returning to Infant Island, making it look like she survived. To set the record straight; she doesn't.

The name that frightened fans when he was mentioned, Minilla, is done real well here. He actually looks somewhat like Godzilla and is still cute. Minilla growing is a throwback to his appearance in All Monsters Attack (1969). While his subplot was interesting in that it showed the effects of the invasion from the common person's view, and it there were funny moments (grabbing the steering wheel), his subplot was almost unneeded and could have been more developed. A fan favorite, Anguirus “returns” to the big screen (after his character's last appearance, having had his jaw broken by Mechagodzilla in 1974). His hind legs are hidden to prevent seeing him on his knees, which adds realism to the monster. Curling into a ball was a power that Anguirus has always been associated with and now it's shown (well done in CGI). In fact he was used as a soccer ball in his battle with Godzilla by King Caesar; causing Godzilla to do a soccer goalie dive to avoid. Kamacuras (from Son of Godzilla [1967]) reappears and CGI brings him more to life then the marionette does. Kamacuras getting skewered by Godzilla is both funny and just plain cool. Kumonga, the spider, has a role reversal, and steps on a trailer home containing a human. His battle with Godzilla is one of the most convincing displays of size in the whole movie. His marionette was convincing and his webbing turning into a net came off better then the spray from the Showa series.

The lobster Ebirah is involved in one of the most intense battles of the movie, where he fights the mutants in the petrochemical complex. The humans are matted flawlessly. Fans of his complain that he was beaten easily, but he was pounded on relentlessly; something that would make even the strongest monster take notice. His death also involves the briefly seen Hedorah, who is obviously, from what is shown, a cool design. The cut scene of him using a spray from a smokestack is something that would have been nice to have seen. King Caesar is considered the worst looking monster of the movie, but he's not as bad as he's made out to be. Fans complain he's too human-like, but unless CGI is used, his design will still be plagued by this. His look resembles the statues he's based off of then his 1974 counterpart. As for this monster's performance, he does manage to deliver an “ouch” factor in his fight with Godzilla when he's tossed on top of Anguirus. Manda, the sea serpent, makes a comeback and has a “rematch” with the Gotengo (from Atragon [1963]). The prop was wonderful but the CGI made him look unrealistic. His getting frozen from the zero cannon was a great addition to his scenes.

Gigan makes a triumphant return with the most upgraded look of all the monsters. He resembles a cyborg here more than his Showa design. However, when he flies; he resembles a stiff prop. The upgraded version added to the cyborg design with the chainsaw hands but they sometimes wobbled unrealistically. His joining with the enemy monster is another throwback to his Showa form. Zilla, the biggest shock of the movie, was done wonderfully. As much as fans would like to forget, GODZILLA (1998) is a part of the Godzilla legacy and is worth a mention. His CGI was believable and he actually does do some property damage. His fight with Godzilla is the shortest in Godzilla's history, but it is oh so satisfying… and the Xilien Commander's comment about him being a “useless tuna-eating monster” is the icing on the cake. The only new creature, Monster X is yet another bland monster, only there to give Godzilla a good fight, but he is still very cool. His human like design has brought complaints but adds the creepiness of the monster. Finally, it wouldn't be a celebration without Ghidorah would it? He appears in this film as the 4-legged Keizer Ghidorah. His feet aren't focused on when he moves to mask any phoniness that it might show. Ghidorah tossing Godzilla around like a rag doll with his gravity beams is a throwback to Godzilla vs. Spacegodzilla (1994).

I feel I need to put this out. This is my favorite Godzilla movie. While you're sitting there trying to figure out why this wasn't a fanboy review, let me explain. While I enjoy this movie immensely, I'm not blind to the fact that it has its faults. I tried to look at this film realistically. If one views this film as a tribute rather than an actual movie, it's actually quite fun to try and figure out some of the references and throwbacks. Whether you are fan of this movie or not; you can't deny that Kitamura did make an interesting (and unique) movie to add to Godzilla's resume. Toho wanted the series to go out with a bang and to make a movie that would have people talking for years to come. With the way fans are fighting over this film; they succeeded.