Godzilla: Final Wars
How do I even begin to write a review of this thing? Godzilla: Final Wars came out last December (2004) as a 50th Anniversary present to the whole Godzilla series. That means we've got 50 years of Godzilla films, more than 27 of them (that's more than 40 hours of giant guy-in-a-rubber suit bliss). I know it's my job to review movies and most often I share the ones that are so god-awful they're amazing or at least the ones so terrible they're interesting. I have a confession: I am addicted to Godzilla movies. Let me correct that: I'm addicted to movies about giant monsters. Kaiju is the "in-word" for them...but that's if you only respect the Japanese Big-Guys-in-Suits monsters. Me? I think it would be a crime to forget all the films that came before Godzilla...what with their giant scorpions, giant apes, giant dinosaurs, and pretty much anything GIANT. So while I like the cool-points aspect of using a word like Kaiju...the fact that King Kong himself appeared in a Godzilla film kind of discredits the validity of the word....unless it crosses all cultures and doesn't refer to Japanese monsters alone. Bah. Why the hell am I talking about monster semantics? What the hell is wrong with me? Godzilla: Final Wars isn't a great film. But to a Godzilla fan such as myself...it's golden. This review may not be like the others, but hell, I just watched this thing and all I can say is "Wow."
The Plot: The U.N. creates a monster-fighting army a supermen known as the Earth Defense Force to defend earth from the random Giant Monsters that spring up from time to time (the film uses stock footage from older Godzilla films as "documentary footage"). Xilians (from Planet X) show up, pretend to be our friends until things change. The Xilians release a horde (10) of Giant monsters who happen to be from Godzilla's 50 years of monster-crushing/city-stomping past. Godzilla's freed to destroy them and, well, save the earth. It's not that simple but that's the general idea.
I promise I won't go too fan-boy on you but I will address the Godzilla-clichés as they come up and how they're addressed in Godzilla's latest movie.
Godzilla Cliché #1: No Matter How Hard They Try, Mere Humans and Their Technology Are Helpless Against the Monsters. WRONG!
Think about it. Sure, there are a few exceptions (like the original Godzilla film), but seriously think about it. Every Godzilla film revolves around the fact that it takes a Giant Monster to kill a Giant Monster. You know that Earth Defense force I mentioned? This film goes to serious lengths to try to convince you that humanity can defend itself. One of the first scenes is a "super flying jet tank with super-duper weapons" versus a giant serpent named Manda. Now we're all seen Godzilla movies. We know that it's the director's job to try to get us to believe that the flying jet/tank-thing is going to help...but it rarely ever does. In this movie? Said flying tank (the "Gotengu") shoots a freeze ray into Manda's face before drilling it into oblivion. "I shoot you in the face then tunnel through your skull." So hardcore.
I know what you're thinking. "Oh yeah. Magic technology saves the day. Boooooring." What would you say if we pitted a GIANT LOBSTER against five guys with laser bazookas? This has to be the first Godzilla movie with monster-versus-human claw-to-hand combat. Giant Lobster starts tearing up a city, and the Earth Defense Force sends 5 guys with big hand-held guns to whoop it's ass. The Lobster is also known as Ebirah, from Godzilla versus the Sea Monster. How does the fight turn out?
In case you can't tell, that's one of the soldiers doing a victory dance on top of a very well-whooped Lobster. If I was a Giant Monster, I'd be feeling pretty lame right now. In Ebirah's defense, the Earth Defense Force apparently hires ninjas that can control the Matrix. Speaking of such, the influence of the Matrix on this film is pretty obvious. Now, this is kind of weird to say, because a lot of films from the East inspired the action style of the Matrix and little the other way around. There's soldiers using their mind powers to stop laser beams (aka bullets, like the first Matrix film), the bad guys all wear black leather and sunglasses, and, well, there's a lot of crazy ninja crap going on whenever Godzilla's not on the screen. Which brings me to cliche #2......
Godzilla Cliché #2: When Godzilla (or a Giant Monster) is not on the screen, the movie blows. (a.k.a. the "No One Cares about the Humans" cliché.) WRONG!
I know that not everyone will agree with this opinion, but I really think Toho Studios went the extra mile to make Final Wars interesting even without the big green on the screen. This isn't surprising, considering who directed this, but we'll get to him later. I've already mentioned the Matrix-like ninja crap going on in this movie but let me give you just a brief glimpse of what else is going on.
Pure Matrix-like kung-fu. While I CAN think of a movie where a guy stops bullets with his mind, I'm hard pressed to think of another one that has a man using his speeding motorcycle to drop kick his enemy, who happens to be flying at him. And by that comment I mean he USES his motorcycle as a weapon, literally.
Evil aliens dress like they're from the Matrix and have to face off against the film's only American who runs around with a katana and a bad attitude. (Weird disclaimer: I'm not saying that every kung-fu movie with bad guys dressed in leather is based off the Matrix, but I will say that if you watch this film you can't help but picture Neo in the lead role.)
