Godzilla: Final Wars (Japan 2005)

Rating: ***
Review Date: 2/29/08
Director: Ryuhei Kitamura
Cast: Masahiro Matsuoka, Kane Kosugi, Don Frye, Rei Kikukawa, Maki Mizuno, possible cameos by Yuka Ohnishi (?) and Tak Sakaguchi (?)

Wow. This is what happens when you give renegade director Ryuhei Kitamura ("Versus" (2000) ) a substantial budget - utter mayhem. One of the strangest and most frenetic films in the series, it replaces the ineffective G-Force with a group of superpowered mutant humans, turning the film into a bizarre mixture of monster action and martial arts. For many years Earth has been safe from the ravages of Godzilla, who now lies buried under the ice in Antarctica thanks to the efforts of the Earth Defense Force. When the body of Gigan is unearthed, scientist babe Miyuki (Rei Kikukawa from "Gun Crazy 2" (2002) ) is called in to investigate with EDF soldier Shinichi (Masahiro Matsuoka) as her reluctant bodyguard. It turns out that Gigan is a cyborg from outerspace and that the mutant humans in the EDF contain his genetic material. They don't get to ponder this very long as all the monsters on Earth go on a worldwide rampage of destruction, including Anguirus, Ebirah, Hedorah, Kamacuras, King Caesar, Kumonga, Manda, Rodan, and laughably the American version of Godzilla. (reintroduced into the Godzilla canon as Zilla?)

The EDF is dispatched to intercept this threat and almost completely wiped out when a UFO arrives and saves the day. The aliens from Planet X warn the people of Earth that a super asteroid is on a collision course with their planet, and that they must join forces to prevent this catastrophe. They are welcomed with open arms, but of course they have far more sinister plans in mind. Not only does Gigan contain Planet X DNA, but so do all the monsters on Earth, save Godzilla and Mothra. This means that the Xilians can control them and force the Earth into submission and slavery. The only hope for Earth is for Captain Gordon (Don Frye) to revive Godzilla and have him beat the tar out of everything and send the aliens back home. Big G is reluctant to beat up his former buddy Anguirus, but is eventually forced to out of self defense. The most deliciously barbed moment in the film is seeing him effortlessly pound the American Godzilla into the dirt. It's very clever and shrewd how Toho both acknowledges and dismisses Zilla in the same breath. Take that, Tri-Star! Finally, Godzilla meets his match with Gigan and Monster X (a strange Ghidorah hybrid), and the ineffective and doomed Mothra comes to his aid. However, no grubs show up this time.

Meanwhile, the last remaining battleship of the EDF attacks the aliens head-on in a parody/homage to "Independence Day" (1996), which eventually turns into a martial arts showdown between the humans and the Xilians. Wow. With the aliens defeated and the world left in ruins, the only thing that can stop Godzilla's blind rage is Baby Godzilla, who shows up to save our heroes and teach kindness and compassion to the big guy. Together they set out to sea and leave the humans to rebuild civilization.

This movie has a little of everything in at and the action scenes are jam-packed with kinetic energy and mass destruction. Unfortunately, outside of the action pieces the film slows to a crawl with its dramatic narrative that dominates the entire middle of the film. Thankfully, the social and environmental commentary is kept to a minimum and the film tries to focus on what the audience really wants, which is monster mayhem. And they really pull out all the stops with the monster madness, including the ridiculous dog-like King Caesar, who I'd never heard of before. The inclusion of the American "Zilla" makes a subtle and surprisingly effective statement, which may be the highlight of the film. Of course Rei Kikukawa is extremely cute and supports the theory that all scientists wear super-short skirts and have perfectly coifed hair all the time. Martial arts champion Don Frye is an unexpected treat in the film, and he manages to portray the larger than life Captain Gordon with just the right amount of seriousness and absurdity. For me the biggest disappointment was seeing Masahiro Matsuoka in the lead role, when I thought that Kane Kosugi would have been a much better choice. Kosugi has a broader emotional range and is also a much better fighter, which I suppose also makes him a more engaging opponent.

For the most part the visual effects are superb and the monsters are delightful to watch. Minimal CGI is employed, so you get to see lots of wonderful physical and mechanical effects. The martial arts scenes are surprisingly well done for a Japanese production, but then again director Kitamura has plenty of experience in this regard. Kitamura also adds his own quirky sense of weirdness to the proceedings and includes all sorts of strange things, not the least of which is a completely bizarre scene of a kid in Vancouver with chocolate all over his face violently playing with monster toys in front of a fireplace. What the hell?!? His treatment of the Baby Godzilla sub-plot is also really odd and completely out of place with the rest of the film. However, when all is said and done, "Final Wars" is probably the most enjoyable Godzilla film I've seen in the last ten years, and really captures the spirit of the original films.