Monday, 22 June 2015

Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)

So we come at to the last (at this time, though a new one is in production) Japanese Godzilla film.  Toho conceptualised Final Wars as both a 50th Anniversary special, and as the last Godzilla film for at least a decade, and they decided to go big: lots of monsters, lots of martial arts fights - not previously a thing in the franchise, which has mostly kept the action at kaiju scale - and a meaty 125 minute run time.

Did this strategy add up to a successful movie?  Well from the studio's perspective, probably not: it fared poorly at the box office.  But then so did Battleship, which I thought was great fun.

Final Wars kicks off with Godzilla battling a flying submarine at the South Pole.  An earthquake leaves Big G trapped beneath the ice, and we head straight into the introductory narration.  Apparently the rise of monsters in the 1950s and 60s forced humanity to come together and form the "Earth Defence Force" to battle them.  Hence the flying submarines.  Recent years have also seen the appearance of mutants - humans of unusual strength, speed and resilience - who have been gathered as the EDF's elite fighting unit, "M Force".

Everything sounds great then, right?  Well sure, except for the weird cyborg monster they just found fossilised below ground.  It has the same marker, known as "M-base" that is found in the mutants.  That's a bit unsettling.

More than merely unsettling, however, is the sudden attack of every known monster, across the entire planet.  The EDF fights back as best it can, but it simply doesn't have sufficient ships or personnel to defend dozens of cities all at once.  (Side note: if you have ever rolled your eyes at Hollywood's depiction of countries other than the US, don't expect Toho to do any better with countries other than Japan)

Fortunately, an alien ship arrives and captures all of the monsters.  These benevolent extraterrestrials are here to warn humanity about an onrushing meteor that will soon wipe out the planet.  They are most certainly not in control of the monsters, nor evil in any way.  Anyone who says otherwise has clearly just been watching too much V.

So yeah, obviously the aliens are here to eat us.  And given their superior technology, the only way to stop their army of monsters is with a bigger, badder monster of our own.  And thus we get to the point of the movie: Big G kicking kaiju bottom.

Alas, Final Wars doesn't quite nail its formula.  Most of the kaiju battles are brief and extremely one-sided.  I can understand the desire not to overdo these fights - there's a big monster brawl due at the end after all, and you don't want to wear the audience out - but I think the filmmakers erred too far in trying to cram so many monsters into on-screen encounters with Big G.

Despite that, however, this is a fun film.  It's bombastic and overblown and more than a little bit silly, but I find it to be quite charmingly so, overall.

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