Evil aliens have mind-control powers that can only be cured by a magic knife being shoved into your spine. I so wish I was joking.
The non-Godzilla parts of the film may be less interesting than watching Giant Monsters wail on each other, but Toho really really really tried to make this interesting. I liked it. It was like an actually entertaining half-time show at the Super Bowl. You expect it to disappoint and you're completely surprised when it's even half-way entertaining. But enough of the humans.
Godzilla Cliché #3: Son of Godzilla sucks complete ass. Correct!
"Dear Toho Studios,
I was wondering if I might make a suggestion concerning the rigorous process that you use to choose directors and writers for your Godzilla films. Might I suggest posing the question: "Do you like Godzilla's son?" or even "Which would you choose: Putting Godzilla's son in a movie or having bamboo shoved beneath your fingernails?" A slow death would be best for those who answer incorrectly. The plague that is Godzilla's Son is something that should be addressed as quickly and as a quietly as possible.
Thank you for your time."
I understand why they put Godzilla's Son (Minya) in this movie. It wouldn't have been quite as self-reflective an anniversary film without him. That doesn't make his appearance burn my retinas any less. Having a guy running around in a green rubber Barney suit is just less than cool. Don't even get me started about how the director of this film chose "baby Godzilla" as his favorite monster. :sigh: An interesting thing to point out here is that there is a reason you rarely see a Kaiju costumed monster fighting a normal looking guy....when you see a normal person in the "Giant Monster" setting it does nothing but make the monster look more fake (I'll address this more as well as it's comedic value in an upcoming review of Frankenstein versus Baragon...another Toho Studios film, albeit not directly a Godzilla film). The whole "Minya" subplot is particularly the worst thing in the film because not only are you exposed to the creature that Godzilla should have aborted, but also a plucky kid (who loves Minya) and his senile elderly companion (with a rifle). And yes, Minya does blow a smoke ring just as he does in his other movies (Son of Godzilla, Destroy All Monsters, and the one Godzilla film that I will not mention because it hurts me too much to remember). On a side note, I'm pretty sure Minya is exactly what my fat uncle James looks like naked. Not that I think about such things.
Godzilla Cliché #4: Godzilla fans must make fun of Gamera every chance they get. Correct!
I really don't know what the pure hatred is all about between Godzilla fans and Gamera fans. Any time I end up talking to someone about it all I hear is "Gamera sucks!" and that usually ends our dialogue. For those of you who don't know, Gamera was ANOTHER giant fire-breathing monster (a turtle to be exact) that came out after Godzilla's initial success. My problem with blasting Gamera for all those sucky films from the 70's is that Godzilla didn't appear in too many great films about that time either. From fighting against pollution with the help of haiku from children to "flying" by spraying his breath behind him to him pulling goofy wrestling moves out of his green butt, I think it's safe to say that even Godzilla isn't beyond reproach. Hell, there's several grades of Godzilla fans and I got introduced to him through the same means most of my generation did: through very bad B-movies that played on cable television during the 1980's. But I'm getting on a tangent. In this film there IS a short stab at Gamera, where a young boy playing with Kaiju action figures calls his Pokemon turtle (Gamera) a loser before throwing it into the fireplace. Let's move on.
Godzilla Cliché #5: If Something Moves Very Slowly, It Means It's Very Very Large. WRONG!
You really don't realize this is a Godzilla cliché until you watch Final Wars...but think about it. When you pretend to be Godzilla what do you do? You lumber around slowly making animal noises. Ok, that's what I do. Yet in all those Godzilla films, very few of those Giant Monsters could really move. They lumber slowly towards one another and they might move quick for a moment...but can you picture a Godzilla Monster doing a somersault? Giant Monsters = slow has been a cinematic trick for years. The monsters in Godzilla: Final Wars are like limber ninjas compared to how they used to be. This is best demonstrated by my favorite fight from the movie; where Godzilla has to fight all his old allies: King Caesar, Rodan, and Anguirus.
This fight is one of the longer fights and is definitely the "comedy" fight of the film. There's some goofiness going on here that can't be denied, and I'm not even talking about how King Caesar (pictured above on the right) looks a hell of a lot like a pissed off bunny rabbit. Godzilla does some serious ninja throws and what not, but you are not prepared for what happens. Anguirus (the lizard covered with spikes for those of you not in-the-know) curls into a big spikey ball and starts rolling around. He gets deflected into Rodan, and then.....I'm almost to frightened to type it. Here goes: King Caesar kicks Anguirus like a soccer ball back at Godzilla.
You are looking at Godzilla playing soccer right back at him. Like a soccer goalie (note the arms) he deflects the ball. :sigh: It's goofy but obviously a tribute to the less-than-cool days of Godzilla. It raises the questions: "Where did Godzilla learn about soccer? Does he like to watch any other sports?" I don't know the answers to these, but I do know having a long shot of the three defeated monsters all piled up on one another groaning (pictured right) is nothing if not a comedy cliche unto itself. My whole point with this is that in this movie, the giant monsters are not slow-moving behemoths as they were in all those other movies. I apologize that I had to make this point by showing Godzilla playing soccer.
