by Mel Valentin
For Godzilla's 50th-anniversary in 2004, Toho Studios tapped cult director Ryuhei Kitamura ("Versus," "Azumi," "Aragami: The Raging God of Battle") to co-write and helm the aptly titled 28th film in the long-running series, "Godzilla: Final Wars." The 28th film in the series was meant to be the last Godzilla film, at least for the next ten years, due to Godzilla's waning impact on box office receipts and the hope that a long layoff would result in renewed interest in Godzilla and the other well-known monsters (e.g., Mothra, Rodan, King Ghidorah, etc.) that appeared in the series. With that in mind, Kitamura was tasked with ensuring that fan favorites would, at minimum, make an appearance. With a total of 15 monsters drawn from the Godzilla series making an appearance, kaiju fans everywhere had high (some might add, impossibly high) expectations for "Godzilla: Final Wars."From the opening montage of Godzilla films and other Toho Studio productions, it's immediately clear that everything we've seen before in previous entries we'll see again, but with better visual effects and production values (for a Godzilla film that is, since the Godzilla series continues to rely on suitmation, as opposed to animatronics, CGI, or a combination of the two). For Godzilla: Final Wars, Kitamura borrowed heavily from two entries made in the 1960s, Monster Zero and Destroy All Monsters, even going as far as borrowing the name of the aliens, the Xilians, who appear out the sky, promising security (from several rampaging monsters that seemingly appear out of nowhere and just as suddenly disappear, teleported onto a massive Xilian mothership) and friendship. The Xilians have apparently convinced the Secretary General of the United Nations, Naotarô Daigo (Akira Takarada), to act as an emissary to the world.
"The Matrix, X-Men, and oh yeah, Godzilla too."
Not everyone trusts the Xilians or the UN Secretary General, who disappeared on a routine flight to the United States only to reappear later. The Xilians' behavior seems suspicious, as is the behavior of Shin'ichi Ôzaki (Masahiro Matsuoka), a soldier in the Earth Defense Force. Ôzaki isn't just a soldier, however. He's also a mutant with supernormal powers and a member of the M-Organization, a special unit of the Earth Defense Force. Before the Xilians arrive, Ôzaki has a friendly fight with fellow soldier Katsunori Kazama (Kane Kosugi). The fight scene, held inside a special training facility and arena, slips out of the Godzilla universe and into the familiar terrain of the Matrix (by way of the X-Men) series. The M-soldiers leap across large distances, crawl along walls, and exchange blows in mid-air. In probably the best-choreographed scene in the entire film (seriously), a team of M-soldiers takes on a giant lobster-like monster, Ebirah, at a chemical plant.
The other characters also include a UN molecular biologist, Miyuki Otonashi (Rei Kikukawa), who becomes Ôzaki's love interest, her sister, Anna (Maki Mizuno), a newscaster, and Captain Gordon (Don Frye), an American inexplicable in charge of the Gôten, a cylindrical flying ship that can also travel underwater. The Gôten is also equipped with a giant mining drill at one end. IThe Gôten's design pays homage to a little-known Toho film from 1963, Atragon. For no particular reason, Captain Gordon speaks in English throughout the film, while everyone else responds in Japanese. For their part, the Xilians are led by a rational-sounding, if typically stern, general (Masatô Ibu), and his second in command (Kazuki Kitamura), a hothead eager to prove his worth and reveal the Xilians' real plans (hint: they're aliens from another world and their not here to vacation in sunnier climes).
As expected, the kaiju battles are plentiful and well handled (and handled with the bare minimum of comedy or camp, as in earlier, often derided entries in the series), ranging across different cities and environments. Much stomping of miniature city sets ensues. Fan favorites Anguirus, Ebirah, Gigan, Hedorah, Kamacuras, King Caesar, Kumonga, Manda, Minilla (a.k.a. Baby Godzilla), Mothra, and Rodan all make an appearance (some only in brief, blink-and-you’ll-miss-them cameos), with two notable additions, Zilla, a CGI-spoof of the justly maligned 1998 American remake of Godzilla and Monster X, an all-new kaiju controlled by the Xilians and brought to earth to defeat Godzilla.Kitamura, however, also decided to expand the usually pedestrian storyline involving human characters. While derivative (e.g., "The Matrix," "X-Men," and the two earlier Godzilla films cited above), the non-Godzilla storyline is better written and executed than just about any other storyline in the series. Unfortunately, it also means that Godzilla is often offscreen for long periods of time (Godzilla doesn't even appear until well past the halfway mark of a two-plus hour film). For fans of the long-running series hoping for wall-to-wall monster battles, they won’t get them, at least not until late in the film (an early battle between Godzilla and Gigan, a cyborg monster is disappointing for its brevity). For those willing to wait, or immerse themselves in the non-Godzilla storyline, there’s a great deal to enjoy in Godzilla’s “final” appearance, up to and including the iconic image of Godzilla (and, alas, Minilla) swimming away from Japan while another miniature model of Tokyo lies in smoldering ruins.
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originally posted: 02/11/06 01:09:18