In celebration of Godzilla's 50th anniversary, Toho made an all out monster-fest of a movie: Godzilla: Final Wars. The 28th film in the series, this movie draws heavily from the ones that preceded it and is filled with homages to the earlier works. It contains many of the Toho monsters and long time fans will have a great time naming the monsters and even identifying scenes that originally appeared in the other Godzilla films. As a movie though, it's only mediocre at best. With Godzilla and the other monsters off screen for much of the film and taking a backseat to the 'people plot', this film doesn't feel like a monster movie as much as a science fiction film that just happens to have Godzilla making an appearance.
The film starts off strong with action right from the get-go. The submarine/airship Gotengo engages in a very short battle against Godzilla at the South Pole, trapping him underneath an avalanche of ice a la Godzilla Raids Again. The credits roll and after that we see an underwater fight against the monster Manda. Pretty cool stuff.
Then the plot starts, and the movie commences it's down hill slide.
We are introduced to the "M Organization" a mutant filled squad in the Earth Defense Force (EDF), and their spunky member Ozaki (Masahiro Matsuoka). What sets these people apart from ordinary humans, aside from having a certain gene, isn't disclosed, but these men and women practice kung fu diligently, which is sure to help them in their battle against giant monsters.
Things start looking up when several monsters attack various cities around the globe, just like in Destroy All Monsters. The M Organization takes on Ebirah in Tokyo and manages to kill him with hand held weapons. Other armies using tanks and war ships don't have as much luck though, and things are looking bad until an alien space ship captures all of the monsters and saves the Earth. These aliens (the Xians, in a nod to the old Planet X) claim that they want to be our friends, but in reality they just want to eat humans. They are able to control all of the monsters because they have the M gene. They ordered the monsters to attack the Earth just so they could save it. As the commander says, it's better to do things peacefully if possible. I can only assume that he thinks humans will be so grateful for being spared that they'll cover their bodies in tasty sauces hoping to be the first ones eaten.
That plan falls apart when, after a long and boring investigation, the M Organization discovers some duplicity among the alien delegation that's interacting with the UN. The alien "X" kills his leader and takes control of the mission. No more peaceful solutions for him! He takes control of all of M Organization with his telepathic powers (with the exception of Ozaki) and releases the monsters that they've captured on the world. The EDF's forces are totally wiped out, and it looks like Earth is doomed.
Yes, the EDF fleet is gone except for one ship that didn't fight the monsters for some reason: the Gotengo. Ozaki and Captain Gordon (Don Frye, Ultimate Fighting Championship star) take the ship and reawaken Godzilla. The plan is to let G! fight the other monsters and aliens, and then bury him in ice again. Will the newly awakened Godzilla be able to defeat all of the other monsters in the world and an alien invasion force? They don't call him king of the monsters for nothing.
This film was directed by Ryuhei Kitamura (Versus), who is described on Toho's web site as "the hottest Japanese filmmaker in Hollywood." I'm not sure what that means since he hasn't directed a Hollywood movie and none of his movies have been made into Hollywood productions like Ringu. It sounds like faint praise at best. In this film Kitamura loses sight of what makes Godzilla movies so fun, namely Godzilla. The monster fights at the end of the movie are painfully brief, with some of the fights appearing on background monitors on the alien space ship. Other monster scenes are interrupted by inane throw away scenes such as the one where a pimp pulls a gun on a New York cop for towing his car. (The cop's reaction? He doesn't take having a gun aimed at his face seriously and tells the guy to put it away with a bored expression. Riiiight.) I was happy that he included so many monsters, but none of them had very much screen time. And why oh why did he have to bring back baby Godzilla and give him more screen time than Gihdorah??? The focus during the whole film was the M squad and how they fought the aliens, not on Godzilla. This is more of a SF movie than a Godzilla film.
The plot was pretty incoherent and full of holes. The aliens could control all of the monsters except Godzilla and Mothra? Why? They could control all of the mutants too, except for Ozaki because he was a "kaiser" whatever the hell that means. Okay.... And what was that hunter doing wearing a badger skin, and where was he taking Minilla? Why? If the aliens wanted to use humans as food why did they try to kill everyone on the planet? The list goes on and on.
The dialog was horribly poor too, and I don't think you can just chalk it up to a bad translation. Nothing that came out of anyone's mouth sounded like a sentence a real person would say. Ozaki once asks someone: "Are you really a biologist? You look more like a model to me." Smooth talker that one is. The alien commander gets a good laugh when he says "He who relies solely on power soon finds that power turned against him." Okay old wise master. Just what in the hell does that mean??
Ryuhei Kitamura also lifts a lot from a movie not in the Godzilla cannon. Apparently Kitamura though no one would notice if he lifted scenes from a rare and little scene film. He was wrong though because The Matrix isn’t an obscure movie, and people will instantly recognize several scenes. I could let the 'camera spinning around a couple fighting in the air' go (although it's a very trite and dated technique now) and I only smiled as slow motion bullets whizzed past people who were able to dodge them, but when Ozaki stops laser blasts in mid air (the more I think about that the more stupid it becomes) I had to laugh. What was he thinking??
On the plus side there were some entertaining fights, though they were often brief. I didn't mind when the American Godzilla (a CGI creation that looked pretty bad by the way) was trashed in under a minute, but when Godzilla faces Rhodan, Anguirus, and King Caesar all at once, you want the battle to last more than two or three minutes.
When all is said and done, this movie had too much wire-fu and not enough monster-fu.