Godzilla: Final Wars by Ryûhei Kitamura (Review)

A terrible way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of cinema’s greatest monster.

Billed as the ​“50th Anniversary Commemoration Project” for mighty Godzilla, Godzilla: Final Wars is also the last Godzilla movie for the next decade or so. Toho, the studio that brings us all of the kaiju loving, has seen fit to give the big guy a rest, due in part to diminishing box office returns. And of course, it only makes sense to have Godzilla go out with a big bang, one last hurrah before taking a well-deserved vacation (after all, there’ve been 5 Godzilla movies in the past 6 years).

However, after having seen Godzilla: Final Wars, the only thing I could think was, ​“This is the best they could do?”

If I were Godzilla, and this were my ​“50th Anniversary Commemoration Project,” I’d probably go back and trample Tokyo two or three times, just on general principle.

It’s the not-so-distant future, and the countries of the Earth have finally put aside all of their differences and joined together. (Living under the threat of constant attack from 300-foot tall monsters will do that to a planet.) The Earth Defense Force (EDF) monitors monster attacks all over the world, responding at a moment’s notice with giant flying power drills, er, giant attack ships with lots of advanced weaponry. Helping the EDF is the ​“M Unit,” a special government task force comprised of mutants, humans with special powers (most of which seem to resemble the ability to run in unwieldy plastic uniforms and jump around a lot).

During the latest monster rampage, mysterious alien ships appear and remove all of the monsters from the face of the earth, but not until the EDF has been almost entirely destroyed. The aliens, who call themselves Xilians, claim to have come with peaceful intentions, a fact they ​“prove” when they present the newly appointed head of the United Nations, whom they rescued when his plane was destroyed by a monster. Of course, if you haven’t already guessed the aliens’ intentions by this point, you don’t deserve to watch a Godzilla movie. Ever.

The only people on Earth who seem to suspect the Xilians are Ozaki, a member of the M-Unit; a super-cute biologist named Miyuki, whose affections for Ozaki are masked by a lot of needless bickering; the famous newscaster Anna; and Captain Douglas Gordon, the captain of the Gôten, the ship responsible for saving the world from Godzilla’s wrath many years ago.

When the Xilians learn of the few rebels and their plan to unmask the whole charade, they re-release all of the monsters, only under their control this time. The only ship left is the Gôten, and they’re easily outnumbered by the Xilians’ fleet. The only one who can possibly stop the Xilian-controlled monsters is the very one that Earth has been trying to destroy all of these years. That’s right, it is up to Godzilla to save the Earth. Oh, the irony of it all!

Naturally, the thought of Godzilla engaged in the utmost of smackdowns with virtually every major monster in the Godzilla monster manual should have everyone who has ever experienced a shred of enjoyment from any Godzilla movie giggling with schoolgirl-like glee. Unfortunately, the movie is almost a complete train-wreck, and the reason why can be summed up in two little words: ​“too much.” But when you realize that the director was Ryehei Kitamura, that makes a lot of sense.

In an attempt to inject some more vim and vigor in the franchise, the folks at Toho decided to put Kitamura in the chair, a choice that does make some sense. For starters, Kitamura has garnered quite a reputation in the cult film community, and he’s proven to have an eye for ultra-cool visuals on movies such as Versus, Azumi, and Aragami. Unfortunately, even his best work (e.g., Versus) is far too long, excessive, and bloated. The man seriously needs to team up with an editor or two who can rein in his excesses.

Alas, nobody has been found to fill that position, and as a result, Godzilla: Final Wars is, well, too long, excessive, and bloated. For starters, no less than 14 monsters all make appearances in Godzilla: Final Wars, ranging from Hedorah and Mothra to Rodan and Ghidorah. There’s even a version of the American Godzilla in there for good measure (and needless to say, he gets aptly trashed in about 10 seconds). Obviously, with so many monsters in there, it’s nowhere near as cool as it sounds in theory, but rather becomes quite the jumbled mess of roaring giant rubber suits.

While the battles in all of the Godzilla movies are cartoonish at best, the monster battles in Godzilla: Final Wars become downright ludicrous, and that’s saying something. There’s none of the lighthearted fun of those other movies’ fights, but rather, just a rush to get to the next fight.

And then there are the non-monster battles. Obviously, with mutants having superhuman powers, you know there’s got to be some punishment coming from that area. But if you’ve seen Alive, Kitamura’s second full-length, you’ve seen all of the fight scenes in Godzilla: Final Wars. You know, really bad Matrix rip-offs meant to hide the fact that none of the actors really have any martial arts expertise, and not a whole lot more.

One can’t place all of the blame on Kitamura, though. The script and dialog are all awful, as is the acting, especially Don Frye’s scene-chomping as Captain Gordon. It might be a nice nostalgia trip for some, considering all of the veteran Godzilla actors that make appearances, such as Akira Takarada (who starred in the very first Godzilla movie, and who plays the UN president here). Again, the sense of fun that has made previous Godzilla movies so enjoyable is missing, and every attempt to bring it back feels like forced wackiness. (You’ll know what I mean as soon as you see Minilla.)

I would probably be inclined to just write the whole thing off, but this is Godzilla we’re talking about, one of cinema’s biggest (and coolest) icons. Period. The big guy deserved something a lot better than this for his last hurrah. Something that didn’t feel like such a concerted effort to pander to Godzilla nostalgia, that didn’t just rest on the franchise’s laurels, but rather decided to just go out with a bang, in style, the way a man in a big rubber suit deserves.

I hope the Toho folks can use the next 10 years or so to figure out an appropriately cool way to bring the big guy back into the action. In the meantime, it’s good he’s getting some rest. Lord knows he needs it after surviving this movie.