Godzilla: Final Wars

The whole world is under attack by Giant Monsters, but suddenly they disappear with the arrival of an an alien race whose motives appear friendly. The world celebrates, but a group of government employees discover the aliens true intentions, and just like that, the alien’s re-release the giant monsters onto the world once more! All hope now rests on a rag tag group of freedom fighters, a flying submarine, and a monster entombed at the South Pole!

Released in 2004, and directed by Ryuhei Kitamura; Godzilla: Final Wars is the 29th Godzilla film which also happens to mark the 50th anniversary of the series, with the first film being released in 1954. Final Wars was the last Godzilla film to be produced by Toho until the release of Shin Godzilla in 2016. It was also the last produced Godzilla film until the release of the 2014 American Reboot.

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The Millennium series of Godzilla films had its ups and downs from its beginning in 1999 with Godzilla 2000. The films were produced in a bizarre fashion in that five of the six films were standalone titles with no references made to the previous film’s release. They were all anthology titles, and direct sequels to the original 1954 film. No understanding as to why this approach was taken given that each film was released one year after the previous entry. The only film not to take this approach was Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S. which was a direct sequel to the previous years release; Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla. The era had it’s highs, but also it’s lows, and in an attempt to create new interest in the franchise; Toho put Godzilla on a 10 year hiatus following on from the release of Final Wars.

From possibly knowing about the upcoming fate of the series, or wanting to have a big celebration for it’s length, Final Wars is a massive film. Most of the films in the series have a running length of about an hour and a half, whereas this one is at least two hours long. It’s not just the runtime either, as the film is host to a large collection of monsters from the series, many of whom haven’t been seen for about 30 years! Director Ryuhei Kitamura signed on to direct as he wasn’t happy with some of the series releases since the late 60’s, and compared this film to that of a musician’s “best of” album, featuring many of the things he liked from the past to create this entry.

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The film features some interesting cast choices, both Human and Monster. The core human cast is made up of Masahiro Matsuoka, Rei Kikukawa, Kazuki Kitamura, and Don Frye. Now, some of you may have noticed that in that list of names is a UFC Hall of Famer. As it turns out, director Kitamura wrote the film with Frye in mind as he was a fan of his matches. The human cast though is not just limited to Mixed Martial Artists, and future stars of The Raid 2. This is the 50th anniversary of the Godzilla series, so there’s room for some of the series most prolific actors.

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The start of the film features appearances from  regulars Koichi Ueda and Akira Nakao aboard the Gotengo, but then once we fast forward to the present day, we are treated to the appearance of both Kumi Mizuno, and Akira Takarada. Kumi Mizuno had previously appeared in two classic 60’s Godzilla films in the form of Invasion of Astro-Monster, and Ebirah Horror of the Deep. She had also been in The War of the Gargantuas, and Matango (both of which, along with Astro-Monster; were directed by Ishiro Honda). Akira Takarada meanwhile is one of the most prolific actors in the entire franchise. This appearance; playing the part of the UN Secretary-General is his sixth appearance out of seven Godzilla films (even though his scene in the 2014 film was cut), with his first being in the original 1954 film.

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The film’s monster cast is also very interesting, after all that’s what these films are all about! What’s particularly interesting in the case of this film, is that  for many of the monsters, it’s their first appearance in the series for close to thirty years; some have not been seen for even longer than that. To demonstrate this, I have created a simple table to show you how long it’s been since their last appearance in the series. Now, there are some exceptions. Firstly I didn’t include Godzilla for obvious reasons, secondly, I didn’t include Mothra as Mothra’s last appearance was in the previous film (Tokyo S.O.S.), thirdly, Keizer Ghidorah; depending on your personal outlook on the character is either making it’s first appearance in the series, or as a variation on King Ghidorah which made it’s last appearance three films previously (which I am just going to use the abbreviated title GMK, because the full length is too long for this already large paragraph). Final notices: Monster X is making it’s debut in this film so is not included in the table, monster’s who appear as stock footage in this film aren’t included, and the table refers to the last time the monster made a starring role in a film, so further use of stock footage is not included. Anyway, with all that paperwork out the way, here is the table:

Monster Last Film Appearance Year
Gigan Godzilla vs. Megalon 1973
Rodan Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla II 1993
Anguirus Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla 1974
King Caesar Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla 1974
Ebirah Ebirah, Horror of the Deep 1966
Minilla All Monsters Attack 1969
Zilla Godzilla 1998 1998
Kamacuras All Monsters Attack 1969
Kumonga Destroy All Monsters 1968
Manda Destroy All Monsters 1968
Hedorah Godzilla vs. Hedorah 1971

From looking at the information, some interesting ideas come to mind. Firstly, for at least two monsters, their last major role was in Destroy All Monsters, which was again a film with a large ensemble of giant monsters. Another two, received starring roles in All Monsters Attack, which for many other monsters in that was more a clip show of stock footage. The list does have it’s standout characters, as some are series favourites, but whom have been relegated to the sidelines for about 30 years. Whilst for others, it’s less than that, but, one of those is one of the Big Five!

Toho Kingdom

The Toho Big Five are a group of monsters who have all been present in the first three eras of the franchise (Showa, Heisei, Millennium). They are; Godzilla, Mothra, King Ghidorah, Mechagodzilla, and Rodan. Now, three of those four are represented in this film, whilst Mechagodzilla had major roles in the last two films. But for Rodan, this is their first appearance in the series since 1993! Given that this film was the last one produced for 10 years, it almost feels like a level of good luck/fortune, that Rodan got an appearance in this film at all! Otherwise, Rodan probably wouldn’t be in the big five, quite possibly there wouldn’t be a big five, rather more a big four. It makes you wonder, why did it take the producers so long to bring back such an iconic character from the series?

