Wednesday, September 20, 2017
Number 31 - "Godzilla: Final Wars" (2004)
There aren't many movies that make me angry. Some leave a bad taste in my mouth when they squander great things, while others make me annoyed through bad storytelling or terrible acting. But once in a blue moon, a film will come along that makes me want to pull my hair out and reduce me to the point where watching Barney the Dinosaur sounds better than watching this crap.
"Godzilla: Final Wars" brings this kind of anger out in me. It is not only my pick for the worst Godzilla film, but one of the worst movies I have ever seen. This is not just because of generally bad filmmaking, third-grade level writing, and acting so bad that even Ed Wood would want to try filming the scene again, but a misunderstanding and disrespect towards the source material that it takes all the fun out of the movie.
It's bad enough that "Final Wars" is poorly put together, but then it had to go and defecate over everything that was awesome about Godzilla.
"Godzilla: Final Wars" was released in 2004, the year of Godzilla's fiftieth anniversary, a milestone landmark for any franchise to reach, especially one that was normally seeing the release of a new film every year. At this point, "Final Wars" was the 28th entry in the series (not counting the 1998 American film, but we will get to that) and Toho wanted to celebrate this occasion with a movie that honored the tradition of Godzilla. Toho spent a ridiculous amount of money making this movie, roughly two billion yen or 19.5 million American dollars. At the time, this was the third most expensive movie Toho had ever made. That's not even taking into account the advertising "Final Wars" had, which was advertised all over the world due to Godzilla's fiftieth.
Toho tried to pull all the stops out for this one - Bringing back as many classic Godzilla monsters as they could, attempting to make the movie feel like a classic old Godzilla movie, and for the first time, having not only monster fights, but also human fights!
And they messed all of that up!
Oh sure, it has the largest roster of Toho kaijus, ranging from the obvious like Mothra and Rodan to the more obscure like Hedorah and Ebirah, but most of these monsters are on screen for less than a minute, serve no purpose to the plot, don't act anything like they did in previous movies, and most of them are killed off unceremoniously. The majority of these monsters are just here to fill up screen time and to get the audience's nostalgia hype up.
Does the film feel like a classic Godzilla movie at any point? Absolutely not. It might take plot elements from other Godzilla movies, in particular "Invasion of Astro-Monster" (or "Godzilla vs. Monster Zero") by revolving around aliens trying to conquer earth by controlling monsters, but the Godzilla franchise wasn't the first to cover that type of plot and it will not be the last. Instead, the movie focuses on its bland cast of idiots who would rather punch their way through their problems. "Final Wars" ends up borrowing plot elements from about a dozen different movies, in particular "The Matrix" because of our characters choices in fashion and its over-reliance of kung-fu fight scenes, the "X-Men" franchise because of its mutant characters who can fight a giant sea monster with wire-fu, which isn't nearly as cool as it sounds, and the "Star Wars" franchise because of one scene near the end that feels like a carbon copy of the Death Star trench run. "Final Wars" is a strange hodgepodge of cinematic references, doing none of them well at all, and the one it does the worst is the Godzilla series.
And those human fight scenes? They take up the majority of the movie. In a film that was supposed to celebrate fifty years of Godzilla and represent everything great about the franchise, instead of showing some dream monster match-ups like, for example, King Ghidorah and MechaGodzilla fighting Godzilla, Mothra, Rodan, and Anguirus, we instead get lots of martial arts scenes that were cut from "The Matrix Reloaded" for being too silly.
But the absolute worst thing that "Final Wars" does is something simple - In the film's two hour runtime, Godzilla is on-screen for all of twelve minutes.
This was supposed to be Godzilla's big shining moment. Fifty years of making movies, creating an entire genre of filmmaking and some of the most iconic monsters of all time, and a franchise that had has more entries than Star Wars, Star Trek and the Lord of the Rings combined. And the filmmakers cannot even be bothered make him the central focus of the movie or give him a fight that lasts more than two minutes.
That is not just bad filmmaking, it is downright disrespectful and insulting to Godzilla and his fans. We didn't watch any of the previous Godzilla movies for the chance that the humans would fight. We came for Godzilla. We came because of his strength and his awe. Something so simple as hearing his roar or watching his spines glow bright blue brings a smile to so many people's faces, and it comes across like these filmmakers don't give a damn about any of that. They would rather imitate other popular franchises poorly, instead of paying tribute to a legacy that is older than most of the people working on this movie.
It makes "Godzilla: Final Wars" feel empty and hollow; insincere in its "love" for Godzilla and his monster companions and never giving the audience enough time to truly appreciate the short monster scenes.
Godzilla doesn't even appear until the halfway point in the movie, and then he proceeds to get into many monster fights that last less than 30 seconds. In these fights, Godzilla basically walks right through his opponents, including Gigan, Zilla (the 1998 American Godzilla - yes, he is in this movie), the giant spider Kumonga, the giant mantis Kamakuras, Hedorah, and Ebirah. These monsters do little more than slow Godzilla down as he makes his way from Antarctica to Tokyo. So not only are the fights too short to enjoy, but Godzilla expends zero effort to defeat them that it takes all the drama and tension out of the scene. One blast of his atomic ray is enough to defeat most of these monsters.
I have seen fight scenes in "My Little Pony" that are more exciting to watch than these ones. At least I will not miss those fights if I have to blink.
To add to this growing mountain of crap, "Godzilla: Final Wars" gets even worse because its boring. For a film that is basically action scenes galore, and often has the entire fate of the world at stake, the pacing is so slow in the early parts that it makes everything dull. "Final Wars" spends its first hour trying to build the mystery behind the alien invaders, the Xiliens, when anyone with two functioning brain cells can figure out that they are evil and want to destroy us.
Then there are the main cast of characters, including the bland Neo-ripoff Ozaki (Masahiro Matsuoka), his mutant rival who is about as mindless as a newborn puppy Kazama (Kane Kosugi), the supermodel turned biologist that can hack any computer (because biology means computer hacking in this world) Miyuki (Rei Kikukawa), and the American captain who only speaks in one-liners (Don Frye).
By the way, Don Frye made a name for himself in Japan through their equivalent of the UFC, called Pride. In other words, he's a boxer/wrestler/fighter turned into an actor for this one movie. Congratulations Toho, you've hired the MMA version of Stone Cold Steve Austin or Hulk Hogan to be one of the lead actors in your giant monster movie attempting to celebrate fifty years of Godzilla. Thanks for continuing the sad tradition of turning wrestlers into movie actors and proving that it often fails miserably.
In any case, the film gives us no reason to care about our protagonists. No humanity to latch on to, since they all act like spoiled brats who will throw a temper tantrum if they don't get what they want. Now imagine that those idiot are in charge of saving the world from aliens and monsters and you might start to see why these characters suck.
As we get further up this countdown and move away from the bottom, I'll be pointing out any redeeming factors these Godzilla films have to offer and show that there is something of value. "Godzilla: Final Wars" has nothing of value. It is devoid of joy and awe, never once making an attempt to develop its own identity. It does a terrible job of trying to pay tribute to Godzilla with how little it cares about the character or his history, with little more than some references with no substance behind them. This is the "Epic Movie" of the Godzilla franchise - it is best left forgotten and never talked about again.