Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)

Class: Staff
Author: Miles Imhoff
Score: (3/5)
January 17st, 2006 [Review May Contain Spoilers]

Chances are, if you're reading this, you've probably read (or skimmed) through somewhere near 40 bajillion reviews for Godzilla: Final Wars already. Don't fret, my friend, I'm going to attempt to cover some things that fell through the cracks in other reviews. I'll try to concentrate on some minor subtleties, and I'll definitely keep the summary short. I'm just going to be a little informal and unorthodox in my approach, because that's probably the only way I'm going to set this thing apart…

So, what's the verdict; how is Godzilla: Final Wars? Well, it was released on DVD over a month ago at the time I'm writing this, so in all likelihood, you've seen it by now, and have gathered your own opinions. I'll admit, when I first viewed Final Wars last month, I was left unimpressed, to say the least. I had a year of bad reviews going in, and I still found myself a tad sullen when the film's credits started to roll. Having re-watched it today, I've come to warm up to it more, respecting it for what it is. It is a fun romp through the heyday of Toho. It's an homage to the distant past and the recent past, a look back at the things that made us Godzilla fans.

So, how great an homage to the old days is this film? Well, it's actually a rather excellent call back to the Showa and Heisei timelines. I bet you missed the Matango cameo, didn't you? Probably did, but for a good reason. Matango shows up as a toy briefly during the end credits, but that's not all. Hedorah, Titanosaurus, Ghidorah, two Mechagodzilla's, a Biollante, and the original Moguera all appear in toy-form in chocolate-boy's living room. “Gamera” appears early on in the movie too, only to receive a rather inglorious role as fireplace fodder (chocolate-boy certainly has an awful mean streak). Of course, there are other tributes. Akira Ifukube's powerful Godzilla theme and a couple of Masaru Sato's upbeat themes are present as a call back to old days. Speaking of which, not only the music, but also the sound effects are an excellent reminder of older series'. Godzilla's original roar, that resonating instrumental chime, bellows during the opening montage and at the very end of the closing credits. All of the monsters retain their roars, if modified a tad. Zilla, the monster formerly known as US Godzilla, does have his roar severely altered… but elements of the '98 G-scream are still extant. Of course, we can't forget about the opening montage. Stock footage seems to be thrown in at random at times, as the miniature props from the New Kirk City set in Mothra (1961) are clearly visible to we insanely obsessive kaiju fans. This opening montage also presents monsters from different walks of the kaiju genre, from Varan to Gezora (perhaps rejected ideas for lesser roles?) The use of the blue filters blend the black and white and color scenes together rather well; a fun trip down memory road. Then, there is the Toho Scope logo. Perhaps inspired by the retro-Shaw Scope logo in Kill Bill (hey, let's face it, random inspiration is everywhere in this movie), the logo brings some classiness (and a hint of edginess) to the opening of the film.

But what else is there that draws this film to the older series'? Minilla, for one. Minilla's role here appears to be inspired by All Monsters Attack (1969) more so than Son of Godzilla (1967), in all seriousness. He starts off child-sized, befriends a young boy, and grows up during the course of the movie, with his breath eventually maturing from the plasma ring to a thermonuclear beam. Anguirus' role draws some connections to the older movies as well. It is interesting that it is Godzilla and Anguirus who first come face to face at the Mt. Fuji battle. There is the exchange of roars; perhaps an homage to the relationship (and even communication) of their characters in Godzilla vs. Gigan (1972) (or maybe I'm looking too far into this now)? Kumonga spraying webbing from the front, though highly anatomically incorrect, is preserved from Son of Godzilla (1967). Then, there is Mothra's cave, which is surprisingly reminiscent of the set in Godzilla vs. Mothra (1992); and the story of Mothra vs. Gigan is similar in ways to Mothra vs. Battra. The picture of the 1964 Shobijin in the brief shot of the book was also a nice touch too. Gigan's eye beam, a special power cut from his debut movie, makes it's triumphant first appearance here, although in this way, it is an homage to what could have been beforehand. Keizer Ghidorah, losing his middle head in the fashion he did, was very similar to the style in which the same event transpired in Godzilla vs. King Ghidorah (1991). Ghidorah coming from a meteor was also a fantastic, and subtle homage to Ghidorah, the Three-Headed Monster (1964). Finally, the aliens seem to draw inspiration from numerous extra-terrestrial races of the Showa timeline. They utilize “uniform” like the Nebulans, have the technological prowess of the Black Hole Aliens, a plan of attack similar to the Kilaakian, and they look (somewhat) like the original Xiliens. There are a lot of little subtleties here; some hard to miss, some difficult to locate, and undoubtedly still others that could easily be under scrutiny as to whether or not they were, in fact, intentional.

