Today is a special day. It's taken a while, but after 10 years of blogging, I have finally written 1000 reviews!...Well, give or take. The number is actually smaller or greater, but let's not quibble over definitions. My blog has 1000 posts? Good enough! As for what I'll discuss for the occasion, what else could fit the bill other than the spectacular Godzilla: Final Wars...
The Godzilla series has had a long and storied history. Beginning in 1954 as a bleak allegory of nuclear weaponry, it's run the gamut of stories and tones, taking inspiration from many places, and in turn inspiring countless others.
It's been years since Godzilla, king of the monsters, was imprisoned. In the years since, the planet has been protected by the Earth Defense Force, but in one fell swoop they are ravaged by an army of giant monsters, all attacking major cities at once. No sooner than they've arrived, a group of aliens take the monsters away, claiming to want friendship. The remnants of the EDF don't trust them and soon discover the aliens' hidden motives. They begin a brave fight against the invaders, but they are not enough-The only way to save Earth is to free Godzilla...
Godzilla: Final Wars is a movie that could be described as mind-numbing, either in a good way or bad, depending on your point of view. As the 50th anniversary, we've got dozens of monsters from the series' past, not to mention elements form various Toho products (such as the battleship Gotengo), and an action-packed story that never lets up. Running at 2 hours, the film feels a lot shorter than it actually is. While films this dense and breathless can leave you feeling a bit exhausted, I feel it works. This was a special occasion, so if the Godzilla series was gonna make a film like this just once, let this be the occasion.
In Godzilla films past, the human plots could be mixed. Sometimes they're effortlessly intriguing, sometimes they feel like a necessary distraction, so the movie isn't just endless monster fighting. This entry tries the hardest to make the human story appeal to as many people, as it very much takes an action stance.
While the movie throws around a lot of long and fancy words, the plot is remarkably easy to follow, and sets everything up in a very quick and economical way. I appreciate this, as it never bogs the movie down with confusing details,
Final Wars has quite a sense of humour to it, and there's an effort toward satire during the first half, with some kooky TV programs and interviews, as well as public reactions to various things. This includes some funny moments like an expert pundit saying "I admit and deny what I didn't admit before". This is phased out after the first half, which is understandable given the main focus comes into play, and welcome, since we don't want too much of this, especially in a Godzilla film.
The film opens with some narration detailing the existence of mutants, but this never really amounts to much. None of these mutants ever seem to display any powers beyond being able to draw and fire guns in cool ways. We do get a little more in the last act. All the 'Keizer' stuff is a bit confusing and perhaps unnecessary, but oh well.
The characters here are a diverse bunch. Shinichi is your typical protagonist. Nothing special, but he gets the job done. Captain Douglas Gordon meanwhile is a delight! He's a gruff, tough, American commando who never does things by the book. Even if it means battling a giant monster with a sword, he's up for anything.
The main female character is biologist Miyuki, and she's spunky! She gets a lot of good moments. There is one thing though. There's a scene later on where she worries she can't contribute anything, but Shinichi gives her a pep talk about how that isn't true, and there's loads she can do. This is all well and good, but...she's a biologist. What can she do? Engage an advanced mutant barehanded in a swordfight, apparently! And pilot the Gotengo all on her own. All while dressed in a hilariously out-of-place red leather jacket.
There are a few villains here, and some get a little to do, but by and large the main antagonist is the young alien, and he's a really smarmy bastard. That's what makes it so satisfying to see him constantly get shown up when Godzilla rams through one monster after another. There's a slow realisation from 'I'm a God to these puny cattle' to '...I'm fucked!'.
Godzilla truly shows himself to be the king of the monsters here. He actually has surprisingly little screentime, but it's handled so well I honestly didn't believe it when I read this. This is because the human plot is engaging, plus the movie has a quick pace. So even though Godzilla doesn't properly appear until a whole hour in, it only felt like 30 minutes to me. And from that point on he appears constantly. In previous entries he would always be in for a challenge, but not here. Each fight is over with quickly, and Godzilla makes mincemeat out of everyone he walks into. Nothing can stop him!
Among all of the other returning monsters here, by far the most important is Godzilla's son Minilla. Isn't he just the cutest?? That' something I really admire about this film. It's serious, yeah, with wall to wall action, but it also has time for an absolutely adorable muppet like Minilla! He looks right out of a program like Sesame Street, and he's so sweet! While his scenes are fairly minimal, he gets a really good arc, which culminates in the fantastic ending.
