2004 marked 50 years since Godzilla had appeared on the big screen in 1954’s Gojira. The film Godzilla: Final Wars served in part as an homage to what had all come before and as a big finale to the Millennium series, as the two previous films in the series, Godzilla Against Mechagodzilla and Godzilla: Tokyo S.O.S., performed poorly at the box office. Toho still wanted to mark the anniversary with a film release, and had decided it would be the last Godzilla film for ten years (this year’s Godzilla from director Gareth Edwards will be the first new movie for the monster in a decade). The movie wasn’t overly received well by fans, though it certainly does trot out a who’s who in the list of monsters that have appeared with Godzilla over the years. But it certainly had its share of over the top action, due in part to director Ryuhei Kitamura, who also helped write the screenplay.
Kitamura may have seemed an odd choice to direct a Godzilla movie. His previous movies were a blend of over the top martial arts, horror, and fantasy. Versus dealt with an island overrun by zombies where a battle between good and evil had raged over time. Alive dealt with two men being forced to compete against each other by aliens. Sky High dealt with a murder victim contemplating revenge from beyond the grave, knowing that such a decision could affect whether she went to Heaven or was consigned to Hell. Azumi dealt with an orphan raised as an assassin in 19th century feudal Japan. But one thing Kitamura did have was a sense of visual style, and that he did bring to Godzilla: Final Wars.
The story of the movie tries to be overly complex, even though it boils down to a fairly simple premise, one that has been used in the Godzilla movies since the early 60s. The Earth Defense Force has been formed to protect the citizens of Earth from monsters. A new form of human has emerged, called mutants, and they join the force under the M Organization. The movie opens with a battle between Godzilla and on the Earth Defense Force’s ships (which resembles a flying submarine with a large drill on its bow) which ends with Godzilla being buried in the ice at the South Pole. Years later, monsters begin to appear and attack cities across the globe- Rodan attacks New York, the mantis-like Kamacuras attacks Paris, Anguirus attacks Shanghai- and as it turns out they’ve been unleashed by aliens called Xilians. When the aliens start kidnapping key figures and making doubles of them, Captain Douglas Gordon decides to free Godzilla to aid in fighting off the monsters and the aliens. This leads to plenty of battles, with Mothra returning as an ally to Godzilla for the first time since 1968’s Destroy All Monsters.
(trailer courtesy of TL2Bie)
The movie mixed a wide array of things together, including martial arts fight scenes, a maniacal villain, some silly humor, and a mix of CGI effects and the suitmation technique that had been used in Godzilla films since the beginning. Stuntman Tsutomu Kitagawa wore the suit for Godzilla for the sixth time. When he began with Godzilla 2000, the suits weighed 100 kilograms. For this film director Kitamura wanted Godzilla to be more flexible, so the suit was slimmed down to 30 kilograms, making it easier for Kitagawa to have greater range of motion. Since it was a 50th Anniversary project, the monster roster for Godzilla: Final Wars had a range of creatures going back to the Showa era and even including the creature from the 1998 American film as Zilla, a monster Americans mistook for Godzilla. Also appearing in he film were Anguirus (who first appeared in 1955 in Godzilla Raids Again), Ebirah (from Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster), Gigan (who was last seen in 1973’s Godzilla vs. Megalon), Hedorah (from 1971’s Godzilla vs. the Smog Monster), Kamacuras (first seen in 1967’s Son of Godzilla), King Caesar (also known as King Shisa, who appeared in 1974’s Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla), Kumonga (the giant spider originally called Spiga in Son of Godzilla), Manda (last seen in 1968’s Destroy All Monsters), Minilla (called Milla in the film and also known as Minya), Monster X, Ghidorah (who is the mutated form of Monster X), Mothra, and Rodan.
The big roster led to plenty of battles, though the number of them gave them mostly short screen time. Some were impressive, like the finale between Godzilla, Ghidorah, Gigan, and Mothra. Others were more silly, like Godzilla taking on the threesome of King Caesar, Anguirus, and Rodan. Adding to some of the silliness were some campy sound effects that were tossed in. The roster was also showcased in the opening credits that took you through Godzilla’s past fifty years, and in the closing credits where some footage was shown that had been cut from the main film. In the end, it made for a fun movie, even if it wasn’t one of Godzilla’s best. But it did close out the series in a big way, with Godzilla and his son Minilla swimming off into the sunset.
(clip courtesy of Zmanstardust)
Godzilla: Final Wars paid both tribute to Godzilla’s past, as well as paving the way for the future. It added Patrick Tatapoulos’s creature into the official lore, which greatly pleased the creature designer. It marked some firsts: a scene was shot in the US for a Toho produced film, and the film premiered outside of Japan for the first time in its history, making its premiere at Grauman’s Chinese Theater in Los Angeles on November 29, 2004, the same day Godzilla got his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Actors from all eras of the Godzilla films made an appearance in the movie, including Akira Takarada, who played Ogata in the 1954 original. It also marked the first time that popular music artists from outside Japan were used for the soundtrack. The music for the film was done by Keith Emerson, the keyboardist from the progressive rock group Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. Songs from punk rock groups Sum 41 and Zebrahead were also used.
Godzilla: Final Wars provided a big movie for the series 50th year that is entertaining in an over the top fashion. With decent special effects and a goofy style, it certainly, at least to me, is one of the more memorable Godzilla movies. It now remains to be seen if the 2014 film by Gareth Edwards can carry on that legacy into the future. Stay tuned for my review of the film this weekend after it opens May 16.
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