So, what about the human drama? Meh, let's skip the human drama, shall we? It's been done to death. Oh, all right. It's bland and boring. Don Frye's cool, but his line delivery is a little clumsy; Kazuki Kitamura is hilarious in his portrayal of the eccentric Xilien second-in-command; there is little to no development of any of the characters; it's all a rip-off of the Matrix, yada, yada, yada… you've heard all this before. All right then, glad that's over. Let's cover the weird stuff, now. First, take a look at such dialogue as: “It doesn't matter why you weren't controlled, what mattered is that you weren't,” “Sorry, I'm a vegetarian,” and the ever-hilarious “I managed to escape, somehow.” I love that last one; the only problem is, I can't figure out if it was an intentional satirical jab at corny dialogue or if it was, in fact, corny dialogue. And of course, with all of Don Frye's cheesy one-liners, the conversations throughout the course of the movie make for an interesting experience. One shouldn't underestimate the pimp vs. cop scene in this respect also, as it walks a thin tight rope between the ethnically insensitive and the simply unbelievable.

To add to my strange desire to dig into subtleties, I'd lake to take a look now at technical problems. Not technical difficulties, but problems with logic or physics for example. Why would they need to fake Gorath if there really was one? Why did Kumonga actually pick up speed in mid air? How did Minilla suddenly gain almost 5,000 tons in an instant (and from where…)? Why did it take so long for Kazama to fly his craft 500 meters (in a straight shot, mind you) to the center of the Mothership? Five hundred meters is a little over a lap around a high-school track, to put it in perspective. Why the Mothership didn't start to immediately show signs of intense damage, despite the huge explosion of its shield generators, is also just a little odd. Also, take a look at the speed of the of the Xilien comprehension and the skill of their fighting prowess, yet the inability for them to often: a) pull the trigger on time, b) successfully defeat humans, or c) make logical choices as to how they fight in hand-to-hand combat. As one reviewer so aptly put it, they deserved to lose after they threw aside their lasers. And another thing, when they used the Secretary General's body as uniform, I have to ask… really… I must… were they so painfully unprepared that they didn't at least research the guy's history? I mean, would it have hurt to do a little snooping and find out that he had a dog?!?

Despite the technical problems, the effects were sometimes above and often below current standards for a kaiju flick. First, let's look at the suits. First there was Apezilla (1984), next there was Catzilla (1989), and now, finally folks, we have Ratzilla (2004). While the former two are exaggerations of certain prominent features in their respective suits (hopefully humorous exaggerations, but probably not), it's hard to deny this new Godzilla has a very rat-like face. The huge-normous arms, inorganic movements, and the uninteresting flesh texture and color kind of made for an unpleasant title monster. While perhaps the Kiryu-saga Godzilla might not have been the best design for the film, at least a hybrid between the two designs could have made for an excellent synergy. The other suits used in the film were also a mixed bag. The two biggest offenders: King Caesar and Monster X. To put it simply, King Caesar looks like the next PBS children's special; the suit is too cartoony and too unbelievable. Monster X isn't all that better. His suit looks way too foamy on top, and way too humanoid on the bottom. Those reddish eyes look sick in close-up shots, but other than that, Mister X looks meh. Rodan's suit was all right, but it was probably only marginally more acceptable then the previous two monsters (only because there was some realistism here). Anguirus looks superb, though. There were some reports before the movie came out that the head was an updated Dagahra prop. Hey, if Toho came out tomorrow and said this was true, I'd believe them. I'm under the notion Dagahra had some excellent dinosaurian features in his head, and Anguirus has a phenomenal dinosaurian look. Perhaps it's not as cute as the old days, but I'm just happy to see Angy back in action. The Hedorah suit, though severely (and criminally) underused, looked so good in the cut scenes. The fumes pouring out of the smokestack, caught in the sloppy mess of its polluted flesh was just awesome… a true loss to the film. Ebirah's suit had some nice crustaceous features, although I would have gone with bulkier pincers, myself. Gigan just looks sleek. They took away the potbelly and ‘70s cheese from the original Gigan, and updated the monster with a dark color scheme and a terrifying presence (if only he could have lasted a little while on screen). And then, there's the Minilla suit. Ehem… I'm biased; I think Minilla's cute, so don't expect any worthwhile assessment here.

