Sunday, August 25, 2013

Godzilla Entry #28: GODZILLA: FINAL WARS

GODZILLA: FINAL WARS (Gojira: Fainaru Uôzu, 2004)
Directed by: Ryuhei Kitamura
Written by: Isao Kiriyama, Ryuhei Kitamura
Starring: Masahiro Matsuoka, Rei Kikukawa, Don Frye, Maki Mizuno, Kazuki Kitamura, Naoko Kamio, Tsutomu Kitagawa, Motokuni Masumoto, Toshihiro Ogura
Synopsis: When aliens gain control of all the kaiju on planet Earth, it's up Godzilla and the EDF to stop them. 

And so this concludes the series. In 2004, Toho released FINAL WARS in order to "commemorate" the 50th anniversary of the green guy. The movie is basically a CGI laden remake of DESTROY ALL MONSTERS, except it does just about everything wrong. This was such a lousy tribute to Godzilla and the franchise itself, and I almost wish that the writers were actually writing some clever meta-commentary on the decline of the Godzilla brand since the Heisei era came to an end. The biggest problem was the lack of Godzilla in a movie that was supposedly celebrating him. The movie might as well have been called COOL JAPANESE DUDES WITH SPIKY HAIR: FINAL WARS. The only way that this movie could have been a worse anniversary movie is if they had the humans running away from raptor-like Godzilla babies.

To sum up the story, it deals with a world where kaijus are common place; you see glimpses of various Toho movies in the opening montage. In this version of the events, this Godzilla was still not the original one from 1954 but was defeated in the 1960's in Antarctica and has been dormant ever since. Japan establishes the Earth Defense Force (EDF) that protects the world with advanced weaponry such as the use of humans who have mutant powers. When an alien race, the Xillians, shows up to warn the Earth that it will be struck by a meteor, everything looks nice and rosy. But then all of the kaiju start to attack across the world and the true nature of the Xillians is revealed. They want to use the humans as "cattle", and it's up to a guy that looks like Mario and assorted cool mutants in leather to save the day.

While there's not many positive aspects to the movie, those few aspects need to be given some credit. The monster designs are really where the movie hits it home. Given that there are 14/15 (depending on how you view Ghidorah/Monster X) monsters, there was a lot of work that had to be done in the visual department. Starting off with the big guy, this might be one of my favorite suits of his. It doesn't look to be at all similar to the Kiryu Saga (the last two movies) suit or anything else in the Millennium series, but he strikes the perfect balance of modern and aggressive but not a completely soulless creature. I need an S.H. MonsterArts of this guy right now.

The two other creatures that deserve mention were Gigan and Ghidorah. Gigan's new design is basically his old design but taken up to 11 while being doused in Red Bull. Everything about him is spikier, meaner, and literally learner (the kaiju space chicken must have been hitting the gym). Any edge or blade that the original Gigan had was somehow made to look sharper. During the second half of the movie, he is revived after being killed by Godzilla and instead of having his signature blade hands, the space chicken ends up having freaking triple chainsaw for arms. Now, Ghidorah as has been customary in each continuity, comes back as a different type of monster. This time around, he is the upgraded version of Monster X, which is the Xillian's ultimate weapon. But it's interesting to see how Monster X goes from looking like a "Zilla/Xenomorph" hybrid to having him transform into the three-headed dragon since both of the designs are so radically different in color and anatomy.

The rest of the monsters all managed to look like slight re-designs from their previous incarnations, like Kumonga, Ebirah, and Hedorah. However, the worst two designs are the King Cesar and Minilla. For once, why the hell would you bring back that awful humanoid design of Minilla instead of Baby Godzilla?! Minilla looked creepy standing next to the humans. King Cesar basically looked the same in terms of body design, but once you look at his face, it looks off. 

The focus that the human stories allows the film to actually have a bit more development and even some characters, even though they are action movie archetypes, and characters get to have full arcs with some relative growth. In an also bizarre move and potential homage to INVASION OF ASTRO-MONSTER, there is a big focus on a non-Japanese character, Douglas Gordon (Don Frye), an American who pilots the Gotengo, the flying drill ship that the EDF uses throughout the movie. Not to be too nationalistic, but most of the best Godzilla movies didn't feature any of American actors. Given that there is such a huge focus on the humans, and that the majority of the cast are super powered "mutant" characters, there are numerous fight and action scenes throughout the movie. The problem is that it feels that the writers thought that THE MATRIX's CGI-filled fight sequences were still seen as the cool thing to do, so they tried emulating it.  The result ends up being fights that look like cheap knock offs of a 1999 movie.

