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Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)

Godzilla has had his share of foes over the years – from three-headed dragons to Raymond Burr. But now, with his 28th film, the big lizard faces his greatest nemesis: the fans. Or rather, he will once Godzilla: Final Wars is unleashed onto the English-speaking public.

Originally billed as the “the last Godzilla film ever” (yeah, right), Toho produced the largest entry in the series and, in a stunning move, handed the reigns to Japan’s resident spaz: Ryuhei Kitamura, director of Versus. Taking a slew of creative liberties, the cult filmmaker has delivered a completely different beast, one that goes against many expectations. Needless to say, Final Wars is poised to split the fanbase right down the middle.

The plot (*snicker*) revolves around the “M-Group,” a military force designed to keep the planet safe from giant monsters. The team is made up of various spiky-haired warriors, sexy female scientists, and a tough talkin’ American stereotype (whose bad delivery is worth the price of admission). Years after imprisoning Godzilla in ice during a South Pole battle, our heroes once again find themselves doing battle as legions of kaiju appear and lay waste to all the major cities. Enter the Xilians, a race of leather-fetish aliens that intercede and beam away all the troublesome monsters. The Xilian leader wants to “be friends,” but whom are they kidding? The M-Group quickly uncovers an evil alien plot, and quicker than you can shout “Independence Day,” the world is under assault by a giant mothership, war erupts, and the kaiju are once again unleashed. To even the odds, our rag-tag team decides to awaken the Big G for one final smackdown.
Okay, the story is about on par with the Xbox games. But who cares? It’s pure camp. Final Wars is one kick ass B-movie homage to the 70’s kaiju era, and Kitamura infuses all the right elements with his flashy post-Matrix bravado. Excess is the name of the game, and even the mid-section (which is essentially kaiju-less) is filled to the brim with kung fu, gunplay, and inside jokes. To top it all off, there’s even an electro soundtrack from Argento collaborator Keith Emerson. What’s not to love about this movie?

Well, for die-hard fans, Final Wars may be a victim of hype. There isn’t any kaiju-on-kaiju action until the last 30 minutes, when Godzilla rips and blasts his way through half the planet in one hyperactive montage. Most of the monsters appear as surprise cameos (just before getting nuked off the face of the Earth), so it was a bad move for Toho to market this movie around the creature line-up. That being said, Kitamura stages some of the most jaw-dropping battles ever conceived. This isn’t your typical slow-mo man-in-suit wrestling match. This is a fast and furious, no-holds-barred battle royal. We even get to see Godzilla waste his bogus American counterpart (the giant iguana fans have dubbed “Not-zilla”).

Now I consider myself a lifelong G-fan . . . but let’s face it, these movies were getting stale. Aside from the excellent Godzilla: GMK, every film in this new series has been pretty sub-standard. Watching the previous entry, Godzilla vs. MechaGodzilla vs. Mothra Yet Again, I just didn’t feel a sense of excitement anymore. Been there, done that. Many times over. These new kaiju filmmakers can cling to the past and throw out as many original references and WWII metaphors as they want, but there’s no point in denying it anymore: Godzilla movies are all about spectacle. And this outing delivers in spades.

The new approach will definitely upset some purists, but Toho arguably made the right decision by hiring Kitamura. When the Big G makes his inevitable return, here’s hoping that they’ll continue to inject new blood into the franchise.

Godzilla: Final Wars (2004)
(Toho Company Ltd.)
Directed by Ryuhei Kitamura
Starring Masahiro Matsuoka, Rei Kikukawa, Akira Takarada, Kane Kosugi, Kazuki Kitamura, Don Frye

4 out of 5

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Steve Barton

You're such an inspiration for the ways that I will never, ever choose to be.