Godzilla: Final Wars (Japan - 2004)
Starring: Masahiro Matsuoka, Rei Kikukawa, Kazuki Kitamura, Don Frye
Director: Ryuhei Kitamura
Plot: The last hope of Mankind lies in re-awakening an imprisoned Godzilla to defeat a technologically superior alien race and the slew of giant monsters they control.
Review: From his first appearance in Gojira in 1954, his slow descent into camp in the 70's and rebirth in the late 80's, Godzilla has been a cultural icon like no other. Celebrating his 50 years, this "last" chapter in the long-running series is an appropriate swan song that will please fans of old and casual action lovers alike. Director Kitamura made his name with chaotic, inspired fantasy-action films like the low-budget
Versus and the colorful but bloody
Azumi, and he doesn't disappoint. Given twice the budget of any other installment, he has managed to create what is by far the most spectacular installment of the series and still keep it family-friendly. Shot with a hodge-podge of styles reminiscent of the
installments of old, from black-and-white to sand-colored footage, from the use of silly-looking model cities and tanks to state-of-the-art CGI effects, this is an homage to
all things Godzilla, where all the most memorable stuff accumulated over the years has been thrown in, including the kitchen sink. The beginning of the film is probably one of the best, most engaging half hour of the entire series, as Kitamura assails audiences with all kinds of frenetic action scenes, his cast chewing the scenery, and the story coming in fast and furious. Disappointingly, he then falls into the usual trap: an uninteresting human-centric main story which could have easily been cut short. Even the mutant-alien Matrix-like fights (including a slo-mo motorcycle confrontation) inserted to make them more engaging just don't impress, and are rather unwanted. What we want is monster mayhem! Thankfully, we get that in spades - the Godzilla action is strong and seems to have been cranked up to a higher gear than fans may remember, with various fashions of the past making a comeback from creature fights involving wrestling tackles, energy rays and straight-on pummeling. Taking a cue from the
Destroy All Monsters page book, just about every popular monster from previous installments makes an appearance, which will make long-time fans squeal with glee. And check out the US version of the creature who gets crushed early on, a statement on Toho's disappointment with the US-made
Godzilla film. Going from the sublime to the absurd,
Godzilla: Final Wars is a fantastic way to celebrate 50 years, and though it might go on too long in the middle it's a great send-off to the stalwart character as he rides
(literally) into the sunset.