Thursday, August 23, 2012

Thursday Review: Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)

  Man in suit? Man in suit.

    There’s something about being a Godzilla fan - you’re either going to get joy from watching men in rubber monster suits destroy model cities and each other… Or you’re not. There’s really no in-between. Which is not to say that being a Godzilla fan is not without it’s own challenges. Long have fans had to suffer through badly-dubbed scenes of people overacting, just to wait for the moment Godzilla and his monstrous brethren show up and flatten everything in sight. For the big guy’s fiftieth anniversary (and twenty-eighth film overall) director Ryuhei Kitamura decided to sidestep that problem by packing in martial arts fights between the humans instead of the talky talk, so what we end up with in Godzilla: Final Wars is a nonstop exercise in full-on mayhem and monster madness.

    Partly a remake of the classic Destroy All Monsters, Final Wars takes place at an undisclosed time in the future, where the nations of the world have united under one banner to put a stop to the giant monsters plaguing the world with “mutant” soldiers - superhuman fighters trained especially to combat the kaiju menace. Years before, they successfully beat the mightiest of them all - Godzilla (duh) - by trapping him in an iceberg. After a relative time of peace, alien invaders called the Xilians have come to Earth, looking to enslave the human population due to a planet-sized meteor on a direct collision course with our home planet (just go with it). The Xilians take control of all Earth’s monsters and proceed to demolish the major cities of the Earth (which would wind up being destroyed anyway by said meteor? Again, just go with it). Eventually, our heroes realize the only way beat the monsters and their Xilian overlords is to free Godzilla from his icy prison, and let him demolish everything in his path…

    Kitamura was quite a catch for Toho on their “last” Godzilla movie. The visionary director of Versus and Azumi had a lot of hype to live up to for his outing with the big green G... And he does fantastically - with a few reservations. The most important thing is Kitamura realizing the core appeal of Godzilla, be it raging, cultural Id monster or savior of the planet. It was what we all fell in love with when we were kids throwing our monster toys around smashing cardboard buildings and the like. It’s pure, unfiltered imagination that comes only from the sugar-addled brains of an eight-year-old (which Kitamura unsuccessfully tries to show quite literally in one scene with a fudge-smeared brat playing with his toys). The movie has many faults, like the way that there isn’t really any coherent story. And if there is, it’s lost in the rather haphazard way Kitamura cuts the film together (one story strand that’s dropped in and out of the film randomly involves a boy and his grandfather finding Godzilla’s son, Minilla). The film also can’t really contain it’s own excitement, and - much like the sugar-rush of an eight-year-old - soon becomes annoying. The action not involving stuntmen in monster suits grows tiresome after a while, not to mention shamelessly stolen from The Matrix and Star Wars *.

    But a lot of that doesn’t matter. This isn’t a movie where actors actually act - they pose. It’s a movie where the flat-dialogue stylings of Don Frye aren’t horribly out of place, but a hilarious addition to the madness. Most importantly, this is a movie were giant monsters beat the ever-loving shit out of each other, with only Godzilla left standing amidst the smoking wreckage, his distinctive wail of a roar echoing in victory.

    Kitamura really makes the ultimate monster movie here, with the biggest roster of beasties in a Godzilla movie ever. Mothra, Rodan, Anguirus, Kamacuras, Gigan (my personal favorite) and a dozen more all make an appearance - there’s so many monsters you don’t even realize it’s an hour in before Godzilla himself shows up and summarily wastes them all. If I were being really nitpicky I could complain about his throw downs with each are far too short, but the way Kitamura stages the action it’s almost impossible to leave the critical brain on. Scenes such as Godzilla smacking his American cousin from the abysmal 1998 movie into the Sydney Opera House, only to atomize it with his atomic breath - or the scene where he impales Kamacuras on an electrical tower - or the scene where he uses one of King Ghidorah’s three heads to blow off another. Scene after scene is filled with such money shots, all of them culminating in the gloriously berserk moment where Godzilla saves the Earth by destroying the planet-sized meteor seconds before impact.

    I don’t know if it’s the best of the Godzilla movies, but Final Wars will surely be hard to beat whenever the green goliath makes his big screen return.

    * Which is only fair, I suppose, as those movies stole pretty shamelessly from older Asian films.

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