Toho Kingdom

The frequency of Monsters who haven’t appeared in the series for a while, is an interesting subject. For one, the series has a large number of monsters that have only appeared in one film previously, but many of these have since become fan favourites, and it can be hard from a story writing perspective to bring them back at the right time. It is nice in the case of this film seeing one of my all time favourites return; that being Anguirus, although the design is not as funky as his previous iteration.

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Gigan meanwhile is a good one to bring back as he was a menacing force from the 1970’s. He was famously the first monster in the series to make Godzilla bleed, and that really does help to highlight his character. Here though, he has been brought back to great effect acting in many respects as the lead villainous monster. His cool updated design has the perfect shading of colour, and the fact that he can be upgraded shows how he is a monster that isn’t so easily defeated.

You may have noticed in the list above the mention of a creature first seen in the 1998 American film; that being a creature called Zilla. So basically, in 1998 there was a previous attempt at making an American Godzilla which received a mixed response. The creature in that film was then subsequently renamed Zilla as it was suggested that the creature ‘took the God out of Godzilla!’ It was a weak substitute as the creature portraying Godzilla was about half the size, and didn’t carry the iconic atomic breath. Anyway, six years later, the now renamed Zilla is included in this 50th anniversary film, and even gets to fight the real Godzilla. In what is one of my favourite movie scenes, Zilla gets whacked into the Sydney Opera House, then obliterated! Even though his debut in the series was a bit mixed, Zilla has gone on to feature in several pieces of Godzilla based literature.

Another interesting inclusion is that of King Caesar. The plot of Final Wars suggests that the monsters fall under the control of the Xilien alien race; because the monsters have a mutant gene inside of them which the aliens have been able to manipulate. Now, this is perfectly understandable, except for the inclusion of King Caesar. In his last major appearance, King Caesar was an ancient guardian who would come out to defend the world when threatened by a specific prophecy (very specific given that the prophecy included aliens, and a monster built from metal), he would also need waking up via singing. Now, given that Caesar has his roots in ancient prophecies, and royal heritage, I find it a bit tricky to understand why he is so corruptible through science. We have been told many times that Godzilla is the King of the Monsters; now given the suggestion that Mothra (who isn’t corrupted or controlled by the aliens in this film) is possibly the Queen of the Monsters thanks to KOTM (which, ok, was 15 years later), it does stand to reason then that King Caesar, is second/third in line to the throne. Another way of thinking is that if Godzilla is King, and Mothra is Queen, then Caesar is the Jack in the suit. There is of course one possible reasoning to the events of the film and King Caesar’s involvement, in that as this is of course a direct sequel to the 1954 film, the events of Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla didn’t happen. Again, it’s an issue of artistic license, but given the brief but deep history of King Caesar, it sort of leaves you pondering!

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There is still one Monster to talk about, well, it’s not much of a monster, but still an integral part of the film; that of the battleship Gotengo! The Gotengo is a really cool thing. It’s a great way to get the story going when Godzilla returns, and gives reason for Godzilla to go globe trotting and defeat all the other monsters. The Gotengo itself though is very cool. It’s a flying submarine with a massive drill on the front! And, much like most of the monsters in this film, has it’s own personal history, starring in a previous movie in the form of Atragon, directed by Ishiro Honda, which also featured Manda. The Gotengo’s level of cool even flows into the movie’s soundtrack, with one of the film’s standout pieces.

The soundtrack to Final Wars is not much to shout about, it’s mostly a light techno rave which just helps to fill the scene environment. It does though have it’s moments, such as the opening theme, the closing credits, the launch of the Gotengo, and Sum 41‘s involvement in the fight scene between the Big G, and Zilla. There is also of course a new and aggressive remix of the classic Godzilla theme, which is quite a good tune as it’s a more up to date sounding theme, and just sounds really brooding and angry.

Godzilla: Final Wars is an interesting film in the series, as it sets out to be almost as different as possible to many of the film’s preceding it. Many of the film’s designs and effects are more modern than previous entries, which it stretches out before it. It demonstrates this through it’s unique collection of music pieces, and the variety of scenes it shows, from stuff being shown at ground level, to magnificent environment shots of destroyed cities under attack. It’s not a bad film, but it does have it’s issues.

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For a start, some of the plot doesn’t make much sense, nor is it satisfyingly resolved. The plot of the aliens first arrival is not resolved for a start, as we never find out why they replaced two major earth leaders with duplicates, or what their plan was from the start, despite being supposedly peaceful? Also, in an attempt to get to the fight scenes as quickly as possible, the idea of the earth uniting with the nations in space, doesn’t seem so politically accurate, it just seems too perfect that the earth jumps at the chance for an alliance!

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Whilst it is nice to see a return for some of the monsters, it is a bit of a shame that their uses can seem a bit light. It is cool to see how powerful Godzilla really is, winning fights so quickly, but it means some monsters, like Ebirah are limited to a short clip. Also, whilst Minilla’s involvement at the ending is pretty useful, it’s part in the rest of the film is just annoying! It would have made a nice surprise, if it was just left to the end of the film!

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It does have it’s issues, but on the whole Godzilla: Final Wars is a really cool, but also nice way to celebrate the 50 years, that Godzilla has been with cinema goers. It’s different, and that’s what makes it stand out. Ryuhei Kitamura has done an excellent job on the whole, as it’s a film which features plenty of monster action, but also plenty of human action to keep you invested in those characters too. Plus, on the whole, it is nice to see many of these classic monster once more, even if we have to wait another thirty years to see them again (unless they’re being kept in reserve for the 100th anniversary film…in 2054?)!

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