Sony // 2004 // 125 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Appellate Judge James A. Stewart // January 9th, 2006
"It seems monsters have appeared all over the world. Don't go out. Stay
-- a news bulletin that's a bit more pressing than what usually comes from your local TV station's weather center
"Wars and pollution, environmental wars, and environmental destruction have awakened vicious monsters. All mankind has come together to fight the monsters...instead of killing each other. Thus, the Earth Defense Force was born."
First off, we've got a battle between a submarine and the sea monster Manda, which at one point wraps itself around the vessel. This introduces Douglas Gordon (Don Frye, Just Another Romantic Wrestling Comedy) as he shouts in English at a home base that isn't too sympathetic after his sub's battle.
Next, we see the Earth Defense Force mutant fighters in training, including Ozaki (Masahiro Matsuoka), who's about to become "babysitter" to molecular biologist Miyuki (Rei Kikukawa, Double Deception). She greets him with a lot of respect ("Don't look at me when unnecessary," she says) and he responds with equal mockery. You just know they'll be exchanging fond glances at the end of the movie, don't you? Miyuki notes a similarity between the biological makeup of the mutants and a newly-discovered mummified space monster, even as she's tallying up the similar personality traits. She and her journalist sister Anna (Maki Mizuno) are about to figure out a lot about Earth's situation -- a lot that they don't particularly want to know.
Throw in an appearance by the twin Mothra fairies, who present Miyuki with an amulet that'll come in handy later (James Bond probably wishes Q were this cute, tiny, and prone to vanishing).
With all that setup out of the way, it's time to span the globe for the wide, wide world of monster attacks, as humanity experiences not the thrill of victory, but the agony of defeat. We soon learn that aliens known as the Xilians are behind the sudden outbreak of monster mashing. Like many a movie off-world species, they look at Earthlings as "cattle," and expect to soon be feeding. What they're not counting on is Godzilla, who's taking a nap beneath the South Pole. He's big, he's bad, and he hasn't had his coffee yet! He may destroy the world in order to save it, but he's Earth's only hope...
This fast-moving movie features special guest appearances by Gigan, King Caesar, Anguirus, Kumonga, Kamacuras, Ebirah, Manda, Hedorah, Rodan, Minilla, Mothra, Monster X, Monster X II, and Zilla (the U.S. movie version of Godzilla), according to the fine print on the DVD case. There even are tiny pics of the monsters, looking like a space creature zodiac, so you can tell them apart.
While the multitude of monsters sounds like a good idea for celebrating Godzilla's 50th anniversary (the movie was released in Japan in 2004), it's actually a minor problem. The movie has to slot so many monsters in that the battles go a little too quick. The extra polish from the big budget (about $34 million, or 4,000,000,000 yen, compared to $9 million for the next-most-expensive Godzilla flick) also takes away a little bit from the monster battles. True, you can't tell that Godzilla and his foes are just guys in rubber suits, but you kind of realize that when you can tell, there's a sort of emoting that you notice. Take a look at the one extra here, raw footage compared to polished, finalized form, and you'll see what I mean. In the raw footage, the monsters look like they're breaking a sweat and struggling, and it adds a little extra punch to those fight scenes even if they're not as flashy. In the finished movie, the fight that best preserves this aspect features several monsters coming after Godzilla at once, as they play a sort of baseball or soccer with the spined Anguirus.
Not that the movie's a disaster. You can see that the big budget went into the visual look of the movie, fast-paced with MTV-style cuts so there's always something happening. The movie compensates for the added distance in the monster fights by giving us Hong Kong-style battle scenes with human actors, as the Earthlings and the Xilians face off. It appears that fighting rather than thespian skills are the prerequisite here (except for the actors who drew the short-straw roles of running, screaming, and gasping), but Don Frye has fun with a few good tongue-in-cheek lines in his standard gruff monotone action hero delivery (and, since he delivers his lines in English, it's possible to follow this one without the subtitles), and Kazuki Kitamura (Kill Bill: Volume 1) overacts purposefully as the overconfident, petulant Xilian monster wrangler.
Quite a few scenes are shot in a single color for effect -- red, blue, green, or orange -- and the transfer shows them off well, as it does with all of the fights and explosions, whether human or monster. The pulse-pounding music is as non-stop as the action, and it comes in well in Dolby Digital 5.1 Stereo.
I recommend the subtitles, but the dubbing track's not too shabby. You might notice that mouths often are in the shadows or shot from angles that don't show the person talking to make the dub job less noticeable. There's more profanity in the all-English track. I was amused by one dubbed voice, a Xilian sounding a lot like the original Zaphod Beeblebrox.
Even if Godzilla is asked to forgive at the end (presumably the Earthling humans, for interrupting a good dream), Godzilla: Final Wars doesn't have as many levels as The Count of Monte Cristo. It doesn't even have so many levels that you actually need the subtitles. I mean it when I say "this is not an intellectual movie."
"We will make the 50th anniversary film something special, a best-of-the-best, and then end it for now," Toho Productions Executive Producer Shogo Tomiyama told the Associated Press in a report quoted by IGN, which notes that Godzilla was originally slated to take his final bow in Destroy All Monsters in 1968. This one was "on its way to" more than 100 million admissions in Japan alone, the official site claims, so it's hard to say never again. Since the big guy walks off into the sunset like a Western hero at the end of this one (probably not a big spoiler), you tend to doubt that it's over just yet. Ozaki even hints that this is just the beginning of a new war. Still, I presume Toho will hold off for a few years just to make it look good.
Maybe the extra $20 million or so wasn't as necessary as they thought, but I enjoyed this film. Not guilty. Until next time, let's go see Godzilla and King Caesar toss around the old Anguirus for the Yakult Swallows.
Review content copyright © 2006 James A. Stewart; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (Japanese)
Running Time: 125 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* "Godzilla: B-Roll to Film" Featurette
* IGN: "Toho to 'Retire' Godzilla"
* Godzilla: Final Wars Japanese Site