I never thought I'd see the day where I was putting a Toho Godzilla flick into the Hall of Shame. I've sat through, what is often considered the worst of either the Showa/Heisei/Millennium series at least ten dozen times, Godzilla vs. Gigan, and never once considered ensconcing it here among the dregs. And Godzilla vs. Gigan gets everything wrong, it's horrifically acted, the script is an amalgamation of other better Godzilla films, the G-suit was so worn out that it looked like a third hand stage prop, and the budget was tiny so most of the action took place on a single crappy, amusement park set.
But you know, it was fun. I've never liked Jun Fukuda's take on Godzilla, and whether it was he or Toho who insisted on making the films more child friendly is a question best left to kaiju philosophers.
Godzilla Final Wars is everything wrong with giant monster movies, times ten, and minus the fun of even the worst of the genre. Ryuhei Kitamamura, for those outside the limited Japanese cult film circle, is the auteur behind both Versus, a gangster/zombie/action movie and Azumi, a new wave type samurai film. Kitamura's stock in trade is action sequences. No one talks about the plot of his other films. Fuck, I don't even remember what Azumi was about, but I remember the fight scenes.
So he was an odd choice for the anniversary celebration film of Toho's favorite radioactive lizard monster. I mean, he doesn't have a background in this sort of large-scale fantasy film making, so why would Toho give him the reins? Kitamura is described by Toho as "Hollywood's favorite Japanese director" and it makes some sense that the producers would want to hire someone with cross-ocean appeal. Godzilla Final Wars was meant for wide release in the US, and in fact premiered worldwide at Mann's Chinese Theater in LA.
However, Kitamura doesn't live, and has never worked, in Hollywood, so the description is incorrect. Worse, his films haven't been played in wide release here, but engendered some popularity among cult fans with festival, art house, and DVD releases. Still, to call him "Hollywood's favorite Japanese director" is a hell of a stretch.
So why do I feel that Kitamura was the wrong choice for this film? Simple. He doesn't understand what makes a Godzilla film, a Godzilla film. His own admission to liking the 1970's era films, specifically Godzilla vs. Gigan, but not the others in the Showa or Heisei series insists that he should not be given control of this film.
See, there was a reason I mentioned Godzilla vs. Gigan in the beginning!
Godzilla Final Wars, to sum up 50 years of Godzilla films takes the plot elements of G vs. Monster Zero, a heap of Destroy All Monsters, and throws in 100 minutes of shitty direct-to-video quality Matrix-wire fu, and gigantic plot elements, visuals, and themes from the X-Men franchise, the Matrix Franchise, and, of all weird things to pull stuff from, Shim Hyung Rae's Yongarry 1999 (AKA Reptillian).
We open with a montage of footage from pretty much every other Toho monster flick, and if you were to walk out of Godzilla Final Wars now you'd save yourself a lot of anger. The title comes up, and we cut to the bridge aboard the submarine Gotengo (AKA Atragon) as it battles Manda, the first of a litany of monsters who will appear fleetingly in this film. Manda dies, but during the battle Godzilla appears in the South Pole. Gotengo manages to trap the Big G in the ice.
Jump ahead to a dorky description of "The Mutants", a newly evolved race of people who have amazing abilities like, well, the Mutants in X-Men, except these Mutants are in the employ of the government and charged with protecting the world from giant monsters. The Mutants, known as M-Force, are presented in a sort of public service announcement commercial type deal. It seems and odd choice to use for what is meant to be a somewhat serious film.
We cut to the inside of a training room (cough-cough, Danger Room) where Ozaki (Matsuhiro Matsuoka) and Kazama (Kane Kosugi son of Ninja film star Sho Kosugi) engage in about five minutes of CGI enhanced wire-fu.
Kitamura sure loves the Matrix… and tells you so, visually, every ten minutes. If, like me, you think the Matrix movies suck donkey balls, then you are in for a long-ass 126 minutes. Kitamura doesn't even attempt to hide the fact that he is filming a paean to the Wachowski brothers' work, and in one pivotal scene, plagiarizes the entire denouement of the first Matrix film.
In this fight we learn that Ozaki will never be the leader of M-Force because he "has a heart" while the other mutants are aloof to the sufferings of man.
