Movie and Film Reviews (MFR) Sci-Fi GODZILLA: FINAL WARS

GODZILLA: FINAL WARS

After five years of unrealized potential, diminishing box office returns, and erratic creative efforts, Toho finally decided to give Godzilla a grand sendoff before mercifully yanking the plug on the faltering series. The result is probably one of the most entertaining entries in decades, with a freshly futuristic look and a breezy spirit. If only the filmmakers had remembered to included Godzilla in their movie………

“Godzilla: Final Wars” starts in the South Pole, where a military force engages the big G in a a winner-take-all battle. A sudden earthquake and a well timed missile launch imprison Godzilla under miles of ice, where he hibernates for most of the film. Meanwhile (in one of the many meanwhiles this film has), mysterious mutants appear in the human race with a chromosome that doesn’t exist on Earth. The UN Secretary General vanishes in a flash of light, and huge creatures appear to destroy Earth’s cities before vanishing in thin air again. The aliens drop by with the Secretary General in tow, proclaiming their good intentions and plan for saving humanity for destruction.

Nothing in a Godzilla movie ever goes this well for anyone, and “Final Wars” is no exception. The aliens are soon shown to be interstellar rats, intent on killing off most of the human race and consuming the rest. Seizing control of the mutants and giant monsters, they decimate Earth and leave only a fraction of the population alive. Banding together, the remnants of humanity fight back with the only weapon left–Godzilla. But even if they succeed in amakening him, can he survive the gauntlet of monsters to destroy the aliens?

Director Ryuhei Kitamura and his co-writer Isao Kiriyama seem like they were dead set on wanting to remake “Independence Day”, “The Matrix”, “X-Men” and a few other Hollywood blockbusters. But they couldn’t, so they put all their ambitions into one film and stuck Godzilla’s name on it. To their credit, they’ve rediscovered the sense of fun lacking in the past fun Godzilla films. Ditching all the pseudo-science that has bogged down the movies along with any logic as well, the filmmakers focus more on amped up action scenes. The best standout in the acting department is Kazuki Kitamura as the unstable leader of the alien forces. The only non-monster player is truly a wonder to behold, whether strutting around arrogantly or stamping his feet in childish fury. At the very least, he’s a nice reminder that a movie starring a man in a rubber suit shouldn’t take itself seriously. Title designer  Kyle Cooper gives “Final Wars” a nice intro with his crimson title sequence, an artfully way to begin the film and introduce the audience to whatever Toho wants to drop us into. 

 Ihi Asada’s special effects give all Godzilla’s foes a realistic look, and gives Godzilla himself a sleeker makeover. Safe to say, the change looks good on him, even if it isn’t sticking around for long. Cinematographer Takumi Furuya deserves special credit in shooting a film that frequently goes in several directions at once, and as side from keeping it all together he gives it all a polished look. Toho’s decision to loosen the purse strings and shoot outside Japan wisely puts the film a modern worldwide perspective, as if monsters aren’t just confined to Asia.  A last note is on director Kitamura’s brief cameo as a radio host–a quick but very funny turn as a man with the unlucky task of interviewing a wannabe alien.

Not all is well is “Godzilla: Final Wars”, in a few instances things are quite wrong. As the human lead, ultimate fighter Don Frye is a disaster as the captain of the pivotal warship Goten. With his gruff delivery and scowling eyes, he’s not only hideously unlikeable but an unlikely last hope for humanity; stomping around he looks like he’d rather tune out Armageddon with a beer and endless TV.   But worse is Godzilla’s lack of screen time, he’s shown briefly at the beginning of the film before being buried under ice until the final act. He’s gone for so long anyone would be tempted to dial 911 and file a missing person’s report. When he resurfaces, it all seems a bit anticlimactic; all the monsters battles seem rushed as if Kitamura wanted to get them over with and move on to something else. While the old Godzilla used to take about a half hour to battle one creature, this Godzilla dispatches three in minutes. Even worse is the grudge match between Godzilla and his American incarnation–despite being a promising drag out fight, its over in a no contest TKO in under a minute. Rock group SUM 41 contributes  the  fantastic single “We’re All to Blame”, but that’s drastically underused as well.

The final verdict for “Godzilla: Final Wars” is that its much better than past efforts, but still qualifies as a missed chance to send Godzilla out with a bang. Clocking in at 125 minutes, its about almost a half hour longer than other Godzilla films; luckily you barely notice it the way it zips by as the creative team remakes every blockbuster that pops into their head. Sci-fi fans would probably have a blast with a movie that caters to their interests, but Godzilla fans would probably be disappointed by their hero’s lack of screen time. When Toho restarts the Godzilla series in a few years, hopefully they’ll remember why Godzilla’s name is in the title; it would embarrass them to be sued for false advertising.      

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