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Godzilla: Final Wars

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 12/10/05 12:43:20

"Happy birthday, Godzilla! Sorry your movie stinks."
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

Ya know what would have been nice to see in “Godzilla: Final Wars?” Godzilla.

OK, that’s a bit of an exaggeration. There’s actually plenty of the Big G to go around in “Final Wars,” Toho’s official last Godzilla movie (at least for now; the studio plans to give the rubber suit a very long hiatus). But there’s also too much of everything else, and that everything else becomes one big obnoxious distraction. It’s one thing to keep Godzilla out of his own movie for an entire hour in order to build some workable suspense; it’s another to move away from the monster battle royale at movie’s end in order to focus on an overlong kung fu fight between two human actors we didn’t really want to be watching in the first place.

For the film, Toho once again ignores any sense of continuity - which is odd, considering that the last two Godzilla films had broken the series’ recent no-continuity rule and became a two-parter of sorts, and that the second of those films (“Toyko S.O.S.”) capped off with a post-credits cliffhanger tease, one which now looks like it will never be resolved. Huh.

Anyway. “Final Wars” acts as a stand-alone celebration of fifty years of Godzilla history, so much that the thing plays out as a semi-remake of “Destroy All Monsters” (which itself was an all-out anniversary celebration). Here, we’re given every monster to ever appear in a Godzilla movie - which, in a particularly ballsy move, includes both the embarrassing monster child Manilla and the American Godzilla (who, for haters of 1998’s most infamous film, gets duly stomped by the original G). We even get those kooky aliens from Planet X (here they call themselves “Xilians”) and some very long exposition involving mutant humans acting as the Earth Defense Force.

The result is a jumble, occasionally thrilling, often surprisingly boring. Make no mistake: despite the praise heaped on “Final Wars” claiming this to be the let-loose, all-out, fan-friendly best of the series, it’s actually the dullest, weakest Godzilla movie I’ve seen in a long, long time.

It begins harmlessly enough, with some well-placed series tributes (we kick off with the old school Tohoscope logo; the opening credits play over a wonderfully edited montage of classic movie clips) and two inviting monster action bits. Then the story turns to humans (or, at least, human actors) only. We learn all about the Earth Defense Force; we watch as Xilians end the all-too-brief monster attack on the planet’s major cities; we drudge through the bits in which the heroes discover the Xilians might not be as friendly as they seem; etc.; etc.

Sure, you get monsters (in that aforementioned too-brief multi-city attack), but the scene is disappointingly weak. The shots of famous landmarks getting obliterated by stunt men in rubber suits are strangely lacking in the fun department, the story rushing through the good stuff to get us back to the plot - which is not what rubber monster movies are ever about. This could’ve been a highlight of the film; instead, it is quite forgettable.

Godzilla finally reappears just after the one hour mark, and for a while, it looks like “Final Wars” will at long last deliver on its promise of no-hold-barred monster mayhem. Sure, it’s more along the lines of the 1970s-era efforts (what with dopey aliens and goofy kids and cornball dialogue and freaking Manilla and all), but watching Big G plow through one guest star after another does offer plenty of fun. But then the film keeps trying to detour back to the human story, with the heroes of the EDF going head-to-head with the Xilians, complete with a drawn out martial arts fight between the head hero and the head baddie that works to draw too much attention from the monster action.

And that’s the film’s key failure. In hiring director Ryuhei Kitamura (“Versus,” “Alive”) instead of the usual invisible studio helmer, the producers were anxious to shake up the series, to let Godzilla’s last adventure be excitingly different than any that’s come before. But Kitamura, whose previous works all involved far more visual flair than any actual depth, seems to be far more interested in delivering a “Matrix” retread than in offering up classic monster destruction. Sure, the style of the film’s effects has a retro charm to it (even the CGI monsters have a rubber suit look to them, and the space ships are lovably old-fashioned), but this is trumped by Kitamura’s decision to focus on the human cast - and to shoot everything in grainy, filtered photography. The non-monster sequences become a drag, dank and ugly, not fitting the franchise in the least. By the time the story gets rolling, we’ve already been too put off by the film.

(In addition, Kitamura seems eager to make the proceedings a bit too dark in terms of violence. For an entry in a historically child-centric series, “Final Wars” contains far more gunfire and bloodshed than one would expect. The human violence on display here doesn’t seem to fit with the franchise, and the effect is too off-putting.)

So by the time we get to all the throwback tribute stuff - the aliens, the forgotten monsters - it’s more annoying than it is clever. In this respect, “Final Wars” plays out like “Die Another Day,” which similarly went out of its way to act as a series tribute without remembering to offer up a workable storyline along the way. This Godzilla effort suffers the same fate: it’s trying to do too much yet ends up doing too little. There’s not enough fun to be had here to justify the celebration. It’s too long in the human scenes and too flat in the monster ones, and that, my friend, is something a rubber monster movie should ever, ever be. Here’s hoping that when the Big G returns in the next decade, he - and we - will be treated to a much more entertaining flick.

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