If that's the case then why the hell would the government hire them to protect Japan from giant monsters since they, admittedly, don't give a shit. See, maybe the problem I had with Godzilla Final Wars was with thinking, namely that I started thinking about the movie while the movie was still spoiling the ambiance of my living room.
Ozaki is dispatched to guard a molecular biologist named Miyuki Otonashi (Rei Kikukawa). Why does a UN sponsored molecular biologist need super-protection? The movie has no idea and neither will you. My son Ian suggested that she needed a bodyguard because she wears shiny wet leather throughout the entire film.
It's as good a reason as any. And sure, Rei Kikukawa sure is a good looking woman, but like casting that ignoramus Tara Reid as a scientists in Alone in the Dark, along with her choice of clothes in no way helps the believability of her academic creds.
A strange giant mummy has been unearthed and it's up to Otonashi to figure out the origin of the giant carcass. Turns out, it's Gigan (big whoop), and that Gigan shares the M-Factor genome sequence with the mutants. Thus, the mutants are related to the giant monsters on a genetic level.
Godzilla, we will learn later (much later) contains no M-Factor.
Anyway, Otonashi and Ozaki join up with Captain Douglas Gordon (Don Frye) who captains the Gotengo submarine and dresses like Josef Stalin to seek out the mummy.
Suddenly, the world's giant monsters rise up and begin to wreak havoc among the major cities of the world. Rodan shows up in New York, Anguirrus in China, King Seesar in Okinawa, you get the idea as it was taken lock, stock, and two smoking barrels from Destroy All Monsters.
In the midst of this, the M-Force is sent to battle Ebirah. Do they use tanks? Nope. Planes? Uh uh. Battleships? No way! M-Force engages giant monsters with small arms and lots of leaping CGI enhanced kung fu. So, not only is the central theme of this bit stolen from Destroy All Monsters, the central battle is stolen from Yongarry 1999.
Looking over the M-Force team is none other than Miss Namikawa (Kumi Mizuno), the name and actress are the same as in Godzilla vs. Monster Zero. And now, the parallels to that film will become painfully apparent.
As the M-Force dispatches Ebirah a spaceship appears and whisks the monster away. In fact, the same sort of spaceships appear all over the world and remove all of the world's monsters. Piloting the ship is "The Controller" (Kazuki Kitamura) and his army of soldiers from Planet X. However, because we cannot apparently pronounce "X" he tells the world that they are to be referred to as "Xillians" and more importantly, they are here on a peace mission.
The Shobujin (AKA The Peanuts), the two little fairies of Infant Island warn Otonashi that the Xillians are not all they are cracked up to be. They give Otonashi a magic amulet that will identify "The Chosen One" AKA "The Kaiser" who will rescue the Earth from the Xillians. Then, they disappear for the remainder of the movie. I realize this is an anniversary film and all, but jeez, the little Mothra twins are some of the most enduring characters from these flicks. To drop them in, and have them effectively useless is a disservice to the characters.
Yeah, we know how these Godzilla movie peace missions work out…
Anyway, M-Force meets with The Controller as does the Secretary General of the UN (Akira Takarada, AKA Astronaut Fuji from Godzilla vs. Monster Zero, who dresses in a silver trenchcoat for the whole film). The Secretary General presents the case of the Xillians to the UN to worldwide acceptance. They want a place to settle down and Earth is a perfect fit. Well hooray!
Meanwhile, a grandfather and son find a giant egg from which Minya pops out. Don't waste too much time with this bit. The three of these folks come and go with stunning infrequency and exist in a plotline only peripherally related to the rest of the film. Namely, get Minya to Tokyo.
And if you thought the Minya costume from the Showa series was crap, well, you're in luck as the new on, based on the old one, is crap too.
But something isn't right with the Secretary General. Otonashi notices that the man never blinks. He may, in fact, be a Xillian himself! (like we didn't see that coming).
Things on the Xillian spaceship aren't so good either as The Controller has to deal with an upstart in his ranks. X, as he is known, becomes a media sensation, and while happily basking in his fame, announces that he would rather unleash the monsters and wipe out humanity as it will save time and expense with regard to colonizing Earth. The Xillians plan to eat Earth's inhabitants and refer to us as cattle for much of the film.