What doesn't work about this movie, you ask? Well the fact that Godzilla has very little screen time in his own movie. I noticed it was at the 74 minute mark, over half way through the film, when Godzilla actually appears in the movie in the present day and not in some flashback. There has been several movies where Godzilla hasn't been the focus, which is fine, but his presence is still known and feared throughout the movie. But in this film, Godzilla is merely a deus ex machina-type of plot device where the humans are having to find a way to defeat the Xillians after they release all of their monsters upon the earth. 

From a story telling point of view, the movie is a complete mess and is paced terribly. Anything dealing with the kaiju is nothing more than a transition to the MUCH MORE INTERESTING human story. What's worse is that the human sections are a terrible sci-fi action adventure derivative story. If you've seen a few sci-fi movies, you've seen this movie. Watching the dubbed version actually made it a little difficult to gauge some of the action, but Kazuki Kitamura, as the Controller of Planet X, is the most annoyingly over-the-top actor I've seen in a long time. In a better movie, the craziness could've been fun in a Nicolas Cage sort of way.

In the best of times, the Godzilla movies have been great monster-filled allegories, and at the worst, they are silly action movies trying to be great monster-filled allegories. Try to guess which one FINAL WARS was. There are small moments that give Godzilla some character, where the humans will say throwaway lines about why he is so angry with humans and destroys cities because he hates that humans have done terrible things to the environment. There was the issue that there were too many monsters in this movie to have each of them have their own due. After Godzilla is freed from the ice, he is then tasked with basically killing all of the kaiju that the Xillian controls. In his first fight he makes quick work of Gigan, then during the next 10(!!!) minutes, he defeats King Caesar, Rodan, Anguiras, Hedorah, Ebirah, Kumonga, Kamacuras, and Zilla all in quick succession. This leads the fights to feel like such an afterthought because the fights are either short, or they're almost done by the time we as the audience get to see it. Considering that each fight takes places in a different country and continent, you have no sense of time and place beyond being told the location. The various locations lead to last half of the movie look and feel very rushed and sloppy after 70 minutes of dragging through the human's story. If the excuse for making the majority of these fights short was because there were 14 kaiju, then I would have preferred to have seen something like GMK, where there was a small number of kaiju fighting and on screen at the same time and were given meatier roles. 

If you want an example of a majorly underused character thanks to the uneven pacing, that would be Gigan. He is given the importance early in the movie to be the one to explain the link between kaiju, the Xillian, and the mutants. He was given a background where he fought Mothra, was defeated, and buried. Then, when it comes to the movie's fight scene's he is taken out twice within the first three minutes. But the worst part? He dies clumsily by his own hands and isn't even available to make use of his cool and upgraded chainsaw arms. If you read my article from last week, you'll know I have a problem with the way Mothra has been handled in this last series. Here, you see her being used in the same way as a motherly guardian that has to sacrifice herself for the big atomic boys to have their bigger fight. What's even worse is that the movie makes it a point to make fun of Zilla ( from the '98 American version), who appears as one of the kaiju attacking Australia. The fact is, that Toho has hated Zilla ever since the movie came out and has made fun of it in previous Millenium movies, most notably GMK. But if you're going to make fun of a terrible movie, please don't do it in a terrible movie.

The biggest shame of this movie is that it tries to be a tribute to Godzilla while treading new ground, but it just does not work. It truly feels like the franchise has forgotten that many movies in the Heisei era have managed to strike the right balance of human to kaiju ratios while making both sides of the story compelling to watch. By focusing on a derivative human story and making the kaiju basically afterthoughts within it, FINAL WARS has no respect on the characters that its supposed to celebrate.It's a damn shame that this is the last we would see of Godzilla for over ten years. Here's hoping that Gareth Edward's new reboot will create a resurgence of the character for the upcoming years.

So that's it for the Toho movies! Next week sometime, I will be live-blogging me watching '98 GODZILLA possibly over Google Hangout, Skype, or something technical like that. I'll try to have an audience while I watch the movie, and after that, I’ll have a huge retrospective post about the series and how I am a better person for having seen Japanese dudes running around in rubber suits.

Also, just for funsies, here's all 15 kaiju featured in the movie!






Monster X


King Ceasar








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