Fina Wars has perhaps the biggest collection of kaiju in any Godzilla film. We've got the classic foes/allies such as Mothra, Gigan, as well a some other surprise treats, and then there are monsters who haven't been seen in years, often since their original film! Ebirah and Hedorah both make appearances, as does King Caesar, the giant dog monster who usually protects Japan (why yes, this is a perfectly normal film, why do you ask?).
The monster battles here are spectacular. Each fight is entertaining, and does something different,with Godzilla often getting the chance to spring some cool moves. Best of all in the 4-way monster brawl. Even when outnumbered he's able to think strategically, and use his enemies' skills against them.
Hedorah really gets shafted though, as most of his scenes were deleted. It's a shame, because the film is already 125 minutes, and I doubt an extra 1 minute of Hedorah action would've really tipped the scales into unwatchable territory.
One of the funniest moments is the film is the encounter with the Godzilla from the much maligned American remake. Referred to here simply as Zilla, he appears only to get utterly trounced by the real Godzilla in under 2 seconds, in a hilariously spectacular fight. It's just a shame he takes out the Sydney Opera House in the process! Come on, Godzilla, we Aussies need that for tourism!
Final Wars is set in a futuristic 2004, and it frankly looks a lot more fun than the actual 2004. The film is simultaneously large scale, on a global level, but also small, with a lot of focus on the one group. On that note, the world gets pretty darn trashed by the end of this movie, but the tone remains lighthearted throughout. Never so much that it ruins the stakes, but enough that you just assume everyone is probably fine, and they'll just have a bit of rebuilding ahead of them before things are back to normal.
The movie overall is a bit flippant and borderline uncaring when it comes to the characters who die onscreen though. So many die, including quirky comic relief characters, that it's a bit of a downer. I was however very pleased to see the real senator alive and well. After all, he has a dog back at home who cares about him, so it'd be a shame if he died!
Godzilla: Final Wars is a very exaggerated film, from the way characters will act, to the action. Some examples are Gordon throwing down his sword and putting up his fists, and miraculously his enemies do the same. Characters never just draw their guns normally either, instead twirling them around their whole bodies first. Then there are repeated instances of leaving characters alone to fight, because it's 'cooler', even though it'd be more effective to gang up. Characters never actually run anywhere either, no matter how urgent the situation (like a self-destructing ship). Which is probably just on of those movie flourishes, since if an actor really runs their fastest, they'll outpace the camera.
The effects here are great! There's a mix of practical and CGI work, oftn mixed together. Some shots look a bit unconvincing, but for every one like that, there are 10 that look gorgeous. The monsters all look fantastic (except of course for Zilla, who is not coincidentally the only monster done entirely with digital effects).
Godzilla himself is great! His design is more stripped down, back to basics. It has almost claymation type movements, akin to what was originally planned for Godzilla back in '54. Now that I mention it, I remember reading this production utilised more lightweight suits, for the benefit of the actors. This elicited some complaints that the suits movied too airily, but I clearly didn't think so. I think it worked fine. And it's only one movie, so if it doesn't work then it's no big deal.
The direction by Ryuhei Kitamura is neat! He was a longtime fan of the series, but was also honest about its recent flaws, and pledged himself to fixing what he felt was wrong. This could come across as arrogant in the wrong hands, but he comes across as endearingly honest, and he puts his money where his mouth is. His style isn't for everyone, but I really enjoyed it. This is a visual treat, from the close-quarters fight scenes, to the wide-open monster battles.
The lighting and colour is something that might put some people off. The way some scenes are tinted can look quite unappealing, in a very washed out or oversaturated way. At least the movie is varied in all the colours it uses, and for the most part it looks good.
For all the frenetic direction on display here, the editing is never hard on the eyes The only exception is the opening credits, which all flash by so fast they threaten to give you a seizure, and are near impossible to read.
The score by Keith Emerson is a fun, engaging, and rousing collection of tunes, each fitting the action well. There are also a few licensed songs too, which wouldn't ordinarily be my kind of thing, but hearing that metal song play while Zilla gets his ass trashed is just the best!
Godzilla: Final Wars is a divisive entry in the series, but I feel that it's the kind of movie that can be appreciated even if not liked, and as for myself, I love it! It's got some flaws here and there, but it still ranks highly, as one of my all time favourites in the series! It really does have a little of everything to offer.
A big thank you to everyone reading over the years, and here's to 100 more review, and many more years of fun movies!...