Otonashi, Gordon, and Ozaki race back in the Gotengo to warn Miss Namikawa. Miyuki Otonashi gets word to her older sister, who works for the largest TV news agency in Japan. Now joined with Douglas, Miyuki, and Ozaki, Anna Otonashi asks for an interview with the Secretary General. He reluctantly grants one, but on the steps to the UN office, is attacked. Ozaki dispatches the would-be assassin, though the Secretary General is injured.
This allows Miyuki to get a sample of his blood and begin testing it.
The Controller and the Secretary General stage a press conference so that the good intentions of the Xillians can be brought to the masses. However, Anna Otonashi's asks some pointed questions and tricks the Secretary General into revealing his non-human status. She uses the old "don't you recognize your dog? – Ahh yes, Spot! I should have recognized him! – HA HA! That's not spot, that's my dog you alien bastard!" technique so popular in really old episodes of Scooby Doo. I guess the Xillians don't get our TV signals or something.
The crowd of reporters freaks out.
X orchestrates a coup against The Controller, and before you can say Destroy All Monsters, the monsters are all released from their prisons aboard the Xillian ship.
They bring their concerns to Miss Namikawa who has also stopped blinking.
Before you can say hilariously contrived double cross, Otonashi, Ozaki, and Gordon, are surrounded by the M-Force soldiers who are under the mind control of the Xillians. M-Force General Kumasaka sends the others to the Gotengo and stays behind to fight off his squad.
He is killed.
Douglas, Ozaki, and the Otonashi sisters scramble off into a black van. But as they hit the highway Kazama flies his CGI motorcycle over the top of the van and causes it to crash. Then, without any rhyme or reason, Ozaki emerges from the upended van on his own motorcycle.
Huh?? The hell? First off, the van is tipped on its side. If he had a bike in the back, and these aren't little two-stroke bikes, they are big café bikes, it would have been laying flat on one side. And these things weigh upwards of 500 pounds. So how Ozaki managed to get the bike upright, and on it, AND open the back door so he could burst out is anyone's guess.
But he does and for the next 20 minutes Kazama will chase Ozeki down the highway. Seriously. It's like a 20 minute chase scene. What the hell is up with this? I don't want this polluting the middle hour of my Godzilla movie! Even worse than this just being in here, is that the action is essentially without context. Sure, it's cool to watch the bikes dodge and jump (ALL CGI) for a few minutes, but it just goes on and on and on. Finally, Ozaki gets the best of Kazama and races back towards the Gotengo.
Uh, okay. Why did we bother with this scene again?
Back on the Xillian's ship, X is planning his next move. We've already spent ample time with the Xillians and watched their grade-school level politics play out, and it's about to end because The Controller is dead now an X runs the show.
He unleashes all of the stored up monsters to destroy civilization.
Miyuki Otonashi determines that if they release Godzilla from his frozen slumber he can fight his way back to the Xillian space ship and put things right.
Uh…. Civilization is GONE. By now all of the Earth's cities, all of her various military, and pretty much all of her inhabitants are dead. Me? I'd cut my losses and take my chances living as a Xillian blood donor (they need human blood to survive). But that's just me.
Josef Stalin, er, I mean Douglas pilots the Gotengo all the way to the South Pole in about 15 minutes. But X has released Gigan to destroy them so it becomes a race between super sub and cyborg monster.
Cut to the two slobs who keep watch over Godzilla at the South Pole base. They announce that the world is dead, but Douglas is coming to free Godzilla. Neither of them want to push the big-red button to free the monster.
Just then Gigan arrives and forces the Gotengo into battle. The sub is crippled but manages to free Godzilla in the nick of time. Godzilla makes short work of Gigan and heads north towards Australia.
Douglas manages to fix the Gotengo in about five minutes. How? We have no idea. But he does and leads Godzilla from one monster to the next for the next fifteen minutes or so. And here's how it stacks up-
Godzilla vs Zilla (The American Godzilla) – 2 second battle.
Godzilla vs. Kumonga, Kamakura– 2 second battle
Godzilla vs. Anguirus, Rodan, and King Seesar – 10 second battle.
Godzilla vs. Ebirah, Hedora. - No battle, just the two being thrown against a building and blasted.