Ok. Here's where I save the rest of the Godzilla clichés for another movie review (and there are more Godzilla/Toho films coming up I assure you) and slip into pure OMG Godzilla fan boy mode. To start off, this film was directed by Ryuhei Kitamura...if you haven't seen the other stuff he's done then you really, really need to fix that. Versus is one of my favorite films (think a zombie/kung fu movie that's just an hour long fight scene). You can even see Kitamura's love of action and wire-related special effects in this film. A hot director behind a Godzilla movie? Perish the thought! (Random trivia time: The director of this film is also in the film....keep an eye out for the Radio DJ and you've found your man...the Versus guy Tak Sakaguchi is in it as well as a random Xillian.)
The craziest monster included in this film was one that I wasn't expecting. The name of the monster? Godzilla. Huh? I'm talking about the American Godzilla from the Mathew Broderick film from 1998. You know...the one where "Godzilla" attacks New York, lays a bunch of eggs, loves to eat truckloads of tuna, and gets killed by missiles? Since it was a Godzilla film, Toho Studios owned the rights to that horrible horrible film or at least the monster in it and decided to include it in this movie. The strangest thing? It looks damn good. I'm not saying that all the Kaiju movies should start using completely digitally-created monsters in their films, but it's a nice change of pace. Of course the real reason that this guy was included in this film was to show how the "real" Godzilla would completely kick the crap out of the Americans' Godzilla. So how exactly does the fight go?
The entire soundtrack for Godzilla: Final Wars is made up of techno/electronic music. The exception is this fight. Since one of these Godzillas is representing America, the director thought it would be a good idea to include some American music here. Hence how we the audience become blessed with some random Alternative Rock with the lyrics "Supersize my Tragedy." It's pretty awful. Thankfully the fight (and the song) lasts all of four seconds. Since the above image sucks on toast, let me tell you that's the Japanese Godzilla brutally burning to death the American's big G.
This kind of brings up a serious point in the movie. Most of the fights last for four to thirty seconds. There are a few exceptions, but Godzilla in this film literally kills most monsters in one blow. The Smog Monster, Ebirah (the Giant Lobster), Kumonga (Spiega the giant spider), Gimantis (the giant Mantis...clever name, right?), and the American Godzilla....they all die pretty much horribly in about two seconds of fighting. I understand why they did this. I mean, most Godzilla films have only two, maybe three giant monsters in them....You have to pace yourself for the final climatic battle. The director had to get monsters off the screen quickly or this movie would have been some eight hours long. It's still a two hour movie (which is great) with a few longer battles, particularly at the end.
If I were a complete fanboy I'd have to choose a favorite part of the film. Here's where I confess to hating Mothra with a passion. Everything about the Giant Moth (that is the friend of Mankind...like Gamera) pisses me off....from it's two elfish women who are it's messengers to the fact that it's just a giant Moth. My favorite part of the film is when Gigan 2 comes down, with GIANT CHAINSAWS FOR ARMS, cuts off one of Mothra's wings and sets Mothra on fire. It's so brutal but it's wonderful. Mothra needs to die more in these Godzilla films.
If you saw a giant jet-powered monster with chainsaw arms flying at you, wouldn't you feel royally screwed if you were just a moth?
"I am Mothra, mankind's protector and purveyor of Peace. I would like to OH SWEET JESUS I'M ON FIRE!"
I think Gigan 2 must have hated Mothra as much as I do, telling by the extended victory dance that he performs as the insect burns in the background. If he had a football he'd be spiking it in the end zone right now.
Jared kindly asks that if you see these women, please step on them as quickly as possible.
Well, I'm done spreading Godzilla-related glee for this week, so tune in soon for the next step in Godzilla month (which isn't really a month since I update every other week....it's more like the next 4 entertainment Updates will have to do with Giant Monsters). I hope you enjoyed this review....I'll get back to the Suck-film vibe with Frankenstein Versus Baragon. Toho actually made a film where a giant buck-toothed retarded teenager fights a fire-breathing dog-lizard. God bless us, every one.
On a random note, I looked into getting my official documents from the Film Critic's union this week. Since I've got the right degrees for it and I can easily pass their test/inspection (don't ask me how) I may end up joining. Who am I kidding? You can't get paid in America as a real film critic if you're not in the union and it costs 800 dollars a years to join the union? :sigh: Methinks I'll put it on hold until I HAVE to join. :waits for Netflix to confirm their offer:
Oh yeah: Copyright Jared von Hindman 2005 with the exception of what isn't his (particularly the images from films which are used for the sake of review purposes). Please don't sue Jared....it would make him cry.