Review: Godzilla: Final Wars

Monsters are on the warpath all over planet Earth, so an elite force of mutant soldiers (humans with martial arts skills and super-human strength) has been created to counter the attack. Earth is seemingly saved when an alien race known as Xillians make all the monsters disappear. They also kidnap Secretary-General Akira Takarada, and upon return, he suggests that the aliens are peaceful and want to form an alliance with Earth. But their true motives are anything but peaceful, and it is up to soldier Masahiro Matsuoka, a couple of hot chicks (Rei Kikukawa and Maki Mizuno), and gruff Captain Gordon (former NJPW pro-wrestler/MMA fighter Don Frye) to save the day by freeing Godzilla and have him engage in a Kaiju Smackdown with the other monsters the Xillians are unleashing on Earth (apparently Godzilla’s DNA is unable to be controlled by the Xillians).

I was rather mild on this 2004 Godzilla flick, the final in the ‘Millennium Series’ when I first saw it. In fact, it was the first in the ‘Millennium Series’ that I had seen, so when having bought a six pack of the series I figured it’d be interesting to review the film based on my second impression. Largely I hold the same view that I’ve always had, but I’m even less impressed second go-round with what director Ryuhei Kitamura (the overrated “Versus”, the underrated “Midnight Meat Train”) and co-writer Isao Kiriyama have come up with here. Whilst the previous films in the ‘Millennium Series’ have largely been quite lean in both the script and length of the film, this one’s an unrestrained mess. It’s all over the shop, and the hyper direction of Kitamura isn’t really a good fit, nor does he seem to like the basic ingredients to making a good kaiju movie. He seems concerned with absolutely anything else except making a “Godzilla” movie, and a little of his hyperactive Tony Scott style goes…not all that far. I did like “Midnight Meat Train”, though. It’s weird and baffling that a film that seems inspired by two of the best “Godzilla” films ever made (“Destroy All Monsters” and “Godzilla vs. Monster Zero”), could turn out so weak. It’s an overstuffed mess that somehow doesn’t find nearly enough time for its title character, nor play much like a “Godzilla” film elsewhere, despite cribbing from the aforementioned “Godzilla” films.

Things don’t start well. In fact, we start with what feels like the middle of the film, a random skirmish with Godzilla in snowy terrain. But hey, at least that’s the big green lizard, right? So they get that right. Then we’re also given the very G-Force-esque Earth Defence Force now giving us “X-Men” meets “Universal Soldier”-esque mutant super-soldiers. It’s a bit much (and the super-soldiers are tedious), which is saying something for a film with a music score partly by prog rock specialist Keith Emerson. That’s a bit of a random choice (though most of the score is more nu-metal and pretty drab), and early on it’s clear the director has lost sight of what this is meant to be. I’m not even sure if the director knows this is meant to be the final film in the ‘Millennium Series’, as it plays more like the beginning (or middle) of a different series in the franchise. It certainly has a much more different, offbeat tone than any previous “Godzilla” film, which wouldn’t perhaps be an issue if this were the beginning of a new direction. It’s not, so it’s all a bit WTF? I mean, as much as I like martial arts movies...what does that have to do with a Godzilla movie? Nothing, that’s what and it doesn’t belong here at all. Godzilla says your karate sucks, Laruso. By the time aliens turn up 30 minutes in, you feel like we’re getting 5 stories in one film, and 4 too many. We even get a truly embarrassing scene supposedly set in NY in 2004 that features a pimp straight out of 1973!

On the plus side it’s nice seeing series veteran Akira Takarada in a fairly decent role as a U.N. guy, and more briefly you can spot another star of the early kaiju films, Kenji Sahara as a bespectacled palaeontologist visited by the Mothra twins. If there’s a reason to recommend the film- and sadly there’s really not- it’s Takarada, who is clearly having fun. I wish I was having more than just intermittent fun. Aside from Takarada, the main thing holding my interest here were the monsters, and that’s hit-and-miss too. It’s great to see Minya (the not-so bright, not-so scary “Son of Godzilla”) again, even if I’m baffled as to why he’s human-sized. I mean, obviously they mostly are, because it’s guys in rubber suits, but whatever they do to make them appear bigger on screen…doesn’t appear to have worked with ‘ol Minya. The CGI on Manda somewhat ruins the fun of seeing that monster again (ditto Rodan, killing an otherwise bad arse entrance for it), and while I was glad it wasn’t CGI, let’s face it the giant Pekingese monster King Caesar looks as pathetic as it did in the 70s. But then there’s Gigan…Gigan is the most splendiferously ridiculous monster of them all and I wanted more of him, please! This guy’s tricked-up to buggery and Godzilla’s all ‘Nah, fuck that!’ and explodes Gigan’s head almost instantly. Kitamura clearly doesn’t want anyone to have too much fun here, although at least when he does focus on putting Godzilla front and centre, he makes sure the big green guy is an almighty bad arse, dispatching dopey giant spider Kumonga (who shoots ridiculously fake-looking yellow webs that look like a painted cargo net) with ease. Hope you don’t like that flying praying mantis-like bug, ‘coz it lasts about as long in a tussle with the G-Man (it’s called Gimantis and apparently appeared with Minya and Kumonga in “Son of Godzilla”, but I must’ve blanked it out).

After a while though, even Godzilla starts to be one of the film’s downsides, as he’s built-up here to be so unbeatable no one else is a threat. It’s cool to see Anguirus roll itself into a giant spikey ball, but even when joined by the flying Rodan, Godzilla seems to be giving about 50% effort and still coming out on top. The funny thing? The aliens decide to revive Gigan and give it a chainsaw upgrade…to take on Mothra. Yeah, it’s a giant moth…you’re not gonna need much. Why not do that for a skirmish with, y’know…Godzilla. The one that decapitated the hell out of Gigan in the first damn place? Sadly, Gigan loses its head again because, as I said, Kitamura is the frigging Fun Police. King Ghidorah probably turns up too late to the party, but looks kinda cool and has an equally cool laser battle with Godzilla. They get positively nasty and vampire-like at one point.

As for the human cast, Takarada is obviously the stand out, but two other names bear mentioning. Gruff former UFC fighter/NJPW wrestler Don Frye is no actor and may not really belong here, but he’s one of the more ‘fun’ things about the film and livens up his every scene. I wouldn’t call it anywhere near a good performance but the film needs him, because the director spends most of the film disappearing up his own arse and throwing in too much of everything for anything to really hang. At least he’s entertaining. At the other end of the scale we have Kazuki Kitamura, as the leader of the Xillians. Looking like a glam metal pussy, he gives a performance of dopey Rita Repulsa dimensions.

Some people will like this film. Those people don’t much like “Godzilla” movies to begin with, most likely. Far too filled to the brim than one film can handle, and not very much of what is here is terribly necessary. There’s fun moments, but not nearly enough and aside from Akira Takarada and Don Frye, none of the humans stand out much. Sadly, this one’s on the same level as the hugely disappointing “King Kong vs. Godzilla” from the 60s. Too much…muchness. A mess, though it’s nice to see Sydney’s Centrepoint Tower get taken down in all the monster action.

Rating: C+


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