Godzilla is in the ruins of Tokyo now and approaching the Xillian ship. The city is devastated, much of downtown Tokyo is a crater. This is okay, but there is so much visible CGI that the entire effect is lost.
Gigan re-emerges from the ship.
Mothra flutters away from Infant Island to join the fight on Godzilla's side.
X releases his final monster, Monster X, which looks like a big Xillian in a Gwar costume to duke it out with Godzilla. He also dispatches a zillion little ships, a-la Independence Day, to shoot the Gotengo.
Douglas manages to ram the Gotengo into the side of the Xillian ship. Douglass, Ozaki, and the Otonashi sisters run off after X. Matrix-like gunfights abound as they fight their way to the control room.
X explains that the mutants are the byproduct of a long standing Xillian/Human cross-breeding program (thanks, I didn't need to visualize that), because of which, he has ultimate control over everything.
The M-Force troops and a bunch of Xillians fill the room.
Ozaki explain that he is special and can choose his destiny (he has the amulet from the Shobujin) and stabs himself with it, becoming fully human and The Kaiser all at one time. The Xillians all fire their laser guns but, Neo… er… Ozaki, holds his hand up and stops the shots, then, like Neo, flings them back at their origins and kills all of the guards and rogue M-Force guys.
Now we are in for 25 minutes of CGI Fu as Ozaki and X duke it out for the benefit of the Wachowski brothers. Kitamura cuts back and forth between this fight and the Godzilla fight, but spends 99% of the time forcing us to watch a battle that can't help but remind us of Tekken 3. It just goes ON AND ON AND ON AND ON.
Douglas and the Otonashi sisters find the real Miss Namikawa and UN Secretary General and start an escape, but there are hundreds of Xillain troops around and they get pinned down. Douglas reveals his strength here as more than just a Stalin fetishist and demonstrates his amazing Frye-fu and kills the shit out of everyone. Don Frye is a champion Ultimate Fighter in real life in case you were wondering.
Back in the control room X taunts Ozaki as the Street Fighter 2 each other all over the room.
Cut to Mothra and Gigan. Gigan now has chainsaw arms (I kid you not) and puts a serious hurting on the God of Infant Island by cutting off part of her wing. She crashes.
Gigan heads off to help Monster X finish off Godzilla.
Back in the ship, X and Ozaki continue their battle (and I head off to hit the restroom, it's been almost two full hours now…)
Mothra finishes off Gigan and dies in the process. That will teach Gigan to turn his back on a flaming giant moth. Godzilla has beaten Monster X to a pulp and is turning his eye on the ship still hovering over Tokyo.
Ozaki has finally beaten X, but the leader of the Xillians has one last trick up his sleeve.
Monster X begins to transform.
Ozaki joins Douglas, who is finished killing the shit out of the Xillians near Gotengo's entrance, and everyone leaps into the sub before backing out of the ship. They launch one last salvo of missiles and the Xillian ship is toast.
Monster X finishing his transformation and is not, Kaiser Ghidorah.
A word about Kaiser Ghidorah – CRAP.
First off, Ghidorah is the single most overused opponent for Godzilla throughout the Showa, Heisei and Millennium series, and that said, we have a specific expectation of what Ghidorah will look like, three heads, gold scales, two legs, wings, and two tails.
Kaiser Ghidorah looks like this for about one second, then further transforms into the same four-legged Ghidorah costume as used in Mothra 3, only painted black and silver to match the colors of the Xillians and Monster X.
And true to form, Godzilla make relatively short work of this monster too.
Everyone emerges from Gotengo. Godzilla turns to finish them off too, when Minya, remember him in that nowhere storyline, shows up with the kid and grandfather and puts himself between the monster and the cast.
Godzilla turns and heads back into the ocean. Roll credits.
Okay, that's the plot in a nutshell, and in text it actually sounds better than it could ever be on screen. First, the acting by all but Akira Takarada, Kumi Mizuno, and Matsuhiro Matsuoka. Don Frye rounds out the bottom of the acting barrel which contains pretty much everyone else. It's a shame that Kane Kosugi is horrifically underused. He acts pretty well when we see him, which isn't often, and his CGI figure just leaps around like a rhesus monkey with a bladder infection for most of the film. But then, that's what most of the movie is anyway.
Kitamura uses about ten different filming styles during Godzilla Final Wars, which only serves to remind the audience that they are passively watching a movie. The inside the Xillian ship is all tinted yellow. The inside of the UN HQ is all tinted silver gray. The CGI all looks either gray or yellow, usually yellow, when the characters are outside, like during the battle with M-Force and Ebirah. He uses vibrant colors in two of the outdoor monster battles, as short as they are, but these are almost blinding when compared with the vast majority of digitally colored stock in the rest of the film.
His reliance on CGI sucks too. I mean, how many CGI Fu can you stand? I am good for about five minutes of the stuff then I am bored stupid, and Godzilla Final Wars contains an easy hour of the it. If I wanted to spend that much time looking at pixels I'd play Godzilla Save the Earth on Playstation 2. The backgrounds are a mixture of models and CGI which helps fill out the cityscapes, and was the only really nice touch in the whole thing.
The monsters suits are okay. I loathed Minya, hated the new Gigan and Kaiser Ghidorah, was ambivalent to just about all of the others. The new Godzilla suit for this one is okay and resembles the suit used in the Millennium series, but it's not as detailed. Shinji Nishikawa designed the suit for GFW, Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla, and Godzilla 2000.
Kitamura disguises this mostly by keeping Godzilla's real action at night and in ruins.
Yasushi Nirasawa designed the new Gigan and the Xillians. Katsuya Terada designed Monster X, and I am assuming also Kaiser Ghidorah.
The interiors are all very bland. From the sterile silver and chrome of the M-Force HQ and UN to the yellow tinted blah inside the Xillian station. The costumes are blah too, except for Douglas' Stalin uniform and Miyuki Otonashi's colorful red leather jacket over black leather dress. The M-Force and Xillians are almost indistinguishable in silver and black armor.
The score by Keith Emerson relies on the talents of… uh… Sum 41 and Zebrahead for a couple of crappy songs, and some moderately decent filler music. The battle march from Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla (Masaru Sato) and Godzilla's theme (Akira Ifukube) make short appearances too. Overall, while Emerson is the first westerner to score a Toho Godzilla flick, it's better than Ko Otani's lifeless noodling and almost all of Masaru Sato's stuff.
Still, he's no Ifukube and when you hear the original music that defines the character it serves as a reminder of just how good Ifukube's work on the series was.
I watched this On Demand (nice feature by the way) in letterbox, and original Japanese with English subs.
It's a shame that this celebratory outing was handed to a hack director who manages to take the focus of a monster movie completely off the monsters and force the audience to spend way too much time with the characters of the Dead or Alive video game (I kid, I kid because I love). Why Shogo Tomayama didn't hand this one over to Shosuke Kaneko or Maasaki Tezuka is anyone's guess. But it's Toho's loss really, and a loss to the franchise.
With luck Godzilla Final Wars will have the same effect as the Emmerich/Devlin debacle and encourage Toho to give it another shot. Hell, in the time it will take to get to a 60-year anniversary they can probably hire someone competent behind the camera, and with a demonstrated love for the property too. It's also a shame that the script by Isao Kirayama and Ryuhai Kitamura falls into the same trap as the Emmerich/Devlin Godzilla in that it shamelessly lifts from source material but doesn't understand the source material. They don't get that we don't really give a shit about the people in the film, and if we do it's because they are extremely well written, such as Katsui Teri (Akira Kubo), Astronaut Glenn (Nick Adams) in Monster Zero, or Dr. Serizawa (Akihiko Hirata) in Godzilla (1954). Instead, we care more about the situation and set up for the final confrontation with the monster. This is why films like Monster Zero, Ghidorah the Three Headed Monster, and Godzilla vs. Mothra in the Showa series, Biollante, Mechagodzilla 2, and Destroyah work in the Heisei series, and Tokyo SOS work in the Millennium series. But rather than take the best aspects of these films, Kitamura and Kirayama pilfered from western science fiction and paid lip service to the kaiju stuff by figuring that a whole shit load of short monster fights was better than a couple of good long ones.
Here's what you should do if you have the urge to watch this, pop in Godzilla vs. Monster Zero instead. It's pretty much the same story, with way better acting, and no CGI.