Godzilla: Final Wars (2004) — The king of monster movies

“I knew that tuna-eating monster was useless.”

Drew’s rating: How the hell can we be “out-monstered?” Who’s got more monsters than Earth?

Drew’s review: 50th anniversaries are a tricky business. They’re major milestones and worthy of recognition, but at the same time, most of the people who were around at the beginning have either died or forgotten why they liked it in the first place. 50th wedding celebrations are attended primarily by grandchildren born decades later who can’t imagine a relationship lasting more than a few months. Likewise, anniversaries of fictional characters can be fun, but also draw attention to just how long they’ve been around. Charles Schulz commemorated 50 years of Peanuts by retiring, then dying; Batman marked the occasion with a movie retelling his story for a younger generation.

My point is, if you’re going to celebrate 50 years of anything, you’ve got to go all out to attract not only the original fans, but also those who’ve come along since and now control everything. Which brings us to Godzilla: Final Wars, notable as the Big G’s 50th birthday, but also as the last movie to feature him before a lengthy hiatus. Ah, but is it a worthy tribute to the King of the Monsters? Let’s find out…

After years of uselessness, the EDF (Earth Defense Force) finally gains a decisive victory over their greatest foe through sheer luck, as an earthquake in the South Pole traps Godzilla under tons of ice. My heroes. But before they can relax, disaster strikes as every other monster starts laying siege to Earth’s major cities all at once. This time, salvation comes from the stars when friendly aliens show up and teleport the beasts away. The so-called Xilians claim they want to help us advance our culture and defend against a meteor heading our way. And as you’d expect (It’s a cookbook!), they’re actually evil motherlovers bent on enslaving us and eating our mitochondria. Not the ribosomes, but God help us, the mitochondria.

When we refuse to surrender (eat it, jerks!), the Xilians release the monsters back on Earth to unleash hell, which leaves the EDF with exactly two options: free Godzilla in the hope that he can stop the other monsters, or watch the planet be destroyed. Guess which one they pick?

So. The only conceivable reason you would watch this film is to see Godzilla annihilate other monsters, and monster annihilation ye shall receive, children. For the big 5-0, the filmmakers played mix-‘n-match with as many of the big guy’s old sparring partners as possible. This means you’ll see more giant monsters than you knew existed, from relative A-listers Mothra and Rodan to your also-rans like King Caesar, the giant dog… thing. (Although it has to be said – no Mechagodzilla? %&$# that noise.) Be warned that the fighting is slightly ridiculous, much like the sun is a little bit hot.

Whether that bothers you depends on how much suspension of disbelief you can muster for 400-foot reptiles doing bicycle kicks, but know that Godzilla’s power level has been seriously upped. I used to wonder why he bothered brawling at all when he had that badass laser breath… well, now the Big G can fire an atomic blast into space to knock a meteor off course. With that kind of juice at his disposal, monsters who used to keep him busy for an entire movie are now curbstomped in under a minute, making the Xilians seem idiotic for sending them after Godzilla 1 or 2 at a time. You get the sense the next entry in the series will be Godzilla vs. God and Megalon.

Of course, if you’re looking for logic you’ve come to the wrong place, as the entire thing is hilariously insane. Minilla appears from nowhere, with no explanation as to why the son of Godzilla, not seen in 30 years, is hanging around with a human boy and his grandfather. Likewise, Mothra is summoned with zero buildup, making you question why she (he?) didn’t fly toward the bright lights earlier. Several plot elements are superfluous to the actual story, and like all Godzilla movies, the human scenes are perfunctory but annoying. No one cares about martial arts between two dudes; we’re here to watch Godzilla beat the everliving piss out of other giant monsters. I don’t know about you, but I’d trade a motorcycle fight with lousy special effects for a couple extra scenes of Mothra knocking Gigan on his ass any day. And I recognize the importance of building up tension for Godzilla’s eventual reappearance, but when I have to watch the movie over the course of three nights because I fall asleep the first two times, that’s a problem. Next time, less humans, longer monster fights.

What else can I say about Final Wars? It’s just a stupid, fun monster mash to celebrate 50 years of a cultural icon. It ain’t Shakespeare, but it’s no more corny or absurd than the 1998 remake, and at parts of this one are fun. I won’t be pulling it out every week to rewatch – the monster cameos are cool and most of the special effects decent, but the fights are just too damn brief – but for the celebration of a franchise I’m not obsessive about, I found it to be a decent tribute. Don’t knock yourself out hunting it down, but if you stumble across a copy and find yourself with a couple hours to kill, go wild. Because you know Godzilla would do the same for you when you turn 50.

Didja notice?

  • Godzilla eyeballing the upgraded Gigan like “Didn’t I kill your ass already?”
  • Most of the monsters (“kaiju”) who appear haven’t been seen in movies for 30 years or more. Among those not glimpsed since the 60s or 70s are Anguirus, King Caesar, Gigan, Kamacuras, Ebirah, Kumonga, Manda, Hedorah, and Minilla.
  • If Godzilla is King of the Monsters, what are King Ghidorah and King Caesar? Figureheads?
  • Final Wars “borrows” liberally from other sci-fi movies, including X-Men, The Matrix, Independence Day, and Return of the Jedi.
  • The Xilians were previously seen in Invasion of Astro-Monster (Godzilla vs. Monster Zero in the U.S.), where they were also a bunch of sneaky, sneaky bastards.
  • Godzilla kills most of the monsters he fights, but lets Rodan, Anguirus, and King Caesar live. This is considered a nod to past films, when all 3 were Godzilla’s allies.
  • I love how the little kid stands in front of Godzilla to protect him. “You cannot shoot the 400-foot monster without hitting me! Unless you fire slightly over my head!”
  • Mechagodzilla was considered for inclusion in the film – the EDF would have piloted him – but was replaced by the Gotengo, a ship from various other Japanese sci-fi films.

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