Godzilla Final Wars (2004) – By Jordan Garren

 Well the day has finally come, I’ve finally begun writing reviews for Rogue Cinema and it’s about damned time! To kick off the first of many reviews to come, I’ve decided to preach my thoughts on probably the most controversial Godzilla film of all time. What you may have heard about this film is very true: You’ll either love it or you’ll hate it. Luckily for Toho Co. Ltd. and director Ryuhei Kitamura, I loved Godzilla: Final Wars! Touted as Godzilla’s last film (more of a marketing ploy than absolute truth), Godzilla: Final Wars (henceforth known as GFW), is a fast-paced and energetic film that tries to throw in everything but the kitchen sink. Not only do we get plenty of nods toward many of the previous Godzilla films (especially Godzilla vs. Monster Zero), but Kitamura and company have also throw in plot elements from several classic Toho sci-fi/fantasy films, including Atragon and Gorath.

The plot to GFW is fairly simple: The nations of the world have created The Earth Defense Force, whose sole purpose is to protect our planet from ravaging monsters. They’ve already gotten Godzilla on ice in the Antarctic but they soon find themselves besieged by a veritable army of daikaiju that includes: Rodan, Mothra, Manda, Ebirah, Gigan, Hedorah, Kamacuras, Kumonga, Monster X, Zilla, and King Caesar! Not since Destroy All Monsters has there been such a cast of Japanese monsters! As humanity battles the sudden kaiju onslaught, spaceships appear in our skies and seemingly zap the monsters out of existence. The otherworldly saviors of Earth are the Xilians and they have come to make peace with our planet and establish friendly ties with us earthlings. People the world over are more than happy to embrace the alien visitors, but not everyone is convinced.

Things suddenly get a little crazy from this point on. The Xilians plan to infiltrate the Earth Defense Force and world governments is revealed, moments before the Xilian leader is killed in a brief coup! The new Xilian leader then declares war on humanity and nearly wipes out the entire Earth Defense Force, save for the flying battleship Gotengo and its crew of valiant men and women. Led by Captain Douglas Gordon (Don Frye), a group of super-strong mutant fighters and Earth Defense Force soldiers head to Antarctica to awaken Godzilla. They succeed and soon Godzilla is traveling across the world and thrashing every single monster that’s thrown at him. Of particular interest is the quick and painful demise of "Zilla" (the CGI American monstrosity that Roland Emmerich had brought into this world back in 1998). The whole battle is over in under a minute, but was more than enough to sate my bloodlust. (What would’ve made the death of Zilla even better is if Dean Devlin, Roland Emmerich, and Matthew Broderick were all in the Sydney Opera House the exact moment that Zilla comes crashing through and gets incinerated!)

Eventually the Gotengo reaches the Xilian mother ship and the final battle takes place. Godzilla battles against Gigan and Monster X (who by the way is just a fancy "larval" version of the new version of King Ghidorah) on the ground below while the crew of the Gotengo breaks into the giant alien mother ship. The film then boils down to a one-on-one battle between a mutant named Ozaki and the Xilian leader and simultaneously a battle between Godzilla and "Kaiser Ghidorah!" In the end, humanity and Godzilla emerge triumphant and a good chunk of the people who have watched this film are left scratching their heads as Godzilla (and Minya) wade off into the horizon. All right, you already know I really enjoyed this film, so here’s why: The pacing is lightning fast and there’s rarely a dull moment in the film. This movie is purely about having fun and watching Godzilla cement his title as King of the Monsters. The special effects in the film range from excellent to downright cheesy, but overall I was satisfied with the quality of the effects. (And as icing on the cake, I got to see the demise of that CGI abomination known as GINO – Godzilla In Name Only!)

However, this movie has its share of flaws that have enraged Godzilla fans from coast to coast. The main complaint I’ve been hearing (and that I will agree with to an extent) was the brevity of the monster battles. Ryuhei Kitamura wanted to make Godzilla as powerful as possible and he succeeded in doing so. The problem is that he made Godzilla too poweful for most tastes. Even when Godzilla’s final opponent is revealed, there’s no feeling of suspense present at all. (In fact, it’s pretty anticlimactic.) Godzilla easily walks through at least nine opponents in the film, so why should the final monster pose any real threat?! I don’t care if it’s a new version of Ghidorah, that monster is going to be toast! Another major complaint about the film is the plot or rather, the lack of coherence in the plot. What Kitamura and the film’s writers tried to do was admirable; they wanted to make this movie an homage to the films of the Showa generation. For the most part, I think the plot is straightforward, but there are a few spots that had a seasoned G-veteran like myself shaking my head in confusion.

Overall I’d have to say that GFW is a glorious mess of a film. Yes it lacks a lot of coherence, yes the monster battles are very short (but sweet), yes there are a few scenes with some questionable CGI effects, and yes I agree that Minya should’ve gotten the boot, but I just can’t help but like this movie, regardless of its flaws. (Truthfully I fell in love with this movie during the awesome opening credits!) I turned off my brain and just enjoyed it for what it was, and after the DVD stopped playing, I hit play and watched it straight through again. In my opinion, this film is a fine addition to the Godzilla series and should be given a second chance by all you Kitamura haters out there. And as for the music in the film, while it’s very non-traditional, it did grow on me, though admittedly I was hoping for some tunes from Akira Ifukube. I literally cringed when I heard that SUM41 was going to supply some music for GFW, but the end result isn’t too shabby at all. Currently Godzilla: Final Wars is available on Region 1 DVD from Sony Pictures.

GFW comes complete with anamorphic widescreen, 5.1 Dolby Surround sound (for both the English dubbed and the original Japanese audio tracks), and boasts the first set of real subtitles ever used in a U.S. Godzilla DVD release! And what’s this… an extra feature?! Yes it’s true! There’s a "Godzilla: B-Roll to Film" featurette that shows several of the monster battles being shot, followed by the actual scene from the film. It’s a fun look behind the scenes but was way too short for my liking, but why complain when the pricetag is so low. (I believe Wal-Mart carries it for under ten dollars!). But if you’re a hardcore G-Fan like me, you may want to look into getting the 4-DVD GFW set from Video Daikaiju (www.videodaikaiju.com). Disc 1 contains the movie, Disc 2 & 3 contain the special features, and Disc 4 contains the original motion picture soundtrack! For those of you with money to burn, this is something you need to purchase, but for you thrifty (or poor) Godzilla fans, just stick with the Sony release because it’s more than adequate! So go out and buy this movie, not because I’m telling you to, but because GODZILLA RULES!