Props and CG deserve their own little nook of the review. Manda is just brilliantly well fashioned as a prop, although the character is a little cartoonish with his snappy movements when rendered using CG. Mothra, both as a prop and for the brief CG scenes, is looking phenomenal, sporting her design from the previous movie. There are no complaints here, as this design greatly captures the essence of the original. Kamacuras, despite how often this incarnation is negatively compared to the 1967 version, is realized well, in my not-so-humble opinion. The organic movements, the speed, and the insect-like jitteriness bring the monster to life. The detail and materials used on the Kumonga prop give it an excellent sense of size, and it is likely among the most imposing of the props used (although the brilliant New Guinea landscape set greatly accentuated this illusion, as well). Finally, there's Zilla. While nowhere near as crisp as he was in his own movie, he's really rendered with sophistication. The fact that his character was given a “fight”, as opposed to a “flight”, personality is also a plus to me, as I am a fan of this particular monster.

Then, there is the atmosphere. Several elements went into making Final Wars an experience for the senses… from cinematography, to the sets, to the music. First, let's look at the cinematography. While obviously inferior to such previous entries as GMK (2001), it does manage to capture a little of the same feel. There is some high-speed camera work that gives heft to the monster movement, although the use of these scenes is rather uneven, and makes one long for the simple, yet extremely effective styles of the 2001 movie. Nevertheless, the individual sets greatly add to the sense of size in the movie. While the award for the best miniatures in the series still goes to The Return of Godzilla (1984), this film does boast some very solid work. The New Guinea set, complete with the miniature trees and the shaggy foliage of the mountains (again, coupled with Kumonga's detail), really made it all seem so… big. The sparse miniature civilization of the Kazanura region worked well in the same regard, as did the simple rolling hills of the Mt. Fuji area. The cities had some very detailed work, and combined with the matting effects, there was some solid realism in several scenes (although, not all the matte work in this film was top notch… i.e. Godzilla's approach to Sydney). Of course, we can't go through a Final Wars review without mentioning the musical themes. Sigh… they sounds like midis. That's just about it… they sound like inexpensive, synthesized tracks; something that could be produced right out of Noteworthy Composer, or even KB Piano. Luckily, Keith Emmerson's main Godzilla theme manages to add some good-ol' fashioned Godzilla-beat to the track, and there are themes, like “Kazama's Sacrifice”, which are pretty phenomenal. The music that plays during the credits is, however, very bad. It's the worst track of the whole movie; it almost made me cringe the first time I heard it. I just would have preferred had they not repeated that theme so often.

But of course, in my unorthodox attempt to write this review, I've decided to neglect my summary until the very last (as if you don't already know the plot by now). Nevertheless… here we go…

In the modern age, there are many mysteries that are only just being discovered. The existence of monsters, following the birth of the nuclear age, is becoming a severe problem. However mankind has discovered a weapon to defeat them: mutants… humans with extraordinary abilities. It would come to pass that the Earth would soon need these heroes, for the sudden appearance of monsters across the globe erupted in worldwide chaos. “Friends” from above, the Xiliens, rescued humankind from destruction just in time. However, not everyone was convinced that these interlopers were allies, and it was soon discovered that they were planning to colonize the planet. Upon this realization, the Xiliens released the monsters once more, as well as a full arsenal of their deadly ships. Civilization was quickly being wiped off the globe…

There were two things of which the aliens were unaware, however. One was the pilot who had defeated the king of the monsters well over 40 years earlier… and the other was the monster king himself: Godzilla. Captain Cordon flew the aerial battleship, Gotengo, to the Antarctic with a handful of survivors, including the powerful mutant Shin'ichi Ozaki, whose special skills would soon come into play. Missiles were launched, Godzilla was released, and the Xiliens would soon realize a fatal error in their plan… Godzilla was unstoppable!

And so, you've now read the 40 bajillionth and first review for Godzilla: Final Wars, that utterly strange, sometimes unsatisfying, but potentially fun entry in the series. The consensus is simple, this isn't the last movie, but a new one probably won't be out for some years. It's a little sad, but a short break is certainly needed. There is other entertainment besides Godzilla, after all, isn't there…?

Sorry, I knew I couldn't say that with a straight face ;-)