Friday, May 16, 2014

GODZILLA: FINAL WARS (2004): 30 Days of Godzilla

DAY 30


Go big or go home

That must have been director Ryuhei Kitamura's mantra when he signed on to direct the final film in the Millennium Series and, until this year, the last Godzilla film to be released in a decade. Featuring a record-holding 14 different monsters, nonstop John Woo / The Matrix-inspired action sequences, and a slate of classic Godzilla actor cameos, Godzilla: Final Wars is one of the most divisive films in the franchise. Released for Godzilla's 50th Anniversary, it may not have been the perfect Godzilla film so many fans were hoping for, but it's still one of the most fun and exciting films to bear the name "Godzilla."

Existing in its own self-contained continuity, Godzilla: Final Wars takes place in the future where humanity's penchant for wars and pollution have created and awoken a race of giant mutant monsters. Faced with an extinction of their own making, the Earth's nations have come together to put aside their petty differences and fight the monsters as a united front. Thus, the Earth Defense Force is born. At the same time, humans with mutant special abilities begin to appear, and they are recruited by the EDF to fight its greatest foe: Godzilla! In a pre-credit sequence, the EDF manages to defeat Godzilla at the South Pole by burying him in a deep-ice crevasse that opens during an Earthquake, locking the King of the Monsters in icy suspended animation.

With Godzilla out of the way, the EDF continues to investigate and hunt down the Earth's monsters, such as Manda the sea dragon as well as the strange 12, 000-year-old remains of a fossilized cyborg kaiju. Then, one day, the EDF faces a threat even bigger than Godzilla. Without warning, seven giant monsters simultaneously appear around the world and begin to attack the Earth's major cities!


While the EDF is struggling to destroy all monsters, a mysterious UFO appears and transports all the kaiju away. The aliens introduce themselves as the Xiliens from Planet X and extend a message of aid and peace to the human race. All is not what it seems, however, as the Xiliens are actually bent on replacing the world's leaders, enslaving the human race as food, and telepathically controlling the world's mutants and monsters to enforce their will. It's up to a small band of soldiers and scientists to escape and get the help of the only one with the raw, uncompromising power to defeat the Xiliens and their mutant/monster army. They go to wake up Godzilla.

He's got the Eye of the Kaiju
Settle back for hyper-stylized martial arts battles, anime-inspired motorcycle chases, and even more monsters as Godzilla blazes a path of destruction across the world, kicking the shit out of kaiju big and small! The Xiliens awaken their 12, 000 year old weapon Gigan, Mothra appears to help Godzilla save the Earth, Hedorah the smog monster makes a cameo, and even the baby Godzilla Minilla comes stumbling out of the jungle in search of humans to help him find Godzilla. If that weren't enough, Godzilla must fight a new (but not so unfamiliar) enemy in the Xiliens' secret weapon: MONSTER X / KEIZER GHIDORAH. There's not a dull moment in the movie as men and mutants and monsters wage one final war for survival. Are you not entertained?

Scythe Makes Right
Well, not everyone was entertained by Godzilla: Final Wars after its release. Fan reaction was mixed to negative. In fact, it is downright despised by a number of Godzilla fans. Common complaints from hardcore enthusiasts include:
  • Not enough Godzilla
  • Not enough screen-time for the other Kaiju
  • Monster fights that are too short
  • Not enough plot coherence and a lack of character 
  • Too many martial arts scenes (which many fans feel do not belong in a Godzilla movie)
  • An attention-deficit editing speed and pace resulting in huge plot holes
  • An awkward Minilla road trip subplot
  • Too many hamfisted themes.
Ugggh. Not this shit again.
I'm not going to dispute any of this. It's all there to be found. I'm not going to sit here and proclaim Godzilla: Final Wars to be a perfect or even exemplary Godzilla movie. It'sa  nontraditional take on the genre, packed with way too much derivative nonsense and lacking in sincere character emotion. I think that's indisputable. However, I would argue that Godzilla: Final Wars shouldn't be judged so much as a standalone movie as much as it should be viewed as a celebration of Godzilla's cumulative history. It's a pastiche paying tribute to every aspect of Godzilla's multi-decade career. Since the Godzilla series has been everywhere from serious sci-fi horror to goofy children's fantasy and has been just as smart and innovative as it has been cheap and derivative, so too is Godzilla: Final Wars: a collage of the franchise's many contrasting colours. This may be at the expense of a good story or coherent theme, but without this gleefully shameless celebration of everything Godzilla, we wouldn't have received such amazing moments as:
  • An homage to two of the best Godzilla films: Destroy All Monsters and Invasion of Astro-Monster.
  • Godzilla's brutal defeat of Zilla (Roland Emmerich's wannabe 1998 Godzilla monster)
  • Mothra coming to Godzilla's rescue for the first time since 1968's Destroy All Monsters
  • The big screen comeback of several Toho kaiju who had been retired since the 1960s and 1970s
  • A dig at the Gamera series during a scene in which a kid playing with monster toys throws a giant turtle toy into the fireplace and calls him a loser. Gamera's roar can be distinctly heard emanating from the flames.
  • Cameos and supporting roles by a plethora of classic Godzilla stars including: Akira Takarada (Gojira, Mothra vs. Godzilla, Invasion of Astro-Monster, Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster, Godzilla vs. Mothra)Kenji Sahara (an 11-film veteran of the Godzilla series as well as a veteran Toho sci-fi actor); Akira Nakao (Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla 2, Godzilla vs. Space Godzilla, Godzilla vs. Destoroyah, Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla, Tokyo S.O.S.)Koichi Ueda (a supporting actor in Godzilla movies since 1989), and Kumi Mizuno (Invasion of Astro-Monster, Godzilla vs. The Sea Monster, Frankenstein vs. Baragon, War of the Gargantuas). 
Final Wars is electic!
The only thing director Ryuhei Kitamura adds that's not already rooted in Godzilla's history is the kung fu element. Sure, it's very atypical for a Godzilla movie, but you know what? It was needed. As awesome as Godzilla movies can be, they are infamous for their boring scenes in which people sit around conference tables and talk about missions and the nature of the monster. Godzilla: Final Wars jettisons all the boredom and finally gives us some human action that's on par with the spectacle and excess of the kaiju battles. I'm not saying I want every Godzilla movie to be a ripoff of The Matrix, but one kung fu Godzilla movie in 60 years isn't going to hurt anyone. So call me a Godzilla: Final Wars apologist if you must, but I love this movie for all its fault and all its majestic madness.


As Godzilla and Minilla wade off into the sunset at the end of Godzilla: Final Wars to take a much-deserved 10-year nap, we're left to wonder: what's next for the King of the Monsters? Well, after a decade of waiting, the King has returned. Tonight, Gareth Edwards's Godzilla opens across North America and will reintroduce audiences both old and new to the might, and the power, and the terror of the world's most famous monster.

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