Thursday, July 07, 2005

Godzilla: Final Wars

The crowd was live like Dave Clarke Five, cheering every time Godzilla appeared, or was even mentioned. In fact, it was one of the most packed shows I've ever been to at the Egyptian, and the crowd obviously consisted largely of rabid Godzilla fans. And this was the early show!

Godzilla: Final Wars is not nearly as good as Godzilla Mothra King Ghidora: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack, but it's got its moments. Whereas GMK was an effort to make a more adult kaiju movie, director Ryuhei Kitamura sets the goal of putting Godzilla in a balls-0ut giant monster action flick. Sometimes it works, but mostly it suffers from the same problem as Kitamura's eariler film Versus: the movie throws so much shit at the audience that, by the time we've gotten to the end, we've simply stopped caring. Kitamura impresses me as a Japanese version of Robert Rodriguez: he can come up with a great list of things that would be cool to see in a movie, but he can't write an interesting story.

Final Wars begins with a prologue that takes place several years before the main action of the film, with an Earth Defense Force spaceship imprisoning Godzilla under the arctic ice. From there, it brings us to a plot similar to Destroy All Monsters or Godzilla vs. Monster Zero. An alien race ("Our name is difficult for you to pronounce. You may call us "Xilians") attacks the earth by controlling 10 monsters and unleashing them on the cities of the world. There's also a race of super-mutants who have appeared on earth like the X-Men, and who share some DNA with the monsters, and also come under the control of the aliens, except for our protagonist, because...well, it's never really explained very well, but who cares? Very quickly, we end up with a rag tag team going off to save what's left of the world. There's the mutant Earth Defense Force officer, the hot biologist he's been teamed with, the gruff, American pilot who imprisoned Godzilla all those years ago, and...a couple others we don't care about. The American (played, I am told by the Japanese guy that accompanied us, by a popular kick boxer) looks like Sgt. Rock and speaks entirely in Stallonian one-liners. "There's two things you don't know about Earth," he tells the bad guy. "One of them is me, and the Godzilla." (insane cheers from the crowd follow) They quickly hatch a so-crazy-it-just-might-work plan to free Godzilla from his icey tomb, let him destroy the monsters, and worry about dealing with him later.

The worst thing about this movie is that it's so FUCKING xXx-TREME!!! It's just unrelenting, short-attention-oriented, way too loud, and has a mostly-awful techno-rock score (although there were a couple snippets of the score that sounded really cool). Unlike GMK, the monsters occupy a secondary plot, with the main focus on the human characters (This is always a difficult thing for kaiju movies to work out. The early 90's series seemed to handle it the best), giving it a sort of Power Rangers feel. But Power Rangers as filtered through The Matrix. In fact, there are several shots that are directly lifted from Matrix: Reloaded, and dozens of other films are pilfered here as well. Although the American Godzilla is appropriately ragged upon (American Godzilla is one of the monsters the aliens send, and he quickly gets his ass stomped by the real thing, followed by the alien leader exclaiming "I knew that tuna-eating beast was useless," to great applause), there are unmistakeable ripoffs from Devlin/Emmerich's Independence Day. Even stranger, the 80's version of Flash Gordon seems to be a major source for this film, with not only several direct visual references, but some very Queen-like moments in the score.

Having said all that, there is a lot to like about the film. Kitamura may be making movies for ritalin-deprived children, but that doesn't mean he's not talented. Mostly, the best parts deal with the monsters. Kitamura has a great idea of how to properly use CGI to enhance the rubber suit, even moreso than Kaneko. He brings the monsters to life in a way that noone has before. Early on, there is a succession of views of the monsters destroying cities, and to see a CGI-aided Rodan laying waste to NYC is pure joy for anyone raised on Japanese monster movies. Anguirus' "bowling bowl" attack style is much more believable. Varan, the giant snake/dragon monster, looks like a classic Chinese Dragon flying through space in its battle with the space ship. The monster fights are pretty spiffy. Godzilla actually BEHEADS other monsters! And Godzilla himself seems to have more personality than he has in any past film. You can see the grizzled old warrior in his eyes. Mothra gets the most rowsing, heroic treatment she's ever had, and although Minya (Baby Godzilla) is as annoyingly cute as ever, he's at least put to some good use.

I also love the main bad guy. I'm trying to look the guy up in IMDB, but I can't figure out which character he was. The actor looked very familiar--I at first thought it was the same guy who played the evil glam-rock kidnapper in Suicide Club, but no. The guy has a great "cartoon bad guy" look, and spends much of the movie either arching his eyebrows while proclaiming that humans are nothing but cattle, or shaking his fists as his monsters are defeated by Godzilla. You keep expecting him to say "curses!"

Overall, not my favorite Godzilla movie by a long shot, but a fun flick nonetheless. Like Rodriguez, I think Kitamura has potential, if he'd work with a decent screenwriter, but I'm not holding my breath. I get the impression he's entirely in love with his own epileptic